Today, I have no fancy cultural anecdotes about Madrid to share. No breathtaking landscapes, timeless art or exquisite architecture to feast your eyes on. No delicious dishes or eccentric celebrations to describe. Nevertheless, I will highlight one of the most important factors in the exchange life. It’s something that has shaped my experience and influences every other exchange student around the world: other exchange students.
As the second semester started, I looked around and realized that a good half of the good friends I’ve made here are gone. They were only here for a semester and are now back in their home countries. It’s a sad thing in itself, but it also made realize how much time I’ve spent not with Spanish people but rather people from different countries.
It all started back in September during the week before classes. It was a week filled with events, activities and parties organized for the hundreds of us exchange students in order to get to know the school, the city and each other. Think frosh week but for visiting students.
-Fail of the week: International potluck, where I was one of the the few who came empty handed because neither maple syrup nor poutine gravy exist in Spanish grocery stores.
“It was fun” <– understatement of the year. Details aside, this “Welcome Week” had an effect that is all too similar to what we experienced in frosh. Groups started to form. However, whereas groups of friends at frosh tend to happen arbitrarily (“Hey you’re a person, lets exchange numbers!”), people at Welcome Week seemed to gravitate towards people from their own country, or those who speak their language.
The fact that people started grouping up didn’t cause too much of an issue in getting to know other exchange students. Over the semester there were plenty more events organized for us, so it’s been easy mixing with the group as a whole.
The problem with these exchange bubbles is that it held many of us back from socializing with the local students, and so it held us back from the true exchange experience. One of the best things about studying in a foreign country is getting to know its people, speaking their language and spending time with them. Studying abroad but only hanging out with other visiting students is like venturing out into the ocean in the safety of a submarine instead of swimming in there yourself.
That being said, it’s not so easy to just integrate with the Spanish student body like a social butterfly. The language is barrier is one thing, but that isn’t a huge issue as many of us are here because we can manage in Spanish. Another problem is that we’re 3rd and 4th year students, so most of our classmates have known each other for a while and already have their groups of friends.
I have to admit that I ended up in a sort of submarine, but I still regularly venture out with my scuba gear to spend some nights out with Spaniards. I really don’t have anything against spending time with other exchange students and as a matter fact, that’s what I’ve been doing most of the time.
And I’m big in Japan
It’s amazing how such different backgrounds bring us together, with the same struggle and the same passion for all things foreign. Truth be told, getting to know people from different countries has been just as exciting as getting to know Spain. As much as I try not to stay in it too much, I love my exchange bubble.
Until next time,