Reflecting upon my year abroad in Spain

Graduate Corner

Written by: Anna Matthews.
Photo by: Pixabay for Pexels.com.

It seems strange saying it, but when I set off for my year abroad to Madrid, I really didn’t have any expectations at all. That’s not say I was anticipating anything bad, but I can honestly say before I left the best word to describe how I felt was ‘indifferent.’ Maybe my subconscious couldn’t quite fathom that for the next academic year I would be immersed in a new culture, with new people in a city that I hadn’t seen a picture of. It feels far too cliché to admit (but I’m going to anyway) that within about an hour of arriving, Madrid already felt like home. I had moved there as I studied English and Spanish at university, so a year abroad in a Spanish speaking country was compulsory.

As part of the Erasmus scheme I enrolled at Alcalá de Henares University which is just to the east of Madrid, but having heard such incredible things about the capital city prior to moving there I had made the decision to live in the centre and commute out. I’ve got to say, I think that turned out to be a choice that was make or break in terms of enjoying my year abroad. Luckily, it made it. Alcalá de Henares, despite being very beautiful and the birth town of world-famous author Miguel Cervantes, doesn’t have much more going on there. You could explore it in roughly one afternoon. Madrid on the other hand has an inextricable buzz to it; there’s always something going on and I genuinely think it would be impossible to exhaust every activity it has to offer.

The Museo de Prado itself, home to famous artwork from of the likes of El Greco and Velazquez, would take you days to fully explore. The way of life in Madrid is a relaxed one; families will spend hours dining together in the city squares, or ‘plazas,’ and visiting the huge park in the centre, Buen Retiro, used to fill me with an innate sense of calm. Side note, if you’re considering a trip to Madrid boating on the lake in Buen Retiro is an absolute must!

I know I’ve painted a rather romantic picture of Spain’s capital city, and I make no apologies for that because it truly is a rather magical place. However, it would be false of me to say that living abroad for a year came without its own challenges. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying it was, at times, a somewhat lonely experience. Even though I made a group of English friends quite quickly, I was very aware of the fact I lived with 3 strangers, 2 of whom were Spanish one who was French. What that meant was that in the evenings, if I wasn’t out and about with friends I was very much in my own company. It was also a year in which I didn’t really look after myself, in that I went out drinking a lot with my friends (the Spanish youth culture practically encourages you to stay out until 7am), and I didn’t really pay much attention to eating healthily. All of this did take a toll on me mentally and I’ve got to say it took a good few months after returning from Spain for me to fully regain my energy. What I mean to say is, if you’re planning on doing a year abroad in the future don’t believe anyone who tells you they didn’t have one bad moment. It’s bound to be year of ups and downs – that’s life!

Overwhelmingly though, it was a fantastic experience and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. My heart really goes out to anyone who had their years/ semesters abroad compromised or cancelled due to coronavirus, and now with the uncertainty of what it all means after Brexit, I can’t imagine what a blow that has been. However, the countries are going anywhere so if you do get the opportunity to spend some time living abroad in the future, I’d really recommend going for it. It really was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience.

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