Guia. It means “guide” or “guidebook” in Spanish, and it’s safe to say everyone in my study abroad program brought one to Madrid. We depended on them the first few days to show us where to eat, shop and bar-hop. We’re still using them for information about the museums and architecture, but after a week in the city it’s starting to hit us that Spain isn’t just a vacation – we’ll be living here for four months.
I feel like a freshman again. I arrived early in the morning, very tired from a long journey. I was met by a lot of happy, energetic people as was treated to a traditional meal. We live in apartments with RAs, or homestays with a seora. We’re disoriented but in love with seeing new sights. Most of us are past the so-called “honeymoon stage” and are beginning to adjust. Much like freshman year, it’s challenging to balance exercising newfound independence with feelings of homesickness. Classes start Monday. We spent the last week in “conversation orientation” classes, which was really time for groups of scared American kids to ask a professor how to say important Spanish phrases like “How much do these jeans cost?” and “I didn’t mean to order the jamn.”
The Spanish timetable is very appealing to a college student. In the morning you roll out of bed and have a breakfast of thick hot chocolate and a fried churro. Lunch is huge, laid-back and also late in the day, around 2 or 3 p.m. It can also be followed by a nice nap or siesta. Dinner doesn’t really matter because you ate so much at lunch, but if you’re hungry, you can wash down your evening drinks with tapas, which basically means ordering several appetizers of seafood, meats and cheeses. Tapas barhopping lasts a few hours, until the real bars open. After the bars close, partiers migrate to the discos. Rather than pay for a cab home, most wait until the Metro opens again at 6 a.m. Nap, shower, repeat – you’re a Spaniard!
Sleep is a confusing thing – I don’t think Spaniards get any. I didn’t sleep until my roommate and I switched to a room without an exterior wall. Turns out that the bar below my window attracts a lively crowd most Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Falling asleep to music is nice, but four drunk Spanish women singing Ricky Martin at the top of their lungs at 5 a.m. could wake me out of a Nyquil coma – believe me, I tried everything.
In between the hours spent trying to sleep and those wishing I were asleep, I’ve been able to see some great things. Come to Spain in January or February and you’re sure to see “rebajas” everywhere. Stores get rid of their fall/winter collections for prices you wouldn’t even find at WalMart. I’ve visited Plaza Mayor and the Prado Museum and even witnessed a parade of intoxicated Cadiz soccer fans march to the Stadium Santiago Bernabeu for a Real Madrid game.
The language can be frustrating, especially since the Spanish have acquired a nice lisp that can divert attention away from the words in the sentence.
Culinary dishes are centered around seafood or meat, the most prevalent being jamn, or ham. Jamn seems to creep into everything, including Lay’s potato chips. Without a seora to cook for us, we’ve been living off spaghetti and bagged salad.
After two weeks, we’re still not over being without very “American” things like peanut butter and 24-hour Internet access. But don’t worry – we will survive. Sometimes, when we sit by the window in our apartment, we can pick up a faint wireless signal.
We have a few cookbooks and found a fresh market down the street. The owner of the creperie around the corner gives us sangria on the house. And we made friends with the owners of the everything-under-a-Euro store. For us, these connections are as exciting as finding your favorite Chinese restaurant in Rochester or knowing how to take the bus to the mall and Wegmans.
We’re starting over, but we’re quickly settling into our city, our neighborhood and our home. I realize this has been a mishmash of observations and emotions, but at this point, the mishmash describes everything perfectly. Two weeks abroad is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of time and experience. It’s too early to sort everything into neat little boxes or label an experience as a “defining moment.” I’m lucky to spend the semester in a great city – excellent shopping, rich culture, abundant nightlife and, of course, enough jamn to feed the world. Defining moments will emerge sooner or later, and I can’t wait.