I’ve been in Spain for almost a week now, so I guess it’s time to get this blog thing rolling! So far, I have been amazed by everything, and I am so happy to be here. The flight was long and I couldn’t really fall asleep, so I arrived in Madrid exhausted and somewhat in shock — I couldn’t believe how far away I was from everything that I’ve ever known. It’s starting to sink in now, and everything feels more real.

The view from my balcony

Before I left the States, I couldn’t let myself think about the reality of the adventure that I was about to embark upon because the thought of leaving for eight months was absolutely terrifying. Now, just six days later, nothing could be more exciting than that same thought. I already know that it’s going to be hard for me to leave Madrid come April. But no need to think about that yet!

I took a taxi from the airport to my new home, and immediately after being dropped off outside my apartment, I was faced by my first new experience: figuring out how to use the buzzer/intercom thing to get into the building, something I’ve only ever seen done in Friends. Putting that knowledge to good use, I managed to press the right button, and I was greeted by the voice of my “madre,” Carmen. She said “Hola Ashley!” and some more things in Spanish, which I was too overwhelmed to comprehend, so I responded with the first and only thing that came to mind: “Hi!” One word. In English.

After lugging my suitcases up the three flights of stairs (with help from my lovely roommate Hayley, who had arrived a few hours earlier than me), I met Carmen in the flesh. She is absolutely adorable. She’s a widow who lives alone (when she’s not hosting study abroad students, which she has been doing for the past 16 years). She’s shorter than me, though many people are, but Carmen is really tiny. She kept exclaiming about my height when we first met. It was startling to be inundated with her fast Spanish speech immediately upon entry into the apartment, and for the whole first day, I really only understood about half of what she said. Now, though I don’t understand every word, I can almost always get the gist of what she’s saying, and I’m getting better at responding!

Carmen showed me to my room, which is small, but perfect for one person, and I really like it! It’s very cozy and it already feels like home. I have two balconies with doors that I can open up for a nice breeze (the weather here is so much more enjoyable than in Texas!) and an awesome view! I keep those doors open all day because it feels great and I like the view because it’s so different from everything that I’m used to seeing outside my home in Austin.

View of Toledo from our building

Bright and early the next morning after arriving in Madrid, our group of 13 SMU students and two professors from the university we’re attending left for orientation in Toledo. It took us about an hour by charter bus to get there from Madrid, which we spent chatting and starting to get to know each other. I really like everyone on the program, and after our weekend in Toledo, I already feel like I can call them my friends. Back in Dallas, I may never have crossed paths with some of these people, so I feel lucky that we all get to be friends in Spain!

Our group in Toledo

Toledo is an ancient city, and it is beautiful! The streets are always going uphill and downhill and winding around corners, and they are tiny, so when a car drives past, you have to squish up against the buildings in order to avoid getting run over. We spent our time there taking classes about Spanish culture and history, touring beautiful landmarks, and learning about life in Spain by experiencing it firsthand.

Since our return to Madrid, I’ve been settling in and adjusting a little more each day. I live with two other SMU students here, Hayley and Fatema (recently nicknamed Fati) and I adore them. It’s so nice to have friends with me at home, to speak a little bit of English with, to help me translate things while we’re talking to Carmen, and to explore the neighborhood with. Yesterday we ran a lot of errands. Everything we need (including our school) seems to be within walking distance from our apartment.

I think the most memorable place we went yesterday was Dia, a small grocery store. It was much smaller than any American supermarket I’ve been to and crammed full of people. I felt like I was in the way everywhere I went. I needed basic toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, and buying those in Spanish was an adventure. Hayley and Fati and I also picked out some sandwich materials and yogurt to eat for lunch for the next week or so and we were basically blindly choosing one cheese over another, so hopefully we ended up with something tasty!

We started school yesterday (so much for Labor Day!) and I am now faced with the sad reality of having to do homework while in Spain! It’s not called study abroad for nothing … Although I am doing an excellent job of procrastinating by writing this post. Some things never change, no matter what continent you’re on. But I am looking forward to my classes. They seem interesting, and I am particularly excited for my art history class which meets once a week in the classroom and once a week in the Prado museum! Lucky me!

My biggest frustration so far in Spain has been that I am not very good at ordering things in restaurants yet. People have a hard time understanding me, and vice versa, and they tend to just give up and start speaking English to me. As soon as I can successfully order something without the waiter immediately thinking “American! Cannot speak Spanish!” I will be very excited.

There is no doubt that Madrid is a big city, and having lived in Austin before this makes that all the more apparent. Right now it’s past 12:30 a.m. and the streets outside are still lighted up, and I can hear cars driving past and people speaking Spanish through my open window. This city is very much alive and I am so happy to be here in the middle of all of it!