5 Ways My Life in Madrid Differs from My Life in the U.S.

Sandra Escorza is a student at the University of North Texas and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Madrid, Spain.

The day I have been waiting for finally arrived, and I am currently finding my way through the beautiful city of Madrid. After living here for a month I have become accustom to life in Madrid, but there are so many ways in which my life here differs from my life back home in Texas.

The first difference I’ve found is that in Madrid I rely a lot on public transportation. In my 19 years of being alive I had only taken public transportation once before coming here. In Madrid, using public transportation on a daily basis is a necessity for me now. It was scary at first since I had no clue what bus route or metro route to take to get to my destination, but using a GPS was the answer to making it more manageable. Using public transportation is actually pretty easy and affordable (it costs me about 20 euros per month).

Atocha Train Station

The second difference from home is the food, as well as the times Madrileños eat meals. For example, breakfast is really not a thing in Madrid compared to the U.S. In the U.S., people go to IHOP or Denny’s for pancakes with eggs and bacon, but in Madrid that’s not the case. A simple cereal or croissant with a coffee will do. Madrileños do not eat lunch until 2pm, as compared to the U.S. where I usually ate at noon, and in Madrid, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Finally, dinner in Madrid is not eaten until around 9:30pm-10pm. I’ve tried a bunch of great food in Madrid. One of the most common Spanish dishes I’ve found is tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette). It is an omelette made with eggs and potatoes and fried in oil. It is a must try! Tapas (small appetizers) are also common here. Mercado de San Miguel is a must see place in Madrid, and there you can find some of the best tapas. Lastly, of course is paella. Paella is a Valencian rice dish.

Tortilla de Patatas

The third difference in Madrid is the university lifestyle. Back home I was used to going to class straight from my dorm, having a meal plan, and eating at dining halls. However, at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid there is no such thing as a meal plan. They do have a cafeteria where you can buy food though. Another difference is that midterms and final exams are worth about 50-60% of the final grade, which is a high percentage compare to my university in the U.S. The class structure is also different from back home- one day in class is dedicated to lectures, and the other is dedicated to practicals.

The final two differences are how introductions are done and how personal space is viewed. Normally, in the U.S. when meeting new people we shake their hand and say “hello”, but in Madrid you give others one kiss on each cheek, always starting with the right cheek.  In Madrid, personal space is handled differently than in the U.S., especially on the metro and bus. People in Madrid stand much closer to one another in public spaces, whereas Americans tend to leave more space between themselves and others.


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