By: Natalie Chai / Boston University Student / Be Madrid Summer Intern
I had just finished my junior year of college at Boston University and was heading to Madrid for a 2-month study abroad program. I was assigned a host family to live with as well as an internship and a class to take. Although I have visited Europe before, I have never been to Spain, so I was super excited! After long hours of delays and layovers, I finally made it to Madrid on a nice Friday morning. My first thought when I got off the plane was, “wow, this airport is so nice!” I was amazed by the cleanliness and advanced architecture of the building. It was spacious, quiet, and easy to navigate. I quickly found where the taxis were and hopped on one to get to my next destination.
I have now been in Madrid for one week and found that these are some things to expect upon arrival!
People in Spain are very friendly! Whether you speak Spanish or not, people find a way to communicate with you. Many people can also speak English, so getting around isn’t too difficult. Two common phrases you’ll most likely hear everyday are:
“¡Vale!” – okay
“¡No pasa nada!” – don’t worry about it
It is best to learn at least the basic phrases before you come to Madrid, but don’t be surprised if you hear people speaking English!
Overall, Spain is a very safe country, however, pickpocketing is a real issue here. I was warned and informed various times about this problem in just one week. Apparently, things can be stolen in the most discrete ways and you’ll never even notice. I was advised to never carry all my cash and cards, never put my phone in my pockets, always carry my bag in the front, and to always keep my belongings close to me. Foreigners are easy targets, so always make sure to keep your things safe and watch out for those professional pickpockets!
Finally, Spaniards love to party. And they love to party late. Some places will not even be open until midnight, which is considered “early.” Also, many places will offer free entry and drinks within the opening hour and/or free drink tickets. In Madrid, people love a good vibe where they can drink and dance all night long. Many will even stay out until the early morning hours of 6-8am when the Metro reopens for service. The party culture here is, as we Americans say, “lit!”
The most difficult thing to adjust to, in my opinion, is the eating schedule. Spaniards commonly have a very light breakfast, consisting of coffee and cookies or toast. Then, lunch isn’t until around 2-3pm and dinner at 9-10pm. Some restaurants will not even be open before 9pm for dinner. While I am trying to get used to it, I can’t help but get hungry at 12-1pm for lunchtime and 7-8pm for dinnertime, especially because breakfast here is so light!
Nevertheless, Spain has a lot of delicious food. Within one week, I have already been able to try various dishes. At home, my host family eats a lot of bread and often times has olives at the side as a snack. Below are some new things that you might try:
Tortilla de papas – A Spanish omelette made with potatoes and eggs
Tapas – small plates of any kind of Spanish dish; can be hot of cold
Paella – a rice dish that is usually mixed with seafood, meat, or vegetables
Croquetas – a small breaded fried food roll consisting of meat, vegetables, or cheese
Churros y chocolate – plain churros dipped in chocolate sauce (delicious!)
There are many more types of foods to try, especially if you travel to other parts of Spain. You should come to Madrid with an open mind and willingness to try new dishes; you won’t be disappointed!
Spain has a very strong and interesting culture. A famous type of Spanish dance is known as Flamenco. You may recognize it as women dancing with big skirts and hand clappers. You can see Flamenco dancers on the streets as well as attend Flamenco shows in the city. Another well-known cultural activity in Spain is bullfighting. Although the sport is controversial due to concerns with animal rights and religion, many people still attend the events.
A major interest in Madrid is their football team (or soccer in America). Luckily, I was able to celebrate with local Spaniards for the victory of their football team, Real Madrid, against Liverpool during the Champion League. We walked from the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to the Plaza de Cibeles to celebrate the win. This sport has a major influence in the community of Madrid and can be the topic of many conversations.
One of the most amazing things in Madrid, besides all the great sights and culture, is the public transportation. I have never seen a system so organized and efficient! There are trains that run through all parts of the city and buses that work locally as well as to the outskirts of Madrid. Buses and trains come on time and quickly, and the stations are clean and updated. It is inexpensive to travel though Madrid, and as a student, you can get a 20€ monthly student metro card. Essentially, it is free to go anywhere you want once you have the card. The hours of operation for the metro are 6am-1:30am. Access to public transportation is making it so easy for me to travel within Madrid and experience the life of a local.
Whether you are here for a few days or a few months, you should expect to experience all of these things! Madrid is such a lively and vivid city – you’ll never be bored. There is always something to do and things to see. I have six more weeks here until I have to head back home, but until then, I am looking forward to many more unforgettable experiences!