Hooray! Another wonderful Student Feature from Madrid! Read on to discover what happened when University of California student Ashley Doan (also known as “Lola”) answered a very important question and learned many wonderful life lessons during her study abroad experience!
If you could study abroad anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Someone asked me this question my Freshman year of college and I immediately said “España.” Spain was perfect because I could become a European traveler and improve my Spanish skills. Then I thought, why not? And that was it. I searched online and headed to my study abroad office at UC Berkeley and I was set to study abroad in Madrid my first summer of college.
What did I expect?
I had no idea what to expect. I was 18 years old and hoped I would learn a little about language and culture (after all, that’s what the program was called), but little did I know, this experience would be so much more. I hopped off the plane with a large group of students and quickly learned that most were either incoming Seniors or Seniors who just graduated college! We couldn’t figure out how to work the pay phone, let alone figure out how to get a shuttle to the ACCENT Madrid Study Center. WHAT WAS I GETTING MYSELF INTO?
My incredibly amazing experience
When we finally arrived at the ACCENT Madrid Study Center, we met our roommates and took a taxi to our homestay. Our homestay mom kept hugging us and saying things in Spanish that we did not understand. My roommate and I looked at each other, not even sure if this lady was our homestay mom, but followed her into her flat anyway. She showed us our rooms, and after we took a nap in the sizzling sun, she told us to go out and explore MADRID.
After a few days of adjusting to the time zone and the friendly people, we felt at ease. We felt at home. We took the metro EVERYWHERE: School? Home? Adventures? Parks? Lunch? Clubs? Everything was readily at our disposal via metro. We also learned how friendly the Spanish are. At first, we were all so shy and timid about speaking Spanish, but it became so easy. Slowly, it was rare to speak English with our friends. We often strolled down the streets of Madrid asking strangers where we should go for lunch or what we should do today. They always seemed interested to talk to us and we made new friends everyday (some we still talk to today!). We were becoming locals: the owner of our favorite café knew us (and our orders) by name, we became “regulars” at the bar across the street from our home, the pharmacist became our friend, and we loved to walk our neighbor’s dog. We were adventurous; we bathed in Arabian pools, got our feet pedicured by biting fish, tried all the foods, and learned traditional Spanish dances. After traveling to Rome, Paris, or Barcelona on the weekends, we were always happy to return back to Madrid, back to our home.
Back in the States
Leaving Madrid was hard. My homestay mom became my surrogate mother; her daughter was like my sister. The ACCENT team was my family; they were no longer Vanessa and Carlos, but “Mamá” y “Tío.” I came to Madrid looking for adventure; I came looking for a challenge; I came to find out more about myself, but there was no “I” in my incredibly amazing adventure; it was always “we.” Madrid was not about exploring the city alone, it was about friendship and the love for adventure. The friendships we forged in Madrid were ever lasting. Many of us became best friends—giving us the opportunity to keep our adventure alive.
¡Hasta luego Madrid!
~ Ashley (Lola) Doan, University of California Summer 2012 – ACCENT Madrid