Tried my best to immerse myself in the culture
I tried my best to live like a true Madrileno, a term referring to the people of Madrid, Spain. The biggest adjustment was their day-to-day schedule. Madrilenos eat their meals later (lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9pm!), and often stay out as late as 5 or 6am, taking the first metro ride home. It was astonishing to see a large crowd ride the first metro home as the sun was rising. I sought out local events, such as watching a flamenco show, attending Spanish mass on Sundays, or perusing the weekly flea market. I also explored the city in search of authentic cuisine specific to that region of Spain. A recommendation for those that study abroad in specifically Spain would be to attend an “Intercambio,” an event that partners Spanish speakers learning English with English speakers learning Spanish to help and practice speaking their language.
Limited the occasional weekend trips to places within my home country during the time of my study abroad program
As I only had a few months in Spain, I wanted to really spend the time to practice my Spanish and learn the culture and history of each region of the country. Spain considers itself to be a nation of many nations: each region has its own customs, dialect, history, influences, cuisine, etc. It was exhilarating to visit the different regions and experience the richness of each culture within Spain. One of my favorite places was the beautiful city of Barcelona, located in Catalunya, a region of Spain that to my surprise, speaks a completely different language, Catalan.
Traveled before and after my program
As a pre-med, the next few years of my life will be somewhat unpredictable. I took this opportunity to plan a short trip to several other countries in Europe. I really loved and valued this experience. A recommendation is to travel at a comfortable pace, and to plan for enough time in each country to properly experience the culture and meet the people. Also, I bought a little souvenir from every country I visited to serve as a memento to my travels.
Took a lot of pictures of everything
Pictures are a great way to capture the moment. I really love going back through my photos as a way to relive the experience, such as remembering how delicious a specific dish was or how beautiful the city looked during a warm summer sunset. While I definitely encourage taking pictures for the memories, remember to put your phone or camera away after and experience everything through your eyes and live in the moment as well.
Set aside some time to explore solo
A summer abroad sounds a lot longer than it is in reality. The days flew by so quickly as I made some amazing friends. Though I occasionally did check out an interesting event by myself, next time I intend to take more time to experience my travels on my own (within reason concerning my safety). There is something peaceful about going on an adventure at your own pace.
Packed lighter (or at least I should have!)
A lesson I learned from my roommate is to choose the experiences that enrich who you are as a person over the materialistic things that will come and go. I realized this when I packed several pairs of sandals, but always ended up reaching for my most comfortable pair to explore Madrid in. I over-packed, and the luggage weighed me down both physically and figuratively. I promise that dragging a giant suitcase through the airport and on public transportation, and subsequently through several countries, is not worth having that extra pair of shorts or that cute sweater. I strongly recommend packing light. Other than specific toiletries, any medication, and some basic clothing essentials, you can buy almost anything you need abroad, and also shopping in a different country can actually be a really fun experience. Regardless, the experiences you pick up on the trip will be far more valuable than what you pack for the trip.