My Experience Abroad
By Wyn Ponder I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. After all—my parents did meet in Austria. Once my friends and I made the decision to go to Madrid, it seemed like all we did was talk about what we were going to do once we got there. Now my time here is almost up, and when you’re literally living for the weekend and planning different trips throughout Europe, the weeks just seem to fly by.
Living in Madrid, and studying abroad in general, has been an absolutely incredible experience. I live with a host family and all my classes are in Spanish, so I’m forced to speak the language all the time, a situation which seems difficult, but that has actually helped me so much. At first I was absolutely terrified to move in with a host family. I couldn’t help imagining the worst-case scenario: my host family would be an absolute nightmare and I would be stuck there—it would be like all the random roommate gone wrong stories you’ve heard. Fortunately, that is far from the case. I live with a single mom and her daughter, and while the daughter is kind of insane, she does provide me with some good stories to tell. They treat me as if I was part of the family and they have known me my whole life.
There was definitely a serious period of culture shock though. When I first arrived, I quickly realized that EVERYTHING here moves at a much slower pace than in the United States. Teachers will show up 15 minutes late to class, stores close from 2-5 in the middle of the day so that employees can eat lunch, and then dinner is not served until 9 P.M., usually at the earliest. For some reason, everyone here wears Franklin and Marshall clothing (as in the tiny D3 school we play in sports), and public affection is not only accepted, but encouraged (it would be a weird day if I didn’t see at least six couples making out in public). Also, it is very culturally acceptable to stare at everyone and everything. They’re not necessarily staring at you because you’re American or different looking, but they’re just staring. Everyone checks everyone out, and it is totally normal. Now I hardly notice any of it, but when my parents came to visit, they could not stop talking about how weird it was.
It definitely is strange being away from Lexington for a full semester, but it’s nice to have a ton of W&L friends with me in Madrid so we can all sit down at dinner and talk about what’s going on back home. We always talk about how much fun it’s going to be to get back to Lex and pick back up where we left off, but I wouldn’t trade this semester for the world. It truly is an experience unlike any other. When else can you fly to Rome for the weekend with six of your best friends to see the Coliseum? When else can you take a two-hour train ride and be on the beach? I can definitely foresee a bit of a reverse culture shock when we all get back because the schoolwork will probably be a little bit harder and we’ll stay in one place during the weekends. After being able to do and see such cool things during the week, it might seem a little tame when we return, but then again, there’s not much in the world that can beat Lexington, Virginia.