My year abroad in Madrid: the perfect Spanish culture and language immersion experience

I’m Megan, the current Spanish section editor of the Linguist. I am a final year International Relations student, having just completed my year abroad (well, most of it) in Madrid.

Despite being cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic, my year abroad in Madrid was eventful and exciting – even, at times, educational. I cannot wait to be able to return to Madrid, hopefully sometime soon, and I will always appreciate what the city has given me in terms of increased confidence, refined language skills, and another place to call home.  

As my Spanish fluency grew steadily over the months I studied at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, my confidence grew alongside it. I studied both International Law and Political Science modules, the majority of which were taught in Spanish. Before living in Madrid, I would never have imagined that I could be capable of doing a ten-minute presentation in Spanish on International Human Rights Law but three months into my studies, that was exactly what I was doing! I really cannot recommend highly enough complete immersion when learning a language. I feel as though one week of struggling (but persisting) with difficult conversations in banks and police stations, whilst trying to gain my residency card, taught me the most valuable lessons I have ever learnt in terms of Spanish grammar and spoken fluency.

The Spanish way of life, the culture, and (perhaps most significantly) the food, have all become important parts of my everyday life. Since coming back to the UK in March, I have noticed many small changes in my habits and ways of thinking. From the times that I eat, to some of the everyday actions and expectations of others that I now notice as being distinctly British. I miss the afternoon glasses of tinto de Verano (red wine and gaseosa / lemonade) on sunny roof terraces; strolls in El Retiro park; finding bargains at the Sunday market, El Rastro; Saturday brunch with friends; and being surrounded by people from all over the globe – all chatting in different languages and laughing in cosy bars and coffee shops.

Madrid is a beautiful city with a welcoming but electric atmosphere – somewhere you can create amazing memories and stories that you will tell for years to come. My year abroad, as a story, does not disappoint. It is full of friendship, adventure, and joy –  with just a splash of trauma and stress, for good measure. There was one stolen phone, one hospital visit, and many all-night essay writing sessions. Nevertheless, there were many more nights spent dancing the night away in discotecas, or eating tapas and drinking cañas (small Spanish beers), whilst putting the world to rights with friends.

I always knew that culture and travel were important to me, but after being unexpectedly pulled away from Madrid, I will definitely appreciate future adventures, and existing memories, even more. I am extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to travel and live in different countries; experiencing different cultures and learning new languages. I will never take these experiences for granted, and I cannot wait to get back into the world, once it is safe to do so.

I miss Madrid, deeply, but I am also very excited to get back to Birmingham. I cannot wait to see what this year holds for the Linguist and my second, and unfortunately, final year as the editor of the Spanish section.

Megan Lacey

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