A Brummie Abroad (in Madrid)

I never thought my life would relate to a Drake song, until I moved to Madrid. After I moved there for Erasmus, “Started From The Bottom” began to feel quite relatable. Especially as I compared stunning Spanish architecture with the brown brick council houses of my dreary West Midlands hometown.

I spent almost five months living and studying in Madrid, and even as the initial awestruck feeling wore off, the sights of the Spanish capital still set me off sighing like a doting wife.

I lived in the busy area of Moncloa, in a flat with three guys and a balcony which made people-watching an accessible hobby. Moncloa was ten minutes from central Sol and Gran Via and pretty close to my university, CEU San Pablo. It was also walking distance from the Temple de Debod, an Ancient Egyptian stone temple which looks gorgeous at dusk as the sun sinks behind the horizon. I have never been able to watch the sun set so clearly that it almost felt like a scene from a cheesy romantic film.

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With its sun, sights and sangria there’s no need to explain why I decided to spend my Spring semester studying in Spain. Yet it did take a lot of whiny indecision before I committed to the Erasmus programme.

Like a lot of people, the decision felt like a toss-up of experience; between comfortable and familiar Sheffield and an unknown, faraway place. I was worried about finding a house, about  making friends, about the quality of the education. Most explicitly though, I was worried about uprooting my life and living in a country where everything was unknown.

These worries were surpassed by the fact that I was being given the opportunity to think “screw it” and live a new life for a while. Friends are easily made when so many international students and events are around, people who stayed in a hostel for their first few nights probably found better flats than me, and when you’re listening to the foreign tongue every day, and being taught it by an actual Spanish person, learning the language isn’t too hard.

In 2015, Spain was the third most visited country in the world, so my experience of Madrid wasn’t quite like discovering a hidden paradise, but living there gave me a view of Madrid that you would never get on holiday.

If you decided to spend a week in Madrid, you will no doubt be slightly reluctant to leave it. You will get to eat Churros con Chocolate at one of the many historic cafes that date back to the 1900s, spend one euro on a delicious Taco. You can sit on a rooftop bar overlooking the infamous “Schwepps” sign, or take a walk through the gorgeous Retiro Park and see the Palacio de Cristal. The Palacio Real will be standing proud in the sunlight if you want to have a stroll past, tapas will be waiting for you on every corner and you can visit Reina Sofia for an injection of artistic culture.

You also only need a week there to learn how the Spanish people party. (Which happens to be with giant pints of beer and reggaeton and until the sun rises, as it happens).

Yet a week in Madrid can’t reveal everything. During Erasmus Spain became home, and when a place is home, we see it for what it really is, imperfections and all.

Like most big cities, it isn’t perfect. Madrid is infamous for its pickpockets, some of which targeted my friends, and homeless people sleep or beg on streets and metros throughout the city.  Some clubs have extortionate entry and alcohol prices. Visit Kapital, Madrid’s most well-known haunt, on a Friday and its seven floors and extravagant décor will set you back seven euros for a beer.

Regardless, Madrid stole my heart. When Madrid became my home I appreciated the small things. Street musicians made my daily life a bit more enjoyable, my local park was like a leafy paradise.  I was blessed to find out how cheap alcohol and food is in your local supermarket, that Madrid is never silent and you only have to walk around the corner to find something happening- from a festival in university football field to an event dedicated to street art.

Spanish people are, as stereotyped to be, wholly laid-back, and it couldn’t differ more from the British stiff upper lip. Whilst I never really adapted to seeing foreplay in broad daylight in the park, I will miss the way they lounged around in the sunshine, never seemed stressed out but instead had a zest for life that I caught on to.

When nobody is in a rush to do anything and doing work any earlier than necessary is wasted time, it became hard to remember that I was in Madrid to study. Yet, of course, there is more to Erasmus than the endless fiestas and attendance there is taken quite seriously, which made siestas an essential part of my day, after my 8am starts. Spanish people truly don’t associate themselves with the midday so my six modules were fit into morning and evening shifts.

Sleep deprivation aside, my university deserves high praise. The classes are small so communication with the teacher is so much easier (but hiding the fact you’re falling asleep is not), and from the history of journalism to cinematography and the life of Machiavelli, I left Spain with a richer sense of knowledge.

Most importantly though, studying in Spain taught me to relax. Studying stresses me out, but a semester in Madrid made me, simply, chill the hell out and realise that it’s ok, because the work will get done, but there was things to do and see in Madrid that wouldn’t wait for me.

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Like a typical Gap Yahh student tells you, Studying Abroad taught me a lot.  It not only gave me amazing memories and experiences, the chance to immerse myself in a new culture, but it also taught me a lot about myself and life. I grew independent; by taking myself out to the museum or even just for a walk.

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It also let me travel for next to nothing; BlaBlaCar is a god-send and let me visit Barcelona for less than a train ticket between Sheffield and Birmingham.

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I should have listened to everyone who told me that feeling homesick is pretty much inevitable after the shine of living abroad wears off, but thankfully my momma didn’t raise a quitter, and I soon got over myself. As my time in Madrid started to come to an end, I even began to dread my return to dull, grey England.

Now I’m home I feel sorry for my friends and family, because I’m sure I’ll be harping on about Madrid until someone stops me.

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Simpy, what I took from the experience is that Spanish people cant understand Spanish if it’s spoken in a Black Country accent.

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