Quite a lot has happened in the past few weeks since my first blog entry, so I’ll do my best to bring everyone up to speed and to give you all a sense of what I'm experiencing here in Madrid. I’ll start with my new home: a small, older flat in the center of the city, which I share with two other students, one from L.A. and the other from Miami. Our apartment is nothing extravagant—with three modest bedrooms, a living room that serves more as a den, a kitchen that permits use by one person at a time, and a bathroom the size of a closet—but it has an authentic Spanish feel and could not have a more perfect location.
We’re situated just a minute away from the Puerta del Sol, which is equivalent to Madrid’s Times Square and essentially the focal point of the city. There are also dozens of restaurants, bars, and discotecas within a stone’s throw of our apartment building, which can really burn a hole through your wallet, but is very convenient and fun.
I’d say I’m pretty much settled in here, although it still feels more like a short-term vacation than a temporary home. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully leave the honeymoon phase with Madrid during my five months here, only because the city is so enchanting and home to a seemingly unlimited stock of new sights to see. I have no problem with this, but I hope to eventually be able to call myself a true Madrileño (person of/from Madrid). I haven’t experienced any major homesickness yet, but I’ve definitely missed everyone back home, especially the family. Thank you to everyone who has reached out thus far; I love hearing from all of you! If anyone ever wants to chat or Skype/FaceTime, afternoons and early evenings (U.S. time) typically work well for me. Finally, I’ve missed the one and only Moose(L)-Up Gym and the community there that serves as a second family. Keep grinding and being awesome, guys!
During this month, I have been taking an intensive Spanish course at Universidad Antonio de Nebrija, which is located about a twenty-minute metro ride away from my apartment. The university moved its location just a few weeks ago, much closer to the city center, and is in a building that used to house soldiers during the Spanish Civil War, which is pretty cool. The early start language and culture course consists of four consecutive hours of class Monday through Thursday, and two hours on Friday. We take one language class and one culture class, and it’s quite rigorous but has been very helpful. I’ve especially enjoyed my culture class, where we learn about the geography, history, and customs of Spain. In two weeks, the intensive course ends and the normal semester starts, during which I'll continue taking classes entirely in Spanish, and I will have Fridays off. Travel time!
Using the language here has been a lot of fun, but also quite a challenge. Natives speak unbelievably fast and use lots of colloquial sayings and informal speech, prompting a glazed-over look from learners like myself. However, in just a couple weeks I’ve noticed how much easier it has become to communicate and I’m confident that with more time and exposure, the language will come. One thing I’ve realized is that, despite being in a Spanish-speaking country, there aren’t always many opportunities to practice speaking unless they are actively sought out. It’s easy to go through a day saying nothing more than “Gracias” or “Un vino tinto, por favor”, and while a lot of damage can be done with those phrases, it’s probably necessary to know more in order to live abroad. So I’ve started being more proactive and trying to find ways to practice since I don’t live in a homestay or with Spaniards. For example, I began doing a language exchange (intercambio) with a girl from Madrid named Sara. This has allowed me to practice speaking a lot, and she has shown me some really interesting, non-touristy places to grab a drink or food. My roommates and I also went to an intercambio night at a club, where tons of international students come to practice language and meet new people. Being in a non-English-speaking country has truly been a humbling experience, and has made me aware of how much we take for granted our ability to communicate with each other. Something as simple as speaking to order food here can require some serious thought—and occasionally twenty minutes of translating the menu—but in English it is so habitual and easy. I highly recommend you to take a few moments today to think about how special your ability to use language is, even your native tongue, and to consider it from an outsider perspective. And then go learn another one!
This past weekend, I took my first trip outside of Madrid to Segovia, which is just over an hour north of the capital. On the way to the city, I also caught my first glimpse of the mountains surrounding Madrid. I sat next to my roommate from L.A., for whom mountains are pretty standard, but the beautiful mounds of elevated land captivated this Midwestern boy. I definitely see a hiking trip in my near future. Upon arriving to Segovia, the first thing we saw was, you guessed it, the Roman aqueducts. They were quite impressive, especially considering the structure is held together without any sort of adhesion, and instead uses equilibrium to stay erect. Our guide also told us a cool legend about how the aqueduct was made. Supposedly there was a girl whose job was to carry buckets of water back and forth to the ancient city for several hours at a time. One day, the Devil appeared and offered to build her the aqueduct in exchange for her soul. The girl agreed, but on one condition: it must be completed within a day. The devil concurred, after which the young girl prayed to the Virgin Mary that the day be shortened by five minutes. Ever the procrastinator, the Devil was just a few blocks short when the day ended prematurely.
Thus, the girl was freed from her water-carrying duty and retained her soul. This reminded me of the myth surrounding Robert Johnson, the old Delta Blues guitarist, who presumably sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his guitar-playing skills. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a loophole to get his soul back, but you can’t say it was a bad deal if you’ve ever heard the man play.
We toured the Alcázar (palace) and the cathedral, both of which were amazing. Here are photos of both:
Below is the Nebrija crew that took on Segovia. I met some really awesome people there who come from all over the world. I’ve got to say that meeting other international students has been one of my favorite parts of studying abroad during these first two weeks. Travel is certainly about seeing new sights and going to new places, but above all, it’s about meeting new people, and I’m fortunate to have such a diverse group to spend time with.
Well, that's all for now folks! Thanks for reading. I'm taking a longer trip in a couple weeks (destination TBD), so my next post will most likely focus on that. ¡Chao!