Highlights and tips for a semester in Madrid

James W, Bachelor of Engineering

Polytechnic University of Madrid (Semester 2, 2016)

Madrid is a large, lively, beautiful and friendly city. There are always events and things to do, incredible public transport, a compact city centre and it is really safe! Even though it is a big metropolitan city it still has an interesting and different culture. It´s very refreshing to learn about Spanish history, customs and traditions that continue to influence the country a lot today in spite of globalisation and tourism.

If you ever get bored of the capital, Spain is an incredible country to explore. Every single town and city has its own festival, most of them being week long parties filled with free live music, fireworks, dancing, shows and events. Most of these are around summer but don´t miss out whilst you´re there! I went to: la Tomatina, a festival where everyone throws tomatoes at each other. Semana Grande, a week long festival of free music, theatre, sporting events, fireworks and performances. Las Fallas, a festival where artists spend the entire year creating incredibly tall statues the size of buildings and large trees before burning them all on one spectacular night. San Fermines, a week long festival where every morning they run bulls and people down the middle of the streets! There are many more someone could go to and they´re all very different depending on the local region and culture!

The universities are totally different to ours in Australia which makes for a really interesting and potentially challenging experience as well. The bureaucracy, facilities and teaching styles are quite different and seem a bit outdated but actually have a lot of advantages too. The classes tend to be smaller with attendance often compulsory, which makes it easier to get to know the professors and become more interested in the subjects. There is often less dependence on technology which can help fight against the distractions of the internet and “computer says no” bureaucracy.

Living in Madrid is also great because it´s very cheap! There is accommodation for all budgets to be able to live centrally, I lived in the city centre for less than 110 dollars a week with only a week’s search (although a reasonable understanding of Spanish may be required for this). Unlimited public transport pass is 30 dollars a month for under 26 year olds with most services run from 6am to 2am. There are also 24/7 bus routes connecting to the city centre. The university offers 3 course buffet style meals for $7.5 which are so big I used to split the meals across lunch and dinner. That´s less than $8 for lunch, dinner and dessert – they even wash the dishes for you! Coffee can be bought in cafe´s for as cheap as a dollar as well. Going out is also great as they have an incredible bar and tapas culture as well as a wide variety of clubs although most the music is reggaeton, which you´ll learn to love as well.

So go there, make some great friends, travel the country, go to some festivals and enjoy the great tapas and cheap cañas!