As I round out the semester here studying abroad in Madrid, there are many things I’ve achieved that weren’t on my bucket list. Of course becoming better at Spanish, traveling the world, and learning more about Spain in general were on the top of the list, but retrospectively, I've achieved a lot more than I set out to do. Since every day is numbered for our time in Europe, we have make each moment count.
One of the main goals of my time abroad was to make Madrid feel like home. But how can you make something feel like home when you’re only here for such a short time? To add another layer of complexity, I travel most weekends, leaving only weekdays in Madrid. Some small but very important skills that my friends and I have learned and embraced (whether we wanted to or not) was how to stretch every dime when traveling, and how to keep up with schoolwork when we’re in a different country almost every weekend. When at my home university, I’ve never had the challenge of prioritizing homework during the week because I had a trip to France (or Germany, or Portugal, or Ireland, etc.) planned for the weekend. And I’ve never had to pull out money and commit myself to only spending that amount for the entire time I’m in that country. These are some things that I was more or less forced to do to ensure I’d have enough money for the trips to come. And there were plenty of those.
On a smaller scale, another achievement was being able to navigate our way around such a large city like Madrid without the help of maps or directions. Since we have to do something special every day in order to make our time here count, my friends and I are always out walking around and exploring different parts of the city. While we needed directions constantly in the beginning to figure out the ancient, crooked streets and deceptive alleyways, now I'm confident enough to say that I can get practically anywhere without needing to refer to a map. Conquering the labyrinth of the Madrid Metro helps, too.
The classes I take are all Spain-oriented, which helps to get immersed in the city's history. Understanding the art and architecture of Madrid was a huge milestone toward making this bustling city feel like it’s my neighborhood. Learning about the history of the Metropolis building transforms it from an intimidating tower of white cement to a landmark of my home. And learning about the history of Spanish art helps me feel like I’m a part of its rich past, even though I may not be around for all Spain will see in the future.
Lastly, arguably the smallest victory — but to me, the most important — is the friendships I’ve made with our local coffee shop baristas and restaurant owners. Nothing will make you feel more cemented in a city than knowing you’ll stay in the hearts of the people who live here. Every morning, a highlight of my day is chatting with the baristas about their weekend while they make my café con leche order (which they know by heart). While I will miss Madrid terribly once I’m back home, I think I'll miss the small things like these the most. Overall, I’ve had a semester packed with exciting adventures and great experiences in Europe, but it’s the day-to-day life as a Madrileña that I cherish.
Grayson Hennelly is the Fall 2018 CEA MOJO Blogger in Madrid, Spain, and is currently studying at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.