Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rachel H. - Madrid, Spain - Spring 2013

¡Hola! It is hard to believe that is has already been over a month that I have been studying abroad!  It flies by so fast I promise you! I cannot say how life changing, beneficial, and inspiring it is to study abroad; it is hard to put in words. But once you get the chance to have the experience, you will understand! I am studying abroad in Madrid, Spain through a program called IES and loving every minute of it.  I live in an apartment with 5 amazing girls in the heart of the city.  I know many people from my program that live in homestays, dorms, and apartments but after hearing all the stories of their experiences in comparison with mine, I would highly recommend living in an apartment if you get a chance.  However, if you are not planning on becoming much of a cook, homestays WITH meals or dorm living might be more your thing.  Our companera (like an RA) speaks only Spanish, which also helps in the cultural and language immersion. When I first arrived in Madrid, it was a bit of a challenge for me to overcome the obvious absence of English.  I felt, and still feel at times, like I am living in a full time Spanish class.  But if you are planning on enhancing your language (Spanish, German, etc), studying abroad is the BEST way to do it, nothing will prepare you more.  The first thing I had trouble adjusting with was the way they tell time.  For instance, 3 PM is 15:00 here (take 12 o’clock and add 3).  That often left me struggling to keep up with the schedule of Madrid, but with practice, it has become second nature.  Another lifestyle difference that caught me off guard was the “siesta” time of Spain.  Between 2-6 PM every day almost everything closes down for people to go home, relax, and eat lunch.  At times, it can be a struggle to work around the siesta but all in all, it gives a great break and reason to relax!
The time for meals here and the time difference were also a huge change coming from the states.  People here eat lunch between 14:00-15:00 (2-3 PM) and dinner between 21:00-22:00 (9-10PM).  Getting used to the meal times took a lot of practice and patience! Madrid time is 7 hours ahead, which can make communication with people back home interesting.  Often times, I forget that my mom probably isn’t up at 4 am when I call her at 13:00 here…woops.  Make sure to create a time schedule or have an idea of what times work best for your people back home! It makes communication a heck of a lot easier! Also, I would recommend (if you have an iphone) using Viber in WIFI areas. It has great reception for calls, sending pictures and text messages! Also, finding land lines wherever you study abroad will be a struggle.  I just learned about a week or so again that you can put 10.00 dollars of credit on Skype and it can be used as a land line, which will come in handy believe it or not! The 10.00 dollars will last forever too.
Spending money has also become quite a religious hobby for me between groceries, shopping, clubs, and traveling. For me, I often forget the exchange rate and think I am getting a great deal when really… Make sure to always have cash on you, because many places in Europe don’t always take credit/debit cards.  Also be careful with ATMS, one of the ATMS ate my debit card and I had to cancel my card.  Luckily, I had brought an extra debit card just in case a situation occurred.  I would recommend having at least one credit card, and at least 2 debit cards.  From the people in my program, I would say at least 15-20 of them have already been pickpocketed.  Make sure to listen to Alice, she knows what she is talking about and remember to always watch your things! 
A great piece of advice I can offer you is to remember that customs everywhere you go are different, not wrong.  I never really experienced culture shock at all, but there were a few customs that caught me off guard and took some getting used to. For instance, couples in Spain have no trouble expressing their affection in public, which is quite different from the states.  Fashion also is a huge difference here. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has amazing fashion.  I have yet to see one person in sweat pants. It is crazy!!
Overall, my first month is Madrid has been amazing. I have traveled within Spain to Barcelona, Segovia, Toledo, and Granada.  Each place is unique and cultural! Make sure to always take time to not only know your city or town but to travel around.  I have booked flights to Morocco, Amsterdam, Rome, Florence, Athens, Lisbon, Paris and other places!
Hope this helps you out a little in your study abroad process! I promise all the hard work will pay off in every way. This truly is a once in a life time experience and make sure you make the best of it. If you have any questions ask Alice for my email address and feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions! Good luck and get excited, you are studying abroad!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,
I'm glad that you are enjoying your semester so much! I was considering going to Spain, but I ended up choosing an IES program for Quito, Ecuador. Do you have any advice for language immersion preparation? I have been taking Spanish since 8th grade, but I do not yet have the fluency that I want to gain from studying in Ecuador.
Thanks, chica!
Margaret Larson

3:09 PM  
Blogger Rachel Heller said...

Hello Margaret! Believe me, I was in your exact situation for my language preparation! I would definitely make sure you know like the key vocabulary for transportation, etc that you will need to know right when you get to Edcuador! Believe me, there were so many simple words that I totally forgot about. Do not worry about the grammar aspect of it because they will be able to understand what you are trying to get across with no problem I am sure! Just make sure to REALLY immerse yourself in the culture and look for opportunities to spend time with natives and work on your Spanish, it will become quite natural, I promise (: Hope this helps and good look studying abroad! Let me know if you have any other questions or things I can help yah with!

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rachel,
I was wondering if you had culture shock and how you dealt with it?

Emily CPP250

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel!
I hope you keep on enjoying Spain! I am going to go to Costa Rica in the Fall, and I was hoping you might have some tips on selecting classes in another country, especially a Spanish-speaking country.
-Nicholette, CPP250

4:26 AM  
Blogger Rachel Heller said...

Hello Emily! Sorry to get back to you so late! But believe it or not, I really did not experience any culture shock except for a few minor details but I would highly recommend asking around to find out the norms of where you will be studying and if something seems a little different, remember it isnt wrong, it is just probably cultural! I had to ask around a lot to know if what I though was strange was normal and almost all the time it was ahha! Let me know if you have any questions! Good luck!

6:01 AM  
Blogger Rachel Heller said...

Hey Nicholette! Sounds like so much fun! Okay, well it depends a lot on the program you are studying abroad with. I am with IES in Madrid therefore we have to take 5 classes all in Spanish ( and I mean 100 percent and almost all of my teachers speak like zero English). For grammar they will usually place you in a grammar class through a test, etc. Make sure you feel comfortable with the level of Spanish and if not, do not be afraid to get a tutor or ask for help! You definitely do not want to be stressed during your experience! (: Let me know if you have any other questions!

6:04 AM  
Blogger Deyanira Chacon said...

Hi Rachel! It sounds like you had such a wonderful experience in Madrid! It’s so great to hear that because I will also be studying abroad in Madrid this upcoming semester and it is really helpful to get some advice on how to adjust to the time difference and culture. Since you were able to travel to many different countries, could tell me the best way to travel around Spain and Europe overall. Would you recommend trains/planes or a combination of both? Thanks for sharing!

1:37 PM  

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