Lindsey Chandler traveled to Spain from May 21 to June 21, 2014. In her story, One Summer, Countless Memories, she shares her best souvenirs, memories that will last a lifetime.
In May of 2014, I got on a plane for the very first time to fly eight hours over the Atlantic ocean to a place that I had never imagined I would be able to visit: Madrid, Spain. Before that, the American East Coast was my only home, and the hub from which I saw the world comfortably.
It was difficult to wrap my mind around the idea of studying abroad. For me, international travel was always just a dream. To this day I still cannot believe that I was there. However, after what seemed like an endless wait, I found myself standing in el Aeropuerto Madrid-Barajas with many other wide-eyed, excited students, waiting to begin our adventure.
Everything seemed surreal, from the informational greetings with our program directors and the taxi ride to the home where I would share the next month with two other students and a family that I did not know. Reality struck when I met my host family and all of the knowledge that I had about Spanish seemed to vanish. My education was carried out purely in the classroom, so this was my first real immersion experience. Suddenly, I only knew how to conduct basic conversation, and even that was limited. I nodded my head and smiled as my host father spoke about everything that we needed to do while we were there. After only an hour or two of being in Madrid, I already felt lost.
It did not help the situation when my housemates and I spent the afternoon wandering the major streets of the city desperately searching for the institution where we would be spending the next weeks learning about this incredible and new city and culture. We epitomized tourists, walking with maps in hand for all the places that we were told to find. Exhaustion and frustration set in quickly. Finding the institution was a humbling experience, and it was only the first day.
The trouble, however, did not end there. It took my housemates and I a week or so (and many frazzled conversations with people on the streets) to figure out how to acquire abonos, or monthly metro passes. We got lost. Again. We fell victim to expensive lunch prices (by the way, bread for the table isn’t always free!). We miscommunicated. But we adapted swiftly. What helped the most was to just get out and try. I saw a transformation in my language proficiency because I was unafraid to ask questions and absorb as much as I could about this amazing place.
After classes started, a routine was established. Navigating the metro in the mornings was a breeze. Between classes, some group members would venture across the street to a coffee shop. By the end of the month, the gracious owners knew the hour that we would come in and exactly how many cups to prepare, as well as the usual orders. For those of us that celebrated birthdays, they even sang and lit candles. Every night, we would try to figure out where we would meet for tapas if we weren’t already meeting as a group. Every weekend, we traveled to a new city. Not only did we see Madrid, but also Segovia, Toledo, León, Sevilla, Málaga and Cádiz. Some amazing things happened as well. The king abdicated his throne. On my 21st birthday, the new king was crowned.
Some days I ventured out by myself. Walking down Gran Vía, one of Madrid’s more famous streets, became my relaxation. Visiting the museums became my immersion. Talking with my host family and joking with my housemates became my favorite evening activity. My host mother had become one of the people that I enjoyed talking to and learning from the most. My host father became my advisor for places to visit. The life that I had become a part of was more comfortable than I could have imagined.
It was on my final day that this idea solidified, as my host mother drove me to the airport, telling me about the city and about how much we would keep in touch. As she hugged me goodbye, as the plane took off and as I saw Madrid disappear behind me, I realized that my host family, my housemates and the whole group had become an important part of my life that I would never forget. While I was only there for four weeks, the things that I learned and the memories that I have will certainly last a lifetime.