I arrived in Madrid for the first time, groggy and overwhelmed, on September 1, 2016. I was quickly rushed into ice-breaker activities, city tours, and official business like setting up bank accounts and picking classes. Four and a half months later, on January 16, 2017, I arrived just as groggy but a little less overwhelmed. My suitcase was smaller, I knew where to go to get picked up, and most importantly, the sudden influx of Spanish was much less intimidating.
I left my house in St. Louis around 9:30 to catch a flight to Atlanta where I waited for five hours. I boarded a surprisingly small plane, was served my “Asian Vegetarian” meal (two types of curry, chapati, salad and fruit!), and spent most of the flight fidgeting trying to fall asleep. They served my “Asian Vegetarian” breakfast of a grilled vegetable sandwich and green banana shortly before landing. After clearing customs surprisingly quickly and collecting my luggage, my host dad came to pick me up. We arrived to my Spanish house around 10 am: Just over 24 hours after I left the US.
My first, or second-first, impression of Madrid was quite similar to the first time I arrived. My favorite five story, orange and yellow buildings were still cozy; and the cobbled streets though still not comfortable, didn’t feel quite so uneven. It’s a big, metropolitan city full of people crowding the sidewalks but somehow it doesn’t feel cold and aloof. The ground level bars and terrazas continue to fill up each night, with the voices of the patrons filling the streets with chatter even as the temperatures are at their lowest for the year (highs are a balmy 50 compared to 20 at home). The food is still salty, ham-y, and fried.
But even though I feel comfortable being back in Madrid, I’m not bored, because there’s so much I haven’t done yet. As the new students go through orientation, I’m planning day trips to nearby towns, and getting to do the touristy things I ran out of time for during the fall like. I’m enthusiastically starting to plan trips outside of Spain to see more of Europe. I’m looking forward to going hiking.
My arrival day in September was not uncomfortable, but was uncertain. Would I make friends? Would I be able to understand the language? Would I like Spain? Now that I know that the answer to those questions is yes arriving back in Spain has left me confident and content. I’m excited not that this semester will be better than the last, but I hope that the new students, new classes, and new seasons will be different, to complement my previous experience. I already know I don’t have to worry about it being a bad semester, so for now I can relax and let it be.