My Study Abroad Experience, Part 4 of 5

¡Hola! In previous posts, I’ve been talking about my study abroad (SA) semester. Let me tell you more about what my daily life in Madrid looked like:

My typical day started around 8am. I would eat a quick breakfast and head to the local gym. I had all of my classes at the local university or SA program center in the afternoon. In between times were spent exploring the city or at the school library studying for classes. I came home around 9:30pm when I had dinner with my host mother.

The biggest difference in lifestyle was that I wasn’t living on a college campus. At Mudd, I would skateboard to my class from my dorm in 2 minutes and go over to my friends’ dorm to hang out at any time of the day. In Madrid, however, the SA students were living in apartments around the city. I had a 30 minute commute via the train to the local university located in the suburbs of Madrid and a 20 minute commute via the subway to the SA provider center in the center of the city; luckily, Madrid’s public transportation system (bus, subway, train) was very advanced and affordable. To hang out with friends, we met up at restaurants, bars, and parks because it was not allowed to visit other homestay families.

a red card that says “tarjeta transporte público

The public transportation card allowed students (7-25 year olds) to use the local buses, subways, and trains an unlimited number of times for only 20€ (about $25) per month. The trains even took me to the suburbs of Madrid.

Another unique aspect about my life in Madrid is the Spanish mealtime. Normally, Spaniards have 5 meals a day: breakfast (7am-9am), mid-morning snack (10am-12am), lunch (2pm-4pm), mid-afternoon snack (6-8pm), and dinner (9pm-11pm). (It seems like Spaniards eat a lot, but they eat a healthy amount of food because their meals tend to be smaller.) Many restaurants in Spain have unusual schedules, such as 1:30pm-4pm for lunch and 8:30pm-11pm for dinner. (Travel tip: If a restaurant is open outside of these Spanish mealtimes, they might be a tourist trap that targets tourists who eat on a “normal” schedule!) It took some time for me to get used to the Spanish meal schedule. On some days of the week, my classes were scheduled from 6pm to 9pm – a normal time for dinner back in the States. This meant I wasn’t able to eat dinner until 9:30pm or 10pm when I got home. Since I wasn’t allowed to use the kitchen and my host mother only provided breakfast and either lunch or dinner, I would eat out or make myself a sandwich for my third meal.

three dishes with food and utensils on a table

This is a normal lunch cooked by my host mother: tomato salad, Spanish rice with fried egg, and pork chop with bell peppers. I found Spanish food a bit bland for my palette, so I always added hot sauce that I brought from home.

A typical Spanish breakfast is pan con tomate (toasted bread topped with juicy tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt) or churros con chocolate (fried pastry dipped in hot chocolate). Lunch is the largest meal of the day, normally with 3 courses. Spanish restaurants offer menú del dia (menu of the day), which includes a soup or salad, entree, dessert, and a drink, for about $15. Spaniards usually have a two hour break from school or work to enjoy their lunch, sobremesa (chatting and relaxing after a big meal), and siesta (short afternoon nap) at home. Dinners tend to be smaller. It’s common for people go bar-hopping to socialize with friends over drinks and tapas (small dishes, finger food). My favorite tapas were tortilla de patatas (omelette with potato and onion), salmorejo (tomato puree with bread), and jamón (Spanish cured ham). Yum!

churros, a cup of hot chocolate, and a cup of coffee

Spanish churros are quite different from the Mexican ones; Spaniards usually eat them for breakfast instead of dessert or snack and don’t sprinkle sugar or cinnamon.

plate with egg omelette with potatoes

When I came back home to the States, I tried making my own Spanish omelette, tortilla de patatas.

My favorite activity in Madrid was picnicking at Parque del Retiro (Retiro Park), where a lot of locals go to enjoy their siesta. I also experienced the local culture by watching a flamenco (traditional Spanish dance and music) show and a bullfight and going to the San Isidro Festival, celebrating the city’s patron saint with live music and street food. Throughout the semester, my SA program also offered free cultural activities, such as cooking classes, soccer games, guided visits to monuments, and language exchange with Spanish students. So, I was never bored in the city!

Spanish dancers and musicians on stage

When my parents visited me in Madrid, I acted as the local tour guide and took them to see a flamenco show.

marching ceremony in an arena before a bullfight

Matadores, bullfighters, are marching in the Plaza de Las Ventas bullring in Madrid.

a parade of four large human figures and a crowd surrounding them

El Día de San Isidro, May 15th, is a huge holiday for Madrilenos (Madrid citizens). During the festival, there was a parade of large figures in traditional costumes – two commoners in the front and two royals in the back – to celebrate the city’s history.

Regarding health, by Mudd’s SA policies, students are required to have personal health insurance as well as the Basic iNext insurance plan for worldwide travel assistance, which is provided by HMC. Some programs also provide insurance to their participants during the SA semester. In my case, I had three insurances: my personal health insurance, iNext, and the health insurance provided by my SA program. Better safe than sorry! They were actually helpful when I had to visit the emergency room twice during the semester when I fell sick. My SA provider was connected to a private hospital in Madrid that provided a Spanish-English translation service, so I had no issues with communicating with the hospital staff.

Next time, I’ll talk about solo-traveling throughout Spain and Europe and give you some tips on studying and traveling abroad. ¡Hasta luego (“See you later” in Spanish)!