Jacqueline – Exchange to Comillas University, Spain
Semester 2, 2016
“What have I gotten myself into?” That was my initial thought as I realised I was stranded at the airport in Madrid. I had been waiting for over an hour for the car that was supposed to deliver me to my host family. My phone wasn’t working. It was 40 degrees outside. My abysmal Spanish wasn’t doing me any good and of course no one could speak any English. I was exhausted after 2 months straight of travelling all around Europe. And I was close to crying in public.
Half an hour later my ride did show up, I would later learn that this was the Spanish way. Everyone is late. They run a completely different schedule. My classes don’t start until 10:30, and sometimes they get cancelled for next to no reason, lunch is at 2 and at that time nothing but restaurants are open, supermarkets, banks, shops in general, even my course advisor can’t be disturb during her lunch and the following siesta which lasts until around 4 or 5. Dinner then isn’t until at least 10, and that’s on an early night!
Those first few days were hard. I will be the first to admit that. My host mum does not speak any English and even though I had taken a semester of Spanish before I left I quickly found out that not practicing at all since June had meant I had forgotten almost everything. Luckily my host sister does speak English, or I may have given up completely. But I knew that I hadn’t travelled to the other side of the world, and been given this amazing opportunity to experience another culture to just curl up into a ball and give up. So I put on a brave face and kept on going.
At orientation I realised how bad my Spanish really was when the 2 days’ worth of presentations were in Spanish. But it didn’t take me long to realise a lot of other people were in the same boat. I quickly made friends with people from all over the world, exchange students and locals alike. Although I was nervous about making friends I knew that almost everyone had come to Spain alone. As such, everyone was very excited to mingle with no awkward ice breakers needed to get people to become instant friends. By day 3 of orientation I knew I would survive. We spent the morning exploring Madrid. From the royal palace to the best place to get tapas, pinto de verano (only tourist’s drink sangria) and where you could fiesta until dawn.
Now I have been here for 3 weeks. Some days are hard, especially since it has been close to 40 degrees every day since I have been here, except for today when it finally rained for the first time. But as time has gone by I’ve realised how much I love it here. Madrid it one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. Cobble stone streets with so much history and culture associated with every alley and building in sight.
In the short time I have been here I have already been out to Pantano de San Juan – a beautiful lake you can swim in just outside of Madrid; Toledo – the old capital city and political centre of Spain that is full of churches, cathedrals, mosques, castles and much more; and also to San Sebastián – Donosita, a beach side city in Basque country. There is so much to see and do in Spain and so many student based organisations willing to help you try and do it all.
My classes are very interesting, they are all in English but all focus on Spanish history, art, culture and politics. I am also doing a Spanish language class, of course. And with the help of my family and being constantly surrounded by the Spanish language I am finding understanding and communicating becoming easier.
Truthfully that first week was hard. It will be hard. And anyone who is thinking about going on exchange or is going on exchange needs to realise that! You are going to a foreign country where you may not know the language or the culture. That being said, if you do find it to difficult there are people at the university to help you, counsellors and teachers alike. But my best advice is to jump right in and don’t be scared, I promise you will make friends and I promise within a few days you will feel like you have known them forever. And as soon as you learn some of the local lingo and customs you will no longer feel like a tourist! Adios!