Before leaving for my yearlong study abroad experience in Madrid, my two biggest concerns were (1) being away from friends and family and (2) finding a place to live in Madrid.
Part of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Purdue (WIP) Madrid study abroad experience is finding our own housing. This means just a few days after arriving (not even fully recovered from jet lag), we began looking through neighborhoods and online advertisements for rooms to rent for the semester or year.
This was my first time looking for an apartment—and during this inaugural saga, we had the special bonus of doing it all in Spanish.
Needless to say, my housing search during my first month here was quite the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire experience. However, at each step of the way I was comforted by the fact that each of us on the program was encountering the same challenges.
From our first feeble attempts at calling landlords (if you’re wondering what heart palpitations feel like, I suggest calling a Madrileñan landlord with virtually no prior experience talking on the phone in a foreign language) to running to and from metro stations for apartment showings, at each step I had fellow WIPers along for the ride.
Our program administrators shared that year after year, alumni of the program say that this first task is one of the most rewarding—albeit most challenging—aspects of the program due to the absolute necessity of speaking to native Spaniards in Spanish. While I can confirm this statement first-hand in respect to my language skills, I also think my housing search was an essential part of finding not just a roof over my head, but also a community here in Madrid, formed by the shared trials, failures, and resolutions of living abroad in Madrid.
In that sense, this ongoing journey of learning the Spanish language and becoming accustomed to the Madrileñan culture seems to be more than the sum of its parts. Gaining a sense of family here has helped to transcend this experience from a “study” abroad experience to one of “living” abroad.
For me, it has been a conjunto (“grouping”) of experiences and people that has made this semester all it has been: at first, all the stressors that come with culture shock and learning curves in a new place, but also (most significantly) a multitude of connections—to my Madrileñan neighborhood, to my Spanish classmates, to the host language itself, and to my peers who have been along this same journey since we stepped foot in the Madrid-Barajas Airport.
I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t miss my home in Indiana. But I must say that truly have found, finally, a home in Madrid.