My excitement prior to leaving for my internship in Madrid was inexplicable. As someone who has never left their home country, I have spent my whole life hearing stories about the journeys of others, studying global geography and history, and scrolling through incredible photography from all over the world. It is safe to say that I was more than excited to finally make the journey to Europe. It is only human nature to expect things to be a certain way, so of course I had a few expectations about Madrid. I will share a couple of them with you and tell you how it really is.
Expectation #1: “The weather in Spain is going to be so hot! :)”
Reality: “The weather in Spain is SO HOT :(”
I definitely underestimated the power of the sun until I got here. On the east coast of the US, the heat comes with humidity. The heat in Madrid is dry, so at least you don’t walk out feeling sticky and gross. In my opinion, the dry heat is a lot more bearable than the humidity that I’m used to. But still, the second that you go outside the heat takes over. There’s no escaping it. There are rarely clouds, so if you’re prone to sunburn, buy lots of sunscreen.
Expectation #2: “Everyone in Spain is going to have the best tan!”
Reality: “Why am I the only person here with a tan?”
Before leaving for Madrid, I spent weeks laying out by the pool, drowning in coconut oil trying to get as tan as possible (I don’t tan easily). I wanted to be able to blend in and not stand out as a pale American tourist. However, when I got there everyone was so fair-skinned! But how? The sun is ALWAYS out. How do you people not have any tint?! I may never understand how their genes work, but basically I didn’t need to worry about tanning before I came.
Expectation #3: “I heard that Spain has an issue with racism, but maybe that’s farther from the large cities.”
Reality: “There is a race issue in Spain, even in Madrid.”
Racism is important to me. I am half African American and will always be aware and concerned of these types of issues wherever I go. Spain as a country has a reputation for being racist (as does almost any country if we’re being honest). I know that the United States has a huge issue with this, even today. Usually in large, cosmopolitan cities, like London or New York, you do not have to worry because these types of cities attract diversity and that is how they thrive. However, when it comes to population size, Spain’s capital city is less than half of the size of London or New York.
I find it strange that I personally do not see prosperity for citizens of color in Spain’s capital. I never see interracial relationships, whether romantic or friendly. From what I’ve seen, they are not the ones with typical jobs. Colored males can be seen selling items on the street laid out on cloth such as sunglasses, sneakers, and bags. Colored females are mostly known for prostitution. Racism and discrimination of any form saddens me, and although I do not always notice different treatment due to my light skin tone, I see that when I am with some friends who are colored, they are looked at much differently. Even though I have never seen physically or verbally abusive displays of racism during my time here, I feel that there is definitely an issue in the system with discrimination.
Expectation #4: “Mind your surroundings and don’t stay out too late in this dangerous, big city”
Reality: “Stay out until whenever!”
Living in New York as a child, and knowing what large cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and LA are like, I know that parts of cities can be dangerous. From my experience, Madrid is NOTHING like what you would expect in an American city. I am not saying to let your guard down, and I still never really go out alone at night. However, what I am saying is that you will not have to have the same amount of fear and assumption that something bad will happen to you. Madrid is an incredibly safe city.
Expectation #5: “I’ve taken over 5 years of Spanish, now I’ll be fluent.”
Reality: “No hablo español”
I swear I got A’s in every Spanish class I have ever taken. I listen to Spanish music. Most of my friends are Spanish! I was completely overestimating my abilities. Their accent is a bit different but I think the main issue is how fast they talk. As I am getting used to it, I understand a little bit and depending on the situation, I try to speak the language back to them. However, sometimes, although I am sure that they appreciate the effort, they are dealing with long lines and just want to be done with you, so they just speak to you in English once they realize that you’re not fluent.
In my internship, very few people speak English, so all day they’re talking to each other and I am sitting there alone because I am unable to really join their conversations. I think in this situation you just have to try to take that extra step and initiate conversation. Don’t be scared of your abilities and just practice as much as you can!
The most important thing to remember is that other countries and cities won’t always be what you are expecting or are used to.
Instead of becoming frustrated, I think that accepting and embracing these differences can make it easier to live somewhere new. What you read on travel blogs or how a certain country is portrayed does not necessarily reflect the reality. I have accepted Madrid for the amazing city that it is, and although every city has its fair share of issues, I am still enjoying my time here to the fullest!