While it shouldn’t matter where your friends are from, playing the “foreign card” isn’t going to help you make the most of your time here. If you want to see what Madrid is really like, you have to get involved in the community itself, not just your study abroad community.
Here’s a few ways you can get an “insider’s look”:
- Find an intercambio:
Through ISA I was able to fill out a quick questionnaire and get paired up with a local named Beatriz. Bea and I meet up and talk in a crazy, yet “muy guay” (“really cool”) mix of Spanish and English, so we end up both learning from each other. Plus, she’s great for answering my questions about Madrid.
2. Join a local group:
For me, it was church. For you, it could be a sports team/club or a volunteer organization, etc. Basically anything you would do back home, but this time in Spain. It’s honestly the best way to meet locals, and to become part of something bigger picture while you are here. There will be times when you are super busy, and other times when you literally don’t know what to do with all your free time. So if you’re part of a group here, you’ll always have something to work towards if you chose to.
3. Become a tutor
I once had a crazy sub for Spanish class my freshman year in high school who told us that ANYONE can travel; even if they’re broke… all you have to do is be able to teach English. I’ve gotta admit, this guy was right. Check out different tutoring organizations to become a tutor yourself, and make enough extra cash to afford those nights out and spontaneous extras that your dwindling budget didn’t account for.
Okay so just a precautionary warning… homestays are not for everyone. You might get a super old lady who drives you nuts, or a really sweet family, but it’s the luck of the draw. But if you do decide to live in a homestay, it is a great way to get to know a real Spanish family as a member, and live as one yourself. While there were times when I wished I was living in a residencia, big family lunches with my host mom’s daughters were always really nice. Another option is living in a student apartment, because you might have Spanish roommates!
Basically what I’m saying is don’t be afraid to BE a Spaniard. Yeah, you might only be here for four months, and the amazing international night clubs like Kapital attempt to draw you back weekend after weekend… but there is more to it. A good balance of different things just like you have back home will not only make you more involved here, but also help you adjust.
It’s easy to get stuck the “study abroad bubble”, with the extent of your Spanish encounters being miscommunication with slow camareros (waiters), and trying to explain to your profesora de gramatica (grammar professor) why you were in Barcelona instead of class on Monday. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you keep your mind open, and have the guts to dive in, you can see what it’s like to be a piece of the bigger whole that we call Madrid…