It was last night around 11:00 pm, and a friend and I were enjoying coffee in Madrid. We’re staring through the glass windows on the second floor, as we see what looks like Times Square. Huge advertisements, limitless restaurants, and thousands of people socializing with no plans of leaving anytime soon. These people love people, and they love parties! A very early dinner in Spain is 8:30 pm, so people hang out until at least midnight. It’s a lot of fun here, and it really sunk in last night: I am in a different world here.
4,400 miles away from home. Honestly, I don’t miss home at this point – it’s just hard to make sense that I am living in a country in another continent for the next year. I have been here for 4 days, and somehow it feels like 4 weeks. Now, it feels like the norm to start my day with a café con leche or cortado with a breakfast pastry. After, I walk around for a few hours just soaking it in. Walking is just the norm here, and it’s because the walkways and roads are surrounded by stunning buildings with little chance of danger.
Here’s a few logistics I have figured out this week. I got a cell phone plan on day one through a company called Orange. For 20€ a month, I get 2GB of data, and it is 30 cents per call. I also got a library card for Madrid, so that was fun to apply for in Spanish. I had an AirBnB room for four days, which was wonderful. The next two days, I can stay with a family in Madrid that I’ve met once before. After Monday though, I have no place to stay! So I am on apartment-hunting sites today to figure out where in Madrid to stay. There are several factors to consider, mostly location, price, a double bed, and fast Internet. If searching for apartments in the U.S. is not difficult enough, imagine trying it in another language!
Speaking of languages, my Spanish has improved a lot this week. When I first arrived at the airport, my friend helped me get through the Metro system and spoke Spanish to people we came across. So I felt great, because she was doing all the talking for me. Until we got to an information desk to ask about their monthly Metro pass. I kind of zoned out, because I had little idea what was being said. Until they both just stare at me waiting for an answer about something related to my passport and a copy of it. Oh gosh, now I have to speak Spanish. Like not just speaking it for fun in the States, but speaking real Spanish to real Spaniards to accomplish real things. I botched it. Who knows what I said — some combination of qué and mumbling.
As we walked out of the Metro, I had to quickly accept something: moving abroad and expecting to never embarrass yourself is completely paradoxical. You think you can move to a new culture, learn a new language, get a job, apartment, and make friends there without saying dumb things and asking questions that don’t make sense? Not possible. So you get two options: become a hermit, don’t go out, get the first job you find, and stick around English speakers. Or the fun option!
Go into Spanish coffee shops where no one speaks English, and order a coffee with whatever broken Spanish you know. Immerse yourself in the culture. Be humble, and show people you respect their language and want to learn it. I learned an important phrase this week: Perdone mí Español, no es el mejor. Pero apprendiendo. Translation: Please excuse my Spanish. It’s not the best, but I am learning. Starting out my interactions like that is perfect, because then people know I am trying my best to improve. And from there, I can ask them which words and phrases I can say in a particular setting. Like learning that people say either como estas or qué tal interchangeably. Or that qué aprobeche is just a phrase that waiters say to customers when they give them fo
od. If I come across as humble, then people show me grace. I think that’s how a lot of life works. Be arrogant, and people will shut you down. Open up to people, and they will open up to you.
Honestly, I love it here. I sat in bed two nights ago just marveling that I get to live here, meet people from across the world, and have a great time making a fool of myself. There’s a lot more to share, but I’ll save that for another post.