Spain | Semester Exchanges Blog

The past 5 months have flown by faster than I could have imagined. The experience that I had been looking forward to and planning for years is really over and I can’t believe it. There are no words to articulate how amazing and impactful my time abroad was. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I will be forever grateful for the people I met, the memories I made, and the things I learned this semester. I never thought that I would get so attached to a place and experience as much as I did. If you’re reading this and thinking about studying abroad, do it. I promise it will be worth it. 

When I wrote my last blog post, I had been in Madrid for about two weeks. Everything was still new and fresh and I still had a lot of doubts about living in a new country. Of course, throughout my semester there were ups and downs just as any other semester but I wouldn’t give up this experience for anything. I have learned so much about myself and what I truly value. My perspective has been changed by the people that I have met who are living completely different, yet similar lives to me. I’ve learned to not take myself so seriously and roll with the punches rather than try to plan out everything with such detail. In European, and especially Spanish culture, the people value life more than work. They take time to spend with family and friends and just enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve been conditioned to work hard and achieve my goals my whole life and being abroad has taught me to take a step back and just enjoy the moments that I am given. Being goal-oriented isn’t all that life has to offer. I now prioritize my happiness first.

If I had to pinpoint my favorite aspect of this experience I would definitely say it’s the travel and the people that I got to travel with. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to many cities and countries throughout my time abroad and those trips have made an invaluable impact on me. Immersing myself in completely new cultures every weekend was exhausting at times but the exhilaration of it all outweighed anything else. The feeling of being on a plane to a new place is unbeatable and I am so thankful that I was able to experience that feeling so many times. Throughout my travels, I visited iconic historical sites, art museums, beautiful oceans, and more. It truly felt like I was living in a dream. The best part, however, was the friendships that I cultivated along the way. Traveling with a group strips you down to your core. You see each other tired, hungry, and stressed but you also get to experience the most beautiful places together. It’s a unique bond that will never be broken. 

Lastly, after an entire semester of experience, I can definitely say that I’ve picked up some tips and tricks that I would love to share with incoming students or anyone else who wants to listen. My most important piece of advice remains the same as what I said in my first post; get out of your comfort zone. Try new foods, be independent, meet new people, and do things that you could have never envisioned yourself doing. If you come out of your study abroad the same way as you started it, you will be missing out on what this program is all about. You’re here to learn and grow, so don’t limit yourself!

Now for some more practical advice:

  1. When it comes to packing; less is more. Bring layer-able clothing and essentials but when you get to your city, you’re going to want to buy a new wardrobe anyways so don’t waste the space in your suitcase with old clothes.
  2. Choose a living arrangement in a central location. It was so helpful to be located in the center of Madrid for ease of access to everything. If you are able to find a place in the center, it will make your life a lot easier.
  3. Study for final exams early! UC3M has a grading system where the majority of your final grade comes from the final exam. It’s not what we’re used to at A&M so I found it very helpful to start studying for finals about 3 weeks in advance since they hold so much weight and I didn’t want to risk failing.
  4. Don’t book your travel super far in advance because you will meet new people and want to go on trips with them and if your whole semester is booked out, you won’t have the chance.
  5. Finally: You will get homesick eventually, even if you think you won’t. When that happens, talk about it with your fellow study abroad friends. Everyone experiences it and it helps to talk it out. Just know that it will pass and remember why you signed up for this in the first place.

I hope that this advice is helpful to someone who is about to embark on their own adventures abroad. I can confidently say that this was without a doubt the best semester of my life. I can’t express in words how much Madrid and its people mean to me but I hope that it treats whoever is going to be there next as well as it treated me. Hasta Luego, Madrid! <33 

P.S. If you’re an incoming student reading this and you have any questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram @nikhila_bulusu 🙂

Categories: Spain

Boarding my flight from JFK to MAD, I didn’t know where I would be the next time I flew home. Not in a literal sense – but figuratively speaking. Where would I be personally? I knew I would be in a different, more mature place five months after my first flight; but what is it that I would learn that allowed me to grow into the person I was going home.

If you were to have asked me before going abroad, if I considered myself a “global citizen” I would have said yes, naively convinced that my passion for traveling the world and curiosity of other cultures automatically made me one. I was quickly hit with the truth that that title didn’t fully belong to me.  As defined by the Oxfam organization, a “global citizen” is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world – and their place in it. As Americans, although we are aware of globalization and how different communities can be reached by the touch of an electronic screen button, many of us, including myself have failed to realize that this doesn’t equate to our understanding of the wider world itself.

In history class, we refer to Europe as the Old World, and the Americas as the New World – almost as if they are two separate entities, functioning entirely differently. While I wouldn’t refer to Europe as “old”, I do agree that we are completely different worlds – Europe and the United States of America (yes, intentionally excluding the other nations making up the Americas). From education to government to lifestyle to culture, we have just a handful of similarities (given the UK as an exception). I’ve learned this through exploring different countries, talking with people of other nationalities, listening to course lectures, and every time I do so, I come to this same conclusion. I’ve also learned the consequence of us functioning entirely differently. To sum how one of my international friends put it – the United States is this big, powerful country whose only focus is on itself and its global position.

The other nations can’t help but turn their eyes towards what we are doing in America because of our massive influence in entertainment, media, politics, and the global economy. I’ve always understood our large presence on the international stage, but never considered the true effect on others. Amongst other Americans, we joke about how other countries dislike us but don’t take a step back to understand why they look at us or treat us differently. I believe if more of us did we would know the answer – and it’s one I’ve just stated. Our world is globalizing at an exponential rate, but we still unknowingly function as two different entities. If we look at the bigger picture, turn our eyes and focus on entertainment, media, and politics that aren’t just ours in the United States, we would be aware of and understand the wider world, and more importantly, our place in it – that’s what being a global citizen is all about. That’s why going on exchange has been such an insightful, life-changing opportunity.

I could write a book of takeaway lessons from being an exchange student, but this is by far the most relevant. It is what has changed my perspective, widened my lens, and allowed me to say with full certainty that I am a global citizen. It is what has made me a full advocate for students to apply to a study abroad program and take that flight overseas as I did five months ago.

Categories: Spain

Now that I have completed my semester abroad I am beyond excited to share some of my favorite memories. Throughout this time I had the privilege of living right in the heart of Madrid, this allowed me to get around so much easier and I was always able to get around the city much quicker than if I had lived in the outskirts. During my time in Madrid, I got the chance to discover some of my favorite local spots such as watching the sunset from the palace which was only a 5 min walk from my apartment. Madrid has so much to offer in terms of food and I loved discovering new spots, one of my favorite tapas bars is called El mini bar! I loved going to that place for tinto de verano and their croquetas which are Spanish staples.

During my semester abroad I also had the opportunity to travel so much and I enjoyed exploring new countries with my friends. I was able to visit 10 countries during my time abroad and those experiences were unforgettable. Being able to travel in Europe is so much easier than it is in the US and I highly encourage anyone who is able to take advantage of this! Being able to visit all these countries allowed me to learn a lot about different cultures.

Being abroad was a lot of fun and the experience is so rewarding but I want to shed some light into a portion that lots of people tend to leave out. With good days also come bad days, there’s time when homesickness can get the best of you and I encourage anyone who experiences this while they are abroad to reach out to their support systems, it’s so important to take care of yourself and talk to those around you. Most of the time someone else could probably be feeling the same way as you. One of the ways I coped with feeling homesick was by reaching out to friends who had done previous exchange semesters and sure enough, they had experienced the same things as me.

I could not be more thankful for this experience and every day I am so glad I picked Madrid as the place to do my semester abroad. This city has so much to offer and I will forever cherish the memories I made with my friends abroad. To anyone who is interested in studying in Madrid do it!

Categories: Spain

As my time in Barcelona comes to an end, there is so much to reflect on! Barcelona has been a great experience and I have learned so much. The culture here is so incredibly different and I loved seeing it. When it comes to conducting business and engaging with individuals, it is definitely very different than in the US, particularly in Barcelona there are Catalans who are very proud of their culture and keep it very safe, this is something super important to keep in mind when speaking to others. Remembering that you are in their home, it’s important to try your best to adapt, and not make others adapt to you, try your best to learn as many languages as you can! School here is very different too, for all my classes the only grades were a group presentation and one final exam. It can be stressful since we don’t know what the tests are like, but it also gives you more free time as you aren’t constantly doing homework. This is the library and a very nice area right next to where I live.

Barcelona has everything from the beach to a city that never sleeps. When I first came here I was very overwhelmed and felt like I would never be able to keep up. Now I know where everything is, I know how to get around, and I even see some friends anywhere I go! Barcelona is a great place to make new friends, learn a new culture, and change as a person. I am definitely far more independent now, more confident, and more ready for the ‘real world’ than ever before.

