Indiana University Overseas Study

Author Archive

Fifteen “cositas” I have learned while in Madrid

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

I have now spent approximately two and a half months in Madrid, and while I certainly have much to learn, I have gathered a small list of advice to anyone planning to study in Madrid.

sunset, park

Sunset in Parque Retiro. I love coming here to run, read, and see sunsets.

1. If you don’t already have it, download Whatsapp to any mobile device you plan to bring to Spain.

Even if you don’t plan to buy a data plan for a smart phone (which I would highly recommend), I would recommend at least having the app for the easiest method of communication with other program participants as well as Spaniards. From potential landlords to Spanish classmates, most Spaniards I have met use Whatsapp instead of texting because texting phone plans are relatively expensive.

2. Find your Spanish comfort food.

While you may be able to find a bag or bottle of your favorite snack from the States, finding a uniquely Spanish or Madrileñan food can help with the transition to living in Spain. In my own experience, I found such comforts in some of the many ice cream stores and tapas bars after several long afternoons of apartment hunting (Kalua Helado Artesanal or Mercado San Ildefonso, for starters).

3. Take advantage of easy travel within Spain and Europe, but don’t forget about Madrid!

Madrid offers virtually limitless options for entertainment, shopping, and cultural activities. I have not regretted a single weekend that I’ve spent in Madrid because there is constantly something waiting to be discovered.

Palacio Real

Palacio Real in the city center. One of the many cultural sites in Madrid.

4. Read or watch Spanish and international news daily.

I may not have known much about current Spanish news, but Spaniards I’ve met have been quite well-read on both Spanish and American news. I like El País, but El Periódico and ABC are also good choices (and all have mobile apps).

5. Cafés are not for studying, generally.

Unlike the IMU Starbucks, cafés in Madrid are not for studying. If you’re looking to study outside of your apartment, university or public libraries will be good alternatives. However, there are a few cafés that have become popular hangouts for American students to study. Located in the attractive Malasaña neighborhood, La Bicicleta offers great afternoon snacks and a comfortable (if not loud and English-heavy) study environment.

6. Limit time messaging/Skyping with American friends and family.

More than just helping to adjust to living in a foreign country, this helped with keeping my mind focused on adapting to Spanish.

7. Complutense classes are daunting, but not impossible.

Spanish students, unlike their American counterparts, take classes exclusive to their majors (carreras), which means they are very well versed in their field by their second or third year at university. So when I began my third-year Spanish literature course with little background knowledge besides my an introductory Hispanic literature course, I was flustered by the amount of literary connections from prior classes students were able to make. But with the help of a tutor to review class notes, I’ve found that I am slowly but surely catching up.

8. Reunidas (American-style teaching) classes transform Spain into a living classroom.

I’ve found that the classes in which I have learned the most are those about contemporary Spain. They have helped tremendously in understanding the economic, social, and political issues in the daily news.


Interior of the Basilica of San Lorenzo of the Escorial Monastery, just an hour-long bus ride from Madrid. I learned about this monastery-mausoleum in several of the Reunidas classes this semester.

9. Even at the heart of the Spanish capital, you will find that many Spaniards are also fluent in English.

This has been a frustrating aspect of being an American in a Spanish-speaking city. Many times when Spaniards hear our American accents, they try to speak in English to help us. However, as an American trying to learn Spanish, it is important to keep speaking in Spanish, even if it’s not perfect.

10. Be aware of pickpockets.

I say this not for a scare factor, because the issue has mostly to do with being aware of your surroundings. My closest encounter with pickpockets occurred on a very crowded metro on a Friday night. While that was a stirring experience, I realized that Spaniards are just as leery and vulnerable as tourists are. I’ve found that sticking together and voicing any suggestion of danger are the names of the game in these situations.

11. Madrid’s nightlife lives up to its name, but at a price.

There seem to be countless unique bars, restaurants, and clubs in Madrid. However, most have quite expensive menus or entry fees.

12. Struggling with the language is a difficult but necessary part of the learning process.

Everyone in the program, no matter their previous language skills, struggles with the language. What we learn in an American classroom doesn’t compare to the reality of living and interacting with Spaniards, who enjoy their own set of refrains and vocabulary unique to the Iberian Peninsula. The key is, as in most things in life, to try, try, try again.

13. Always keep a metro map (and card) and/or a 20EUR bill with you.

Even if you don’t want to look like a tourist, a metro map or some taxi money would allow you to go anywhere in the city in an hour or less.

14. Save yourself suitcase space and frustration—buy personal electronic appliances in Madrid.

In the case of many friends here, many American appliances such as straighteners or electric razors don’t work with Spanish outlets. As the Spanish say, “A Corte Inglés” (Corte Inglés is a large internationally-focused chain that carries many items not typically found in Spanish supermarkets and other stores).

15. Use Spanish whenever you are not talking with your American family and friends.

This, like all of these points, depends entirely on your personal goals, but as someone who wants to master the Spanish language during my limited time here, limiting myself to only speaking Spanish with other program participants and natives here is the way to go.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

Finding a home in Madrid

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

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.

Segovia on excursion

Vista of Segovia on a program excursion.

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.

hiking in Madrid

Hiking in the Sierras of Madrid with fellow program participants.

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.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

Dreaming of Madrid

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

Throughout these past few months leading up to the beginning of the IU Madrid program I have been experiencing extreme emotions about my departure for Madrid.

On one side of the spectrum, I’ve fantasized intensely of sightseeing and conversing in perfect Castilian Spanish (in these imagined moments I’ve even been using the uniquely Spanish “vosotros” form on occasion to really show my “stuff”). In these dreams I feel completely at ease with the Spanish lifestyle and culture in my Spanish mind—that is, until I’m startled awake by the nightmarish plunging of my stomach that reminds me of all the questions I have about what my life will be like living in Madrid, all the details that living abroad requires.

When I think of “study abroad,” I think about pictures I’ve seen on various social media of friends smiling next to foreign national monuments and landscapes. I think of excursions and tasting local cuisine, taking photographs, and making new sets of friends in interesting places. These thoughts and images are what have driven my passion for learning the language and culture of the region. However, the prospect of studying abroad in Madrid also frightens me when I begin to wrap my head around the fact we will be living for the next few months (or year) in Madrid, a city 4,000 miles away from Bloomington.

In a few short days, we will begin our journey with IU Madrid on the campus of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. I imagine that during the first few days my peers and I will be busy and excited with orienting ourselves to the city, the time zone, and the many idiosyncrasies of Spanish culture. But reality quickly returns as I am reminded of our new normal: life in Spain. We will not simply be tourists on an exotic field trip; instead, we will be beginning a new stage of our academic and personal journeys, studying, eating, and living with native Spaniards. Over the next few months I hope to relay what an American’s life in Madrid looks like. For now, however, after finishing the last errands and making the final arrangements, I’ll continue daydreaming about Madrileñan architecture and cafés and museums, hoping not too many of my friends will notice the hundreds of Instagram pictures I’ve perused in the process.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

%d bloggers like this: