On my first few days in Madrid, the first thing that shocked me the most is how much I walked. According to my watch, I took over 90,000 steps the past week. Also, coming from the state where everything is big, everything here seems small. From food portions to the size of cars and the size of the roads. Something else that I noticed was that the Spanish people seem to have a very different take on life. People are out on the streets walking around, sitting down to have a drink, and not worrying about the next day. It feels like they take a minute to just relax and appreciate what they have around them. Lastly, I would say that another cultural difference between the United States and Spain is that the public transportation system works almost without flaw. I don’t think that I have gotten in a car more than twice. I can go anywhere using the train, subway, and bus. I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store for me.
To say the least, this semester was not what I expected. While covid restrictions altered what I thought my exchange would look like everything exceeded my highest hopes.
Maastricht was such a lovely city to call home and thanks to the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at the University I found new friends to call family. If you go on an exchange, I highly recommend connecting with the Erasmus Student Network or another similar student organization to help you connect with people and find your way around.
Because of travel restrictions, my first excursion was a Dutch road trip. I went with a few other exchange students that I met through ESN and we spent the whole weekend exploring the Netherlands. We visited Rotterdam, The Hague, Delft, Utrecht, and the Keukenhof Garden. In Rotterdam we picnic’d on the beach, walked the pier, and saw the parliamentary buildings, but the best part of the whole trip had to be the Keukenhof Garden. The Keukenhof Garden is one of the most famous spots in the Netherlands to see Tulips and it is definitely worth it! Pro-tip, you have to pay to get inside the Keukenhof Garden, but there are plenty of fields outside that are free to explore.
In addition to the cute city and new friends that contributed to my positive experience, the learning system at Maastricht University was so different from A&M and really challenged me as a student and professional. The problem-based learning system at Maastricht puts a lot of the responsibility of learning on the students. Instead of sitting in a professor’s lecture and taking notes, students take turns leading their peers in discussions, problems, and case studies. I found that this method allowed me to take ownership of the material and gave me the confidence that I was learning and understood the course. From my time in Maastricht University, I can truly say that I gained more confidence in my major and presentation skills.
Maastricht University was a great choice for my semester exchange and I would recommend it to everyone!
Looking back to this past semester living in Madrid, I have mixed feelings about it all. It has without a doubt been the best experience I have lived. I moved to Madrid knowing it would give me so many things to take with me, but I did not think through how hard it would be for me to say goodbye.
There is something extremely special about Madrid- something that makes your time living there only a positive one. I still do not know if it is the people, the food, or the overall culture, but it is for sure something that made me exceedingly happy to say the least. The beginning of my semester included things like “toque de queda” which made it complicated to do things like travel, but as the semester continued things started opening up more giving us a chance to travel. The first opportunity I had was to go skiing with some friends which was definitely something I was dying to do when moving to Europe. I love skiing and the fact that I could have that experience abroad was a memorable one. Along with this trip came my other 2 favorites, which were Gran Canaria and Rome, where I was able to visit with some friends and do things like go to sand dunes, natural pool waters, visit the Colosseum and the Vatican, and so on.
Although I was able to travel during this crazy pandemic study abroad year, I had already fallen in love with Madrid and the people there that it made it hard to even want to leave for only a weekend. This is something that shocked me since I am a person who loves to travel and will do so as much as possible, but the fact that Madrid had that power to make me so happy and never want to leave was definitely a good feeling. I made lifelong friends, visited new places, learned so many new things about different cultures, and most importantly grew as a person.
Leaving Madrid was definitely an emotional rollercoaster for so many reasons, yet all good. But at the same time, although I was sad to leave a part of me knows that this is not the end of my story with Madrid, and I hope this is the case because living in Madrid was the most amazing opportunity and I am so grateful to have experienced it.
I hope whoever has a chance to study abroad I say get out of your comfort zone and do it because I promise you it will be worth it!