It is almost impossible to believe I have been in Madrid one week! Parts of Madrid, especially the downtown metropolitan area feels just like New York City. Spain has huge sales in January/February and June/July to make room for the change of clothes between seasons. Due to this, the streets are always crowded downtown with people spilling in and out of shops carrying lots of colorful bags and packages.
I started school officially on Monday, February 1, and had a very memorable first day. My first class starts at 9am, so I have to leave our apartment by 8am in order to be on time. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and I made it to CUNEF with 20 minutes to spare. I finally found my first classroom and walked in to a class full of Spaniards excitedly talking and milling around the room. It was clear everyone here had known each other for several years, so I already stuck out in addition to my light hair and green eyes.
After I sat down, the girl in front of me turned around and introduced herself. They switched between English and Spanish when they were introducing themselves. One of the guys I met will actually be studying abroad at USC in August, and I told him I would gladly show him around. I now know what it feels like to be the new kid in a new school in a new country. It can be a little overwhelming, and having a local friend is always helpful.
My first class was “Economía Española” (Spanish Economy) and is taught completely in Spanish. The most difficult thing about the class being taught in Spanish is not following and understanding the teacher—I can understand Spanish more than I can speak it—it is finding a group willing to work with an international student on a group project. Obviously, no one is keen on including the American who is still mastering Spanish. The girls in front of me kindly offered to let me join their group. One class down, three more to go.
My next class, was a bit of a disaster. Classes are back to back on the schedule. For example, one class ends at 10:30am and the next class begins at 10:30am. My first class ended a few minutes early so I ran to the next building for my next class. I rushed into the room five minutes early only to find a teacher and room full of Spanish students staring at me.
Apparently, classes actually start 10 minutes after the listed time. I had accidently interrupted the class before mine and the teacher was not happy. I explained my mistake to the professor after class and then waited for my class to begin. The same students from the class I had interrupted were in this class. While I smiled, none of them spoke to me as I was already deemed the “lost American.” When the teacher came in, he started speaking in Spanish…for the entire hour.
This was a business class and was supposed to be taught in English. After class when I asked the teacher why the class was in Spanish he informed me that this semester they had changed this class to only be offered in Spanish. For the third time since Thursday, I rearranged my schedule. At CUNEF, classes are not taught at the same time every day, or every other day. They are taught on random days at random times. For example, the same class may be taught Monday from 10:30am-12 noon, Monday from 1pm-2pm, and Thursday from 9am-10:30am. This is very difficult to plan a schedule around as I am required to attend all three classes.
In my next class, Operations Management (thankfully in English), I was finally in class with other international students from a program called Erasmus. Erasmus includes students from all over Europe, including students from Italy, Ireland, and France.
In my fourth class of the day, I was finally in class with other USC students. It was so nice to not be the minority for once that day. Between the six of us, we took up an entire row in the class. Sure, that was not much compared to the 6-7 other rows of CUNEF students, but at least it was better than being the only American student.
My last class of the day (Operations Management again) was canceled since it was a seminar and we did not have any new material to discuss. I was able to leave around 6pm and make it home around 7pm. After dinner, I could barely hold my eyes open.
It had been a long day and the first of many. The sad part is that Mondays are my short days: I will have class from 9am-7pm with several breaks in-between. Tuesday through Thursday, I will have class from 9am-8:30pm with an additional hour on each end every day to use the metro to get back and forth from school. It will be a great experience, but very busy. Who said study abroad students have it easy?