I can not believe I arrived on February 3rd. It feels as though I arrived last week, yet I have lived here for years. Though, I have survived my first month in Madrid! It is hard to sum up my cultural experience thus far. The emotional wave of arrival, settling in, exploration and more is far more exhausting than any study abroad program or officiates lead on. As well, I am studying in a program, city and country with a different language, where English is not as common. I am proud of myself for branching out and choosing this program, though, on my first day I was culture “shook” at the language barrier. Though Spaniards are helpful, most in the service industry do not know any English, are impatient and are solely looking for your money if you’re foreign. My story begins below:
I arrived on my first day with wide eyes and a full heart, being greeted by ISA at the airport. They took care of everything, from our airport transfer to our apartment accommodation and our metro cards. We had an orientation that day and I met my new roommates from Juarez, Mexico. I am so thankful for them and their fluency in Spanish! That night is where my culture shock began: we arrived at a traditional restaurant, though we were looking for a Spanish tapas restaurant (tapas are small bites to eat, like “bar food”, which is very common in Spain). This happened to be a very traditional restaurant and we were its only customers. The waiter was angry and abrasive, and decided to order for us after my roommates had taken a while to translate for my Pitt roommate and I. It was a costly meal, with odd vegetables and raw meats. After this first night, I was much less confident in decision to study abroad.
Thankfully, my first month has been nothing like my first night. I have expanded my language skills immensely, and I have explored my city, finding the best places to eat, relax, take a coffee or shop. I have visited the famous Mercado de San Miguel, eaten the traditional paella at the Museo de Jamon, and cooked croquettas at home with my roommates. I now know the metro like the back of my hand, can navigate my way through ordering, and know how to keep pickpocketers at bay.
To anyone looking to study abroad, has just begun their abroad experience or studied abroad in the past, these first anxieties are normal. And they. will. pass. I promise! I do not know Spanish very well, and I am a very friendly face for passers-by on the street. However, I am now equipped with common Spanish phrases and words, as well as know how to navigate the streets, metro and elsewhere with a poker face.
P.S. Jaywalking at Pitt is normal – if one doesn’t see a car, the street is crossable. However, in Europe the bikers are crazy! And so are the small Fiats. If you cause an accident because you did not cross at a crosswalk that has given you the right of way, you will pay for everything that happens in that accident. This small factoid from my program has kept me from jaywalking! Don’t do it!