After a hectic first couple of days in Madrid filled with tours, orientations, and lots of new faces, I am finally settled into my home for the next month. During my visit, I am living in a resedencía (dorm) right off campus in the heart of Madrid. Each student in the resedencía has their own room and bathroom and we share a communal kitchen and several lounge areas. Since it is the summer semester, a lot of the native students are moving out of the dorm, but the door is always turning as more and more international students arrive from all over the world. My favorite part about the resedencía is the terrace, which is an outdoor lounge area that offers an amazing view of the city; it will definitely be my go-to study place! For the most part, my dorm experience has been pretty similar to dorm-life in the US. In Spain, rather than having RA’s, there are two ladies who clean, prepare and serve food, and offer a helping hand to students living in the resedencía; this is the only major difference I have noticed so far.
Even though the resedencía is off campus, it is only a ten-minute walk to la Universidad de Nebrija. This semester, I am taking two classes at Nebrija- Art in Spain and Theatre in Spain. My art class is taught in English and will focus on learning about the famous Spanish artists El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Picasso, and Dalí. My theatre class is taught in Spanish and will involve reading three plays written by modern Spanish playwrights. Both classes seem very interesting and I am excited to learn about the arts in Spain. One major difference between classes in Madrid and classes at Pitt is the grading system. At Pitt, professors have different grading systems. At Nebrija, every class has the same breakdown of grades- 33% for participation, 33% in class work and 34% exams. This was surprising to me because I am used to being graded differently depending on the class.
Interacting with locals has definitely been a challenge, especially because the Spanish natives have a slightly different accent than what I am used to hearing in my classes at Pitt. So far, I have been able to order food and get directions without any major problems and I have found that my Spanish has already improved (mostly out of necessity). Obviously there have been some communication issues, but for the most part, the locals are very friendly and seem to appreciate my communication efforts.
One thing I learned this week is that Spaniards love ham. A lot. I have never seen so much ham in my life and I had no idea it was a huge staple of the Spanish diet. Every street in Madrid has at least two or three restaurants dedicated to ham- there is even a popular local chain called Museo de Jamón (Ham Museum). At restaurants, many places give out complimentary tapas, most of them including ham. It is very interesting because even when you order a dish that does not have ham, there is a strong chance that somewhere on your plate, you will find ham. The ham obsession in Madrid has not been the only dietary difference I have noticed. In general, the Spanish diet is extremely different from what I am used to, but I am enjoying trying new things and experiencing the local cuisine. Not only is the diet different, but the Spanish meal schedule is as well. It is very common for locals to eat dinner at 9 or 10 PM, but now since it is summer, many people do not eat until 11 PM or midnight. This is very different from the US dinnertime of 6 PM!
So far, my international experience has allowed me to improve my communication skills and my understanding of the Spanish language. This fits into both my academic and career paths because I am pursuing a Spanish minor and I am a business student. In the business world, it is very important to be able to communicate with people from different corners of the earth. We live in a digital world filled with international business opportunities available with the click of a button. Personally, I think it is very important to understand a different culture and to effectively communicate in an environment outside of my comfort zone. I am confident that my study abroad experience will better prepare me for an international business environment.
I hope that with my positive attitude, a lot of effort, and an open mind, I will be able to gain a lot from this experience. I hope that I will be able to help my peers along the way because so far, teamwork has been a huge part of my trip; by continuing to work together, we will be able to adjust to life in Madrid and learn a lot from each other.
Even though I’ve had a fantastic time in Madrid, the first week was far from perfect- there were misunderstandings, wrong directions, and plenty of other small mistakes. By treating these bumps in the road as a learning experience, I will be a better student and a better businesswoman. This experience is very important to me and I have a lot of goals I would like to reach by the end of June. Academically, I would like to receive high grades in my classes, not just because it looks good on a transcript, but because I want to say that I conquered classes abroad and was able to hold my ground. Professionally, I would like to take every possible opportunity to converse with locals and actually hold a conversation; even if my Spanish is not perfect, I would like to be able to understand and communicate because this is extremely important in the business world. Personally, I would like to become as close to fluent as possible; my family is from Puerto Rico, so I have spent my whole life trying to learn Spanish. It is very important to me and has been a personal goal for as long as I can remember. My trip to Madrid is just getting started, but I know I will learn a lot and will achieve so much before the end of the semester!