I recently returned from my overseas university exchange to Madrid, Spain. I chose Spain because I wanted to try and learn a different language whilst exploring a continent I had yet to visit. When I first arrived in Spain, it was August, meaning it was the middle of August. It was just as hot as Brisbane but not nearly as humid which made for a pleasant environment. I did experience some culture shock having not lived in a country that speaks a different language to English but as the weeks progressed I became more and more comfortable with my surroundings.
Madrid is a city that enjoys its nightlife. There are more bars per capita in Madrid than in any other city in the world, and it was obvious. They range from quaint little tapas bars with delicious food and small beers in which you can enjoy a pleasant afternoon with friends, to world-renowned nightclubs to dance the night away.
The University, Universidad de Carlos III, was somewhat different to QUT. Its facilities, while adequate, were not of the same quality of QUT’s but one must take every experience as it comes.
Accommodation was notoriously difficult to find if left till late. There are an abundance of University students wanting to find accommodation in Madrid’s centre so it’s best to be quick. However, at NO cost should you attempt to acquire accommodation in the small town of Getafe in which the University is located. Although the price might be attractive, there is absolutely nothing to do and the small amount of students I knew that lived in Getafe would constantly travel into the centre of Madrid to be with other exchange students. I lived about 100m north of Puerta Del Sol, which is with out a doubt the main hub of Madrid. It was a splendid location in a third floor apartment overlooking the walking streets. The cost was 440 euros a month plus bill so it was rather expensive but about average for the location. While rooms do fill up quickly, I would highly recommend that students view a few rooms before agreeing on one because the quality differs greatly. I had some friends that lived in surrounding suburbs of Madrid, one in particular called Malasaña, is particularly nice for night life and the price can be cheaper than Sol. Be forewarned, trust your instinct when it comes to dealing with the landlords. If they seem kind of sketchy it may be because they are trying to rip you off. Insist on receiving a copy of the contract in English (although I wouldn’t attach to much legal weight to the contract) and be aware that rent is almost always paid in cash – ask for a receipt or write your own!
I was rather disappointed with the subject allocation system at Universidad de Carlos III. The system was so that all the Spanish students were able to choose their classes well before the exchange students could. This meant that it made it near impossible to get the classes that you would like to get. Also, being enrolled in Law specifically, I was forced to wait until a day after the other exchange students could enrol into classes meaning I got very few of my class preferences, leaving me with classes that I was not only semi disinterested in, but were barely beneficial to my overall academic career. Also, I chose to do some of my classes in Spanish because I wanted to learn the language. While the University did have some organisations that offered some programs for exchange students, such as group get togethers and weekends away, the University itself was not very well equipped to handle exchange students that wanted to study in Spanish. The Spanish language course that was offered for two weeks preceding the University semester cost 250 euros. Then, throughout the semester, Spanish is not even offered as a language course within the University. You must pay another 250 euros to take the Spanish language as a semester course. Furthermore, it came as a surprise that even after spending 500 euros on two Spanish courses, I was made to print off my own course material each week at my own expense. I question the validity of this system.
Financially speaking, the entirety of Europe is going to be a budget nightmare. The Australian dollar to the Euro is not a great exchange rate and will lead to an empty wallet if not closely monitored. If you’re after a shoe string exchange, including rent, food, some weekend trips, I would take no less that $10,000. If you would like to experience what Spain, and Europe, have to offer, the budget would be more like $15,000. Food is slightly cheaper in Spain and the quality usually surpasses most things in Brisbane. However, they specialise in their own types of food, processed meats, sausages, some seafood, and to expect exotic cuisine would be naive. I just used a Commonwealth Travel Money card for all my expenses. But be warned, the majority of places will only take cash (including your rent/deposit/bills) because Spain is a country seemingly built on its flippant accounting.
Safety in Madrid was rarely an issue. However, in saying that, about 50% of the people I knew were pickpocketed. It does happen if you are not careful. Wallet front pocket always for guys, girls, purse/bag under your arm at all times – especially in populated areas.
In conclusion, I would recommend Spain overall as a country. The diverseness of the cities throughout the country is mesmerising and the food is second to none. Football fans will be in heaven and the slow paced lifestyle will benefit the highly-strung. However, Madrid itself is one for the partygoers. I myself partook in the festivities but I have to be honest when I say I grew tired of the party lifestyle and preferred to travel on my weekends. The University is adequate if you want to study in general courses and in English. If learning Spanish is high on your priority list then it may be wise to consider a different learning environment than Universidad de Carlos III.