As any college student knows searching for an apartment is a difficult and stressful time. We often take months searching for the perfect location and personally select our preferred roommates. However, when studying abroad the apartment search is a whole new experience.
Many students studying abroad are placed in apartments that are not of their choosing or even placed with families that host them during their time in a foreign country. Also, in some study abroad programs students are only given weeks to find their own housing. My program, for example, offers housing in a college dorm for two weeks, during which we are responsible for finding our own housing in Madrid.
Initially the idea of finding an apartment in a city of nearly six million people scared me to death. However, after obtaining good advice and knowledgeable hints, the housing search became a fun and memorable experience.
It is important to explain that along with language and culture, housing situations in foreign countries are very different from that in the United States. For example, European apartments are very small and most do not come with common amenities that we have such as air conditioning, dishwashers, dryers, or ovens. It is also the social norm to move into apartments where you may not know a single person you will be living with; landlords do not introduce you to your future roommates before you sign a lease.
Americans also have issues with many other cultural aspects of renting an apartment in countries such as Spain. Smoking, for example, is very common throughout European countries, and it is extremely difficult to find an apartment where smoking is prohibited. In addition, setting up tours and signing a lease in a foreign language is extremely challenging.
I began my apartment search in Madrid by using both online housing sites and hints from our program director. After looking at prices and location, it was our responsibility to personally call various landlords and set up tours throughout different neighborhoods of Madrid. Then, during each tour we were forced to put our Spanish skills to the test asking questions about the apartment by conversing with foreign landlords.
I started the housing search right away and quickly set up nearly six tours within four days. After viewing various apartments that did not fit my standards, I became extremely worried and depressed. Scared that I would not find an apartment, I went to my last tour expecting the worst. The moment I arrived at the front door, I knew I had found my home for the next year. The apartment was large, with nine rooms housing various students from across the world, including two French girls, and a Spanish boy. The apartment was also in an ideal location and offered a very reasonable price. After touring the apartment, I paid my security deposit the very next day, proud of what I had accomplished and excited to live in my new home.
My housing will truly be a deciding factor of both my happiness and success during my time abroad. Living with foreigners insures that I will be forced to improve my Spanish but will also create plenty of culture shock. I will be adjusting to a whole new way of life, foregoing my native language, normal daily habits, and the comfort of the American way of life. It is crucial when abroad to put ourselves outside of our comfort zones, for this is when we learn the most about new cultures and ourselves.