We strolled through the beautiful Venetian streets capturing great photos and memories of our time there. My dreams coming true right before my eyes, seeing the spectacular city. I was so giddy that I didn’t care about only having four hours of sleep on the sixteen hour plane ride it took to get over here. My first flight was great! I was right behind first class, aisle seat next to two gentlemen who were very kind. That plane ride was only about five hours so I decided to stay awake so that I could sleep on my next flight that would be nine and a half hours. My layover was in Philadelphia and that airport is HUGE! I had to walk from one side to the other and it was about fifteen minutes (I’m guessing) and that whole walk was through a MALL! Serious! There was a GAP , Victoria Secret, Nike store, and more! That was crazy fun to walk through, but I didn’t want to stop to buy things, knowing I was going to Italy. My layover was two and a half hours, so I enjoyed a glass of wine while I waited. There was this big commotion going on where the planes got mixed up on us. We ended up getting a smaller plane than was planned. So they kept announcing over the airport intercom that there weren’t enough seats for everyone on the plane and that they were willing to give airfare credit and accommodations to a hotel and food in order to catch the next flight out the next morning. They needed five people to give up their seats and no one seemed to be taking the offer. The amount they were offering jumped from $500 to $1,000 for airfare credits. I almost took the offer, except I had plans to keep.
While packing for Prague, I still didn’t feel like I was actually going to be leaving for a foreign country for nearly 5 months. When I boarded my flight, same feeling. Arriving at my new apartment, nothing. I still don’t think it has hit me that I’m in the Czech Republic with the chance to experience something I never expected to have an opportunity for. I’ve always wanted to travel, but until now I have had school to finish. Although I still have classes while I am here, it’s not quite the same. After finishing my first week of classes I am expecting a somewhat difficult semester academically, but with the help of Prague’s charm I think I will make it through just fine.
Honestly, it’s taken me a while to sit down and write this post because I’ve been thinking about how I want to share my experiences, and it’s taken me some time to integrate my feelings and experiences.
The first week or so I experienced a lot of mixed emotions and culture shock. I’m in Reggio Emilia, Italy, so it’s a very small town that only has a few restaurants (that I know about/ really love to eat at), all the food in the grocery store is different (duh), so I didn’t know what to make at first. A lot of businesses and restaurants close around lunch time, so many people aren’t out at that time, but much later in the night. Italians don’t say “excuse me” or “sorry” when they bump into you on the street, because they just have different gestures than Americans.
Today marks my third day officially living in Lyon, and my fourth day since leaving the United States; and let me tell you, it has been a rocky first few days. I’ve gotten lost, had to walk through dark places alone, had issues communicating, and gotten locked out. However, there’s also been many more good times to overshadow these troubles, so you could say it’s been a roller coaster journey thus far.
Fresh off the plane, (after 16 hours of travel) I received an email from my advisers with instructions for getting to La Statue de Saint Exupéry à Place Bellecour, where I was supposed to meet my host family for the first time in a few hours. With four hours on my hands I decided to give public transit a shot. The instructions seemed fairly clear to me, so having navigated the Portland public transit a lot I thought I could handle it. Of course I was wrong.
I have been in Madrid for a little over three weeks by now. I still haven’t quite adjusted to the heat yet and the fast pace of life but I am finding a sense of rhythm and routine. One of my favorite things thus far is the architecture of the city. It seems like around every corner there is a new and interesting building to stop and admire. Even down a simple alley way, you can find a colorful pink building with Juliet balconies lined with flowers. In the busier parts of the city the grand and ornate buildings of the Plaza Mayor or the Palacio Real are easy to encounter.
I take classes at a local university that is located just outside the city and easily accessible by the Metro. Tucked into a quite area of Madrid is Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. I attend classes there most of the week unless I am having class in one of the various museums in the center of the city. I am taking two classes while I am here, a class about European art and another about travel writing. Since it is the summer and many students are away on vacations it seems the only students on campus are the ones in my program. There aren’t many activities or clubs since it is summer holidays but on the flip side, the spare time allows me to explore the city more.
My experience with the locals is at times brief, I spend much of my time with the locals on the Metro (the underground subway of Madrid), ordering at restaurants and conversing with my host mom. But overall despite the busyness that there is in Madrid, the locals are kind and willing to help, despite the lack of Spanish vocabulary in some instances which can make conversing difficult at times but worth it since it can be used as a learning opportunity to learn new words.
My university in the U.S. had prepared me for what was to come: culture shock. I thought I wasn’t going to have a problem with culture shock because I knew the language and I felt like I had studied the culture and history my entire student career. But was I wrong. In my mind Madrid wasn’t a big city and it was going to be one of the small Spanish towns that you see on postcards. I had an idealize version of the city and when I first arrived I was struck with the sheer size and multitude. I should have expected it to be as large as it is because it is the capital of Spain. Upon arrival I quickly realized that I would have to use the Metro system to get about everywhere in the city. The web of lines, trains and stops was intimidating at first but once I understood how it worked, it became much easier to navigate my way to the various parts of the city.
In hindsight, I wish had researched more about the city and how it functioned. Much of my research has been on the job training as I have been going about my days here in Madrid. I feel that more research of the city would have lessened the shock I received when I first arrived. But on the other hand, having to figure things out on the ground has helped me grow as a person and as a traveler.