Having studied Spanish in 2012, I fell in love with the culture and the language.
I had just got back from a Rotary exchange and knew I needed to do a university exchange. I choose Madrid as it was the only place in Spain I could go, with Portugal second, as I wanted to experience a completely different culture and was never interested in the standard Australian ‘culture’ exchange to London or America.
Upon arrival, everything seemed very relaxed as it was summer holidays. Finding an apartment was stressful and not at the same time. I arrived not knowing where I would stay, booked a hostel, and 3 days later I was moved in to my new apartment. Finding an apartment in Spain is tricky, because generally if you want the room, you take it, sign a contract and an hour later you’re in. So when you go to inspections you really have to think on your feet quickly and there’s no turning back. I wanted a room, called mum and by the time I came back it was taken. So it’s a lot of pressure!
I paid 390 euros for a single bed and quite a small room with a desk, but it included heating, and all bills plus it was equivalent Queen St mall location. I would recommend now to live a bit further out like in Malasana or outer suburbs as the train lines are so good, but at the time I didn’t know, so took what was on offer. I was living with 9 other people, which was so much fun but only doable for one semester. We were all living on top of each other with no common room and with many noise complaints, but my favourite memories were from that apartment.
I studied Consumer Behaviour, Film and Tv Direction, Spanish Language course, and Film Studies. Everything was in English, but we could choose to have it in Spanish. I found the classes a lot more relaxed than QUT, the exams were also very relaxed and people would even talk during exams and have their bags next to them. The University de Carlos III had a really great exchange program for Erasmus where lots of trips were organised and I made a lot of friends through that. However, I did have a hard time getting to know locals, you really have to go out of your comfort zone and make a really big effort with them. I recommend living with Spanish as is the easiest way to get to know them otherwise it’s quite hard.
Spain is cheaper than Brisbane, but in saying that because it’s cheaper, you do more and spend more. I travelled to 18 different countries, ate out most nights, and was travelling most weekends and spent $18 000. I used the Citibank card as this had no fees at all and used the current exchange rate. So every time I went to get money out, there were no ATM fees, no transfer fees, and it just used the current spot rate VISA had at the time.
Before leaving I was very hesitant about buying a camera or using my phone. At first I opted for my phone but as I really like photography I bought a camera half way through exchange. However, the customer service in Spain is really terrible, so it took me a day to find someone help me choose a camera, and it ended up be 30% more as technology is much more expensive there. I was hesitant as I knew pick pocketing was quite common in Spain.
I was pickpocketed at a festival in Salamanca in the centre of Spain. My phone was in my bag in front of me (a must in Spain) whilst holding my overcoat in front of me, but someone came up to ask for a tissue. When I opened up my bag to look their phone or wallet stolen, so I recommend a really good insurance company as it will happen there no matter how attentive you are!
None the less, my exchange to Spain was the best semester of my life. I met so many good friends from all over the world and my eyes were opened to International Business. I realised the importance of languages and how important it is to not be ignorant of another person’s culture. I am now an exchange buddy at QUT and I want to provide the best experience to my buddies possible. I am more driven to perfect my Spanish and am considering moving to Spain to work or moving to Europe where I have made some life-long friendships. I’m not sad after exchange, I’m appreciative of my time in Madrid and being back I realise it was the most beautiful, cultural, incredible place I have ever been. I know I will always go back to Madrid, it’s just a matter of time until I get there.