One criticism of many foreigners studying abroad is that they only expose themselves to other foreigners. I wanted to make myself the exception to that criticism. Luckily, the SU Abroad program in Madrid offers “intercambios,” which are events hosted by Syracuse University and Universidad Politecnica that allow students from each school to meet and practice either Spanish or English.
This event appealed to me in particular since I came to Madrid only vaguely remembering beginner Spanish from high school. Compared to many students here who are native speakers or have taken upper level courses, my Spanish, quite simply, is terrible. At first, I was so nervous. Was my dress okay? Does my accent sound horrible? Do they even understand what I am saying?
Only a handful of American students had shown up to the event, which meant I was the only native-English speaker in a group of 10 students. However, all my worries washed away once I actually sat down with the students from Universidad Politecnica. I realized how much we all had in common even though we grew up on opposite sides of the world. With the widespread influence of American media, I could have conversations about our mutual distaste for Justin Beiber or our love of The Black Keys. I would ask them questions in English and they would ask (very basic) questions to me in Spanish. We ended up talking for almost two hours!
My opportunity to connect with real Spanish locals really blossomed when one member of the group invited me to a party they were having that night. Inside I was screaming! I was so excited to be invited to a real Spanish party, a place that tourists would not find easily. I jumped at the chance! That night I went along with two other SU students to a party in a local neighborhood near Nuestros Ministerios.
Our new Spanish friends introduced us to even more “Espanoles” and showed us around the neighborhood. There were waves upon waves of young people surrounding this local park that had transformed into a carnival. The carnival rides were similar to what I’ve seen in America but with a twist (like a standing section on the swinging boat ride!). It was a surreal experience to see Madrid through the eyes of the locals who apparently host neighborhood parties like this nearly every weekend around the city. I felt like I was let in on an insider secret of Madrid. It was an amazing night where I made new friends and got to finally feel like an “Espanole”.
– Jen Bundy, a junior political science and policy studies major at Syracuse University from Cumberland, Rhode Island