Categories: Spain

As I’m writing this, it marks exactly two weeks since I have been living in Madrid. To say that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. From the 9 hour flight to encountering countless hurdles trying to get my metro card, I have definitely learned a lot that I would love to share.

The first thing that I noticed when I got here was how beautiful the architecture was. The buildings themselves make you feel like you’re in a movie. I filled up my camera roll within two days (and I have no shame). Just waking up to the view from my apartment felt like a dream. Walking 20,000 steps a day around the city and eating nothing but tapas & coffee for the first week honestly just felt like a vacation. The reality of being here for 5 months didn’t hit until the initial adrenaline wore off.

Now I’m going to go ahead and share some essential things that I wish I knew before moving here:

  1. Make a metro card appointment BEFORE you arrive in Madrid. I had to go to a train station in the middle of nowhere just to get this card.
  2. Don’t even think about eating dinner until 9 pm. Everything here is a lot more laid back and meal timings are all shifted a few hours behind American times so just be prepared for that.
  3. Be willing to put yourself out there even if the situation is unfamiliar. Being a study abroad student is all about growing and learning to adapt to a new environment. If you stick around only what you’re comfortable with, then you won’t see the growth that you’re hoping for.

I’ve only been here for a few weeks and I can’t even express how excited I am for the rest of the semester. Traveling, meeting new people, and learning about business from an international perspective is truly a dream come true. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of every moment. Stay tuned for my reflection at the end of this (hopefully) incredible journey. 🙂

Categories: Spain

I have been in Spain for over 2 weeks and I have loved every second since I got here! I feel like for me it has not been too hard to get adjusted here because I speak fluent Spanish, however, Spaniards do speak a bit faster and use a lot of words I typically don’t. I’ll start back from the first day of arriving, me and 2 other girls from TAMU flew in together and made our way to our flat (apartment) via a taxi from the airport. When we got to our flat our landlord met us here to give us our keys and introduce us to our roommates. One thing I highly recommend is looking on Erasmus Facebook groups to find housing: it’s significantly cheaper than a dorm and you can find a great location! Thankfully I got in contact with this landlord early on in the fall semester and got rooms for myself and the 2 other girls. We are so lucky to have found this place because it’s in the perfect location in Madrid! Sol has so much to offer from food, shopping, and lots of nightlife activities. As far as adjusting to living here it was a bit challenging for me because the jet lag was real!! And with Madrid being a night city, it’s a bit hard to get some sleep at night lol, but I would not trade sleep for the location of this flat–it’s so worth it!!

I guess I’ll move along to some tips that I have gathered while being here! First and foremost literally nothing here is spicy… which has been a real struggle for me because I’m Mexican and I need spice in my life lol, so if you can, pack your favorite hot sauce. Another thing is that things here are not as sweet/artificial as they are back home which can be a little odd to get used to since we are so used to having all the sweets back home. One other tip I would like to mention is to get your metro card appointment before getting here!!!!!!! Seriously, if you’re reading this I hope you at least take one thing away from it and that is to set your appointment before arriving in Madrid. My friends and I tried to make appointments to get our metro card (which is crucial to getting around here) and the earliest appointment in the location we are staying was like 2 weeks away so we made our earliest appointment in a town that was 1 hour away from Madrid, which was quite the adventure. One other thing I suggest is to pack lightly which I wish I would have done because you will do a lot of shopping here, everything is so much cheaper than back in the US. I hope this helps anyone who is interested in coming to Madrid; of course, I am biased because it’s the place I decided to study abroad at but it seriously is such a beautiful city with so much to offer. There are so many international students here and lots to do!

The amazing view from my apartment!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

When I got to the city of Madrid, I didn’t know what to expect. Truly. I had never been abroad before partaking on this exchange, but now, twelve days into this program, I have covered quite a bit of foreign ground. Here are my initial impressions and advice for anyone looking to make that trip overseas:

After a total of 18 hours traveling to the capital of Spain, I arrived at the airport only to encounter my first of many international hiccups. While passport control was a somewhat seamless process, the officer who took my documents forgot to stamp them, which led me to getting a jump start on practicing my Spanish speaking skills. It took three officers to resolve the issue, but that wasn’t the end of my airport troubles. Let me preface this by saying: when going on an exchange, depending on your mobile provider will determine whether or not you need an international SIM card. My personal plan did not allow me to use any data without one, and while the airports sell them, their store was closed for the first hour I was there. Eventually, the store opened and I was able to buy a working SIM and get a taxi to my flat in the center of town.

