Creating a Home Away from Home: Madrid

Programs for this blog post

Teach In Spain Program

Authored By:

Suleima M.

Homesickness, Adjustments, and New Routines

Part of what you can expect when you move abroad is the unexpected - newness is the norm. From cultural differences on various levels, including the grocery shopping experience to the way kitchen appliances work, and the slower lifestyle, each day presents a lesson. 

I moved to Spain at the end of August for the September 4th orientation and, given classes did not start till October 2nd, I had a month before I started work. I was fortunate to have my housing set up prior to my arrival in Madrid so I did not need to go through the potentially stressful housing search.  

Even with my housing in place, I experienced an intense adjustment period. Something I had not mentally prepared for was the homesickness I felt shortly after arriving in Madrid. While this was difficult, and sometimes still is, there are numerous things that make me feel better: spending time with new friends, traveling, getting out of the house and exploring parts of Madrid, FaceTime calls with family and friends back home, and going to school four days a week.

Starting school at the beginning of October and immersing myself in a routine helped me immensely. I enjoy working at my school more than I had anticipated, especially given I don’t necessarily see myself following the teaching career path (although I certainly have moments of reconsidering that since being here). I was also pleasantly surprised at how simple my commute is; I appreciate getting to ride the bus with the other assistants from my school and having a reason to get out of the urban bustle. While the entirety of my one-way commute is about 50 minutes, the time flies by. I take the metro one stop to the Príncipe Pío train station and then a bus all the way to school. 

Lifting-Off from Madrid 

Me at train station in Porto, Portugal

Prior to the start of school, I took a perfect trip to Porto, Portugal, with a couple of new girlfriends and we treated ourselves to the tasty cuisine and charming sites Porto has to offer. This trip was eye opening as it allowed me to experience how fun and easy short trips from Spain can be. The photo pictured above was taken at São Bento, a beautiful train station that is covered in tile art. Since then, I traveled to Málaga to see a friend from college, and planned a winter trip to London where I will visit another dear friend. I eagerly await my London stay and all of the other travel opportunities to come!

Culture Shock! 

Photo taken in Alcalá de Henares, Spain

You can hear all the stories in the world about cultural differences and culture shock and not have a sense of just how shocking it can be! While I had visited Europe over the summer, I had never been to Spain. All the nuances of Spanish/European culture found in daily interactions were unfamiliar: the cuisine, the language, and more. In the beginning, there were many appointments and logistical things to take care of in the midst of this transition (that CIEE guides you through), which added to the intensity of the experience.

I came to Madrid with a conversational level in Spanish and that fluency has been a big help! While you do not have to have a foundation in Spanish before moving here, it’s incredibly valuable because, unlike other European countries, not everyone speaks English here.

Side note: There have been a few times where I spoke English as if it were custom to someone here, out of simple habit, and have felt completely foolish afterwards! In these moments I laugh at myself and am reminded of just how different my life is here compared to back home. 

Homesickness Life Hacks

Fountain in Retiro Park

Below is a short list of actions I have found helpful to relieve homesickness and thrive in Madrid:

  1. Make a goal (or goals) for yourself of what you would like to accomplish while living in Spain, keeping in mind they will likely evolve. 
  2. Stay in regular communication with your friends and family back home.
  3. Put effort into meeting new people and making friends, especially in your first few weeks. 
  4. Remember the self-care rituals you do for yourself back home (e.g. exercise, bake cookies, listen to your favorite music) will also help you feel your best while living abroad.
  5. Be patient and give the process time. It won’t all be figured out right away but you’ll learn and grow through every step of the way. 

I have found ways to make Madrid my home away from home, and as time goes on, I’ll find more. I look forward to making more memories, experiencing more growth, and drinking as much cafe con leche as I can!