I am now officially in Madrid living with a host family in an apartment that is only a five-minute walk from Puerta del Sol, the center of the city. I couldn’t have asked for a better location, and there is a metro stop right outside my apartment. The rastro, the biggest flea market I’ve ever seen that takes place every Sunday, is also just a couple of blocks from my home. I have my own room with plenty of space. I’m sleeping on a pull-out couch, unfortunately, but I’ve slept on a cot for multiple months in a shared room before so I can’t complain. My host family consists of a mom, a dad, and a six year old son. I requested a family with children and am really happy to have a little brother. We play a lot of games together and he’s obsessed with soccer and Star Wars. The mom lived in New York City for a few years back when she was in graduate school, so she speaks some English. My host mom is a concert pianist and my host dad is a composer, and their son will grow up to become a musical prodigy, I’m sure. The dad travels quite a bit for business so often it is just the mom, the little brother, and me at home. I eat breakfast at home and usually have lunch or dinner with them depending on the day. They’re all very welcoming and I practice speaking Spanish with them everyday.
After a week of orientation in Madrid, I started my classes at Carlos III University, named after a very influential king of Spain. It’s on the outskirts of Madrid, so my commute to school is about 45 minutes including walking, but luckily the metro and train are very reliable and easy to navigate (way simpler than the subway). I’ve only begun three of my five classes, which are introduction to sociology (since I haven’t yet had the chance to take it at Vassar), a half-semester course on social rights, and a required Spanish language class for international students. I’ll also be taking another half-semester course when the other one ends on professional ethics, as well as psychopathology for my major, which starts at the end of September at another university because psychology courses are not offered at Carlos III. I’m actually really enjoying the Spanish language class because I’m learning interesting colloquialisms about the culture, and I’ve made friends with other Americans besides those on the Vassar-Wesleyan Program. The reading for my social rights class is pretty difficult but I’m going to take it pass/fail. Sociology here is taught in an oversimplified fashion compared to Vassar, and I hope that we start to have deeper discussions as the class progresses. Unfortunately, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression seem to be much more blatant here, and as a woman of color I’ve experienced it a lot. But I try to keep in mind, of course, that it’s a very different, homogenous culture.
I’ve been in Madrid for about three weeks now and have visited the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum each once, but I certainly need to go back because they’re too large to make it through in one go. I also still need to visit the Royal Palace and go to Kapital, the seven story discoteca. There is a really nice park called Retiro that I’ve run through a few times, and my new favorite restaurant is El Tigre, where customers pay for drinks and food is free. The monitores, students from Madrid who help show us around, have taken us to many cool restaurants, bars, and clubs, and they come with us on program excursions. All of us went on a day trip to Segovia a couple weekends ago where we were able to visit old churches and had an extravagant lunch to welcome us to Madrid. This last weekend three friends and I went overnight to Alicante, a beach town on the east coast of Spain in the region of Valencia. We stayed in a hostel and climbed up to the Castle of Santa Barbara, which is on top of a hill that overlooks the entire city. We went to two beautiful beaches and I was able to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time. We ate paella, drank mojitos, and went on a pub-crawl with other people visiting. Next weekend I have plans to go to Barcelona with eight other people from Vassar. Then the following weekend we have a group excursion to Sevilla and Cordoba. I’m trying to plan more trips to other countries, too, because who knows the next time I’ll have the opportunity to come to Europe again, although I am also still continuing to explore more of Madrid.