Once getting to the flat, I was finally able to settle in and start navigating the ins and outs of living abroad. Some of the differences I have noticed so far: contactless pay is a thing–it’s so common that taking out your card to pay feels wrong (*note on the credit card: if you are planning to be abroad, get a VISA or Mastercard, those will be the most universally accepted, as I learned); if you attempt to speak Spanish even if it’s at a beginner’s level, they won’t switch to English and rather continue with their language, which is ideal for anyone seeking to learn; Spanish time is real–they truly have a schedule unlike any other where lunch is around 5pm and dinner doesn’t start until 9pm; with that, the city holds its title of having the best nightlife, where the streets are crowded and full of energy every single night.

There are many more things I have learned and yet to learn on this trip, especially when it comes to the inner workings of the Spanish school system. While classes don’t start until tomorrow, it is evident that they approach education in a different way. From looking at the syllabi and talking to my international roommates, I have found that lectures aren’t the main teaching style and rather it’s practicals and presentations that drive home the lessons. I’m interested to see how this semester goes and how I will be able to adapt and adjust!

Overall, this past week has been an incredible and insightful experience, despite the few hiccups I’ve run into. And to think this is only the beginning of my five-month-long adventure!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

Today on the 21 is my second week in Barcelona. I wanted to use this post to talk about the arrival process and adjustment! I honestly didn’t hear too much about how this process would work but so far it has been great! If you decide to study abroad, know that adjusting can be hard, but it gets easier every single day! We got to the airport in Austin on January 6, landed in Atlanta, then Paris, then Barcelona! The Barcelona airport had a bus that took us right to Placa Catalunya which is where we live so that was a very easy process! I know it can be a tough thing figuring out how to get somewhere after the airport. We then arrived at our apartment, right now in our program we have 2 people (Avni and I), we are sharing a one-bedroom apartment that also has a sofa bed so we make it work! Definitely keep in mind that most apartments are much smaller than I would say we are used to in the US. You’ll learn how to make your space work! The food here has been great, cheaper than in the US, mostly everyone you’ll need to talk to speaks English so don’t let the language barrier scare you! Though you should definitely try to learn Spanish if you come. School here is much different than TAMU, they have the same classes on Monday and Tuesday and then Thursday and Friday. There is only 1 exam per class and they don’t do much homework here. Each class also has a seminar that varies every week so just make sure to keep up with your schedule! The professors here are also super passionate about what they’re talking about. The locals don’t really take notes, you’ll hear them say that they rather just pay attention to understand better which I thought was so interesting as we are so used to taking pages and pages of notes. I would definitely say to pack light, clothes here are much cheaper than in the US so I bet you’ll want to go shopping! But make sure to bring what you need, especially in the Spring semester where it is pretty cold. Many things are different due to COVID, we thought orientation was in person so we came the first day, it was actually online but for some reason, we didn’t know! COVID definitely makes it tough to sometimes know what’s going on, but just like anything, always ask questions. Adjusting takes time but it’s completely worth it. Love Barcelona!

Categories: 2022, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

After spending a whole semester abroad, I have learned quite a few things about Spanish culture. Interacting with them was an interesting experience. Spanish people like to talk about anything. Nothing is a simple conversation. The bureaucracy of the country is slow but if you get on top of it, they do work efficiently. I would definitely like to come back to visit. I have made some life-long friendships here, and I am hoping that they come to visit me. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience I had.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain

I have officially completed one month in Spain! I arrived a few weeks early than my companions, Kira and Manu, to spend some time with family who live outside of the city. Not only am I happy I was able to see them, but spending ten days with them helped me immerse myself a little bit easier into the Spanish way of life. Things are definitely a lot slower around here, which has been the biggest adjustment, by far. As someone who is notoriously early and always on-the-go, I’ve had a bit of a hard time getting used to doing things at a leisurely pace.

We did just finish our first week of school. I think I am really going to like my classes and I love that my classes are intimate and small. I think my largest class has 35 people. Which is incredibly different than many of the large lectures we have at A&M. My schedule is incredibly flexible though, which gives me a lot of time to explore the city and surrounding areas. I keep having to remind myself that I live here now, and, therefore, don’t have to see everything all at once. Take things slow… maybe I am adjusting to the Spanish way of living better than I think. 😉

Below I’ll add some photos from my first few weeks. Good food. Great experiences. The BEST company.

Categories: 2021, Reciprocal Exchange, Spain