Ellen during her time in Madrid, Spain
Ellen from the Netherlands in Madrid, Spain: "I loved being able to get a coffee for just €1,30 and enjoying it in the sun". Read her story here!
- Internship Abroad
Hey! Who are you and where are you from? Where did you study/live/work?
Hey, I'm Ellen, a 24-year-old girl from Wageningen, the Netherlands. After finishing my bachelor degree in English and Spanish in Utrecht I took a gap year and went to Madrid with the idea of doing a 1-month CELTA course to get certified in teaching English to adults. After that I hoped to find a job somewhere in Spain. I wasn't planning on staying in Madrid for the whole year, because I thought it was too big of a city and I wouldn't want to spend more than a month there. But the city really grew on me and I found a job on the last day of the CELTA course and ended up staying in Madrid.
What was the first thing you thought when you got off the plane? (bus/train/car)
I think the thought that I was all alone in a new country quickly crossed my mind. I didn't know where I was going to be in a month's time and I thought the whole thing was crazy but also exciting. But then I quickly went to just thinking, "Right, let's get that suitcase, go to the metro and find the apartment I'm going to be living in for a month". Only after I got off the metro, found the apartment and talked to the landlady did it start to dawn on me that I was really doing this and I started enjoying the sense of adventure, the Spanish sun and the Madrilenian atmosphere.
What was the most shocking difference between your home country and your new country?
The schedule. Eating times and habits. For example, in the Netherlands for lunch we just eat a quick sandwich around 12/1pm and have dinner around 6/7pm. In Spain people have lunch around 2, 3 or even 4pm and they take an hour or an hour and a half to go to a restaurant and eat a three-course meal, maybe even including a nice glass of Spanish wine. After that they go back to work for a couple more hours, then maybe eat something small, and have (a light) dinner late in the evening (around 9, 10 or 11pm). Of course I didn't necessarily have to stick to this schedule, but living in a new country I wanted to really experience it and I tried to adapt.
Did you ever feel homesick? How did you cope with this?
Yes, sometimes. Especially at moments when I knew my whole family was together I'd really want to be there as well. Or when a group of friends was going on a weekend away together I'd see all the pictures and I'd feel a bit lonely. But then I'd just remind myself "Come on, you're in Madrid!" and I'd go out for a walk around the Retiro park (one of my favourite spots in Madrid) or hang out with some friends, or talk to my then boyfriend or a friend on Skype, and I'd feel a lot better. And luckily I was generally really enjoying myself, so I didn't feel homesick too often.
Did you feel at home in your new country? Why (not)?
Definitely. Madrid is a very friendly city and I loved the atmosphere. I walked everywhere so I quickly got to know my neighbourhood. I also had some really nice housemates and we'd go for drinks or on trips or just spend a nice evening in watching a movie, so it felt quite homely.
Please give us tips about who to befriend when living abroad. The Russians? The Irish? The Chileans? (Honestly, we want to know some gossip about other internationals you’ve met.)
My main reason for going to Spain was to become more fluent in Spanish so I was actually mainly looking to befriend Spanish people! Most Spanish people are really friendly, so I'd definitely recommend the Spanish. The Irish are also great to hang out with, very welcoming and great fun to go drinking with. Really most people I met were wonderful, Spanish, Irish, Canadian, German, English, Venezuelan…
Describe the inhabitants of Spain in three words.
Out-going, passionate, social.
Was there a type of local food you could NOT handle?
Oh yes: callos. I really really couldn't handle that! They also call it callos a la madrileña because it's typical for Madrid. It's a stew that contains tripe, blood sausage, peppers and more. While I can deal with the blood sausage (which actually tastes quite good once you get over the idea of how it's made), I really did not like the tripe! Yes, that's part of an animal's stomach. It doesn't look appetizing at all and has a weird texture. Many (Spanish) people love callos, it's just not for me!
What did you learn from your experience abroad? Was it the loving community you liked? The cheap cocktails? The overwhelming nature? Or was the experience less helpful than expected? Details, we want details!
It was a great experience. I loved that there were always people on the streets. Always. People having breakfast on terraces, drinking beers, going for a walk, eating tapas. Life in Spain is very outdoorsy. I never felt scared going home in the middle of the night because there would always be people around. The nightlife in Madrid is great by the way. Drinking copas (mixed drinks like gin & tonic, rum & coke) all the time instead of beers, without getting the feeling that they're trying to rip you off, because they aren't stingy with the proportions. Good music. Everyone knows how to dance! Clubs are open till the early morning, so you can dance all night if you want to.
And there are so many different neighbourhoods with their own typical atmosphere that no matter what kind of people/music/style you like I'm sure you can find it. I loved that the wine is always good, even when you get it cheap from the supermarket. I loved the architecture, the beautiful, grand buildings, the cosy plazas, the big Retiro park. I loved being able to get a coffee for just €1,30 and enjoying it in the sun. I loved strolling around El Rastro flee market on Sunday mornings. I loved the blue skies. Sun and blue skies almost every day, how great is that… I loved hearing Spanish all around me and expanding my vocabulary with casual expressions, abbreviations, etc.
On a more personal level, I learned to step out of my comfort zone and for example go to an event by myself to meet new people. Since I didn't attend classes or anything and I worked independently (going to companies such as the Banco de España to teach English to employees) I had to find other ways to get to know people. And I guess I became more independent, doing things like opening a bank account (using terminology in Spanish I'd never used before…), getting an identity number, finding a room, etc.
All in all, it was a truly wonderful experience and Madrid has won itself a very special place in my heart.