Studying at Suffolk Madrid – It’s a Whole New World
When I made the decision to study abroad at Suffolk’s Madrid campus the spring semester of sophomore year, I was a fall semester freshman. I’m not one to make plans and am usually a last minute go-getter, so this was unusual for me. Not only was going to the Madrid campus the easiest way to study abroad since all my credits were still Suffolk credits, but I’d wanted to visit Spain for years.
I grew up with these giant kid-friendly atlases at my house that I would spend hours looking through, studying where every country was, which continents they were on, and where they were in relation to myself. Ever since I first discovered them, I knew I wanted to travel the world. In part, this influenced the addition of my global & cultural communication minor. I studied Spanish from sixth grade through twelfth grade, and in those classes I learned more about Latin American countries as well as Spain. I’m not going to lie, Suffolk’s Madrid campus had an impact on my choice to come to Suffolk as an undergrad.
The application process was pretty easy, and unless you’re in bad academic standing, you’re practically guaranteed to be accepted into the campus. If I had come as a freshman I might have been able to spend a whole year here, but as it is, only three of my four courses are actually counting toward my program eval and the fourth is a free elective. This isn’t the case for everyone here.
The time between thinking about studying in Madrid way back when I was still in high school to the night before I left – it flew by. I couldn’t believe that night that I was actually going to be flying across the Atlantic and be in Spain for the next four months.
For how quickly every other semester has flown by, they were nothing compared to how quickly this semester has felt.
Before this semester, the only time I’d left the U.S. was when I spent a night on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls – less than ten minutes from the border. I’ve never been so far away from home or been away for as long. I’ve never even been to summer camp, though I totally wanted to go.
That first night I spent in Madrid, I wondered if I’d made a mistake by choosing to leave everyone I love for four months. Within the next few days as I adjusted to the time zone and the new culture, the feeling of shock lessened and I felt more comfortable and excited. Here I was doing what I’d been dreaming of doing for years, and I was there in the moment wasting it worrying.
Classes at Madrid are a bit less organized than they tend to be in Boston, but I still learned much from each of them. Once I adjusted to the different classroom setups, which honestly weren’t all too different than in Boston, I had an easier time understanding what was going on academically.
That first week, everyone at SUMC went on an excursion for three nights to Sevilla, one of the most beautiful cities Spain has to offer. It was here that I began to get my first real tastes of Spanish food, and completely fell in love with it.
We went on tours around the city and I started learning more about Spanish culture that I hadn’t picked up before I left. I also started to use my Spanish more and started feeling a bit more comfortable speaking in a different language.
The beginning of February brought a weekend trip to Paris, something I planned very poorly. You think you find a great price for a bus to Paris, but double check with airline prices – they’re probably the same.
But since I hadn’t done so, I spent 16 hours on an overnight bus headed to Paris. Although the time actually spent in Paris was great (all 26 hours of it) the two bus rides totaling 33 hours weren’t my favorite part.
My next trip was another excursion with the school, this time with a smaller group of about thirty students, to Rome. The hotel we stayed at was absolutely beautiful and completed the picture of Rome I had in my mind. Suffolk really came through. It was a gorgeous city full of ruins, fashion, and right at home with the North End.
I….somehow have no photo.
Before I knew it, midterms were creeping up on me. My homework load was pretty light up to this point, but professors loaded on study work during this period. Crazy, right, I’m actually here to study, not just to travel.
Between the two weeks of midterms, I went on a two day trip to Valencia, which ties for me with Barcelona and Sevilla as Spain’s most beautiful cities. The weather in Madrid had been in the fifties for the most part, but Valencia was a high sixty, a very welcome warmer get away.
Toledo is an hour south of Madrid and is free with a metro pass – which the school advises getting and is definitely worth the twenty euros per month. Toledo is full of hills, but also full of beautiful views.
A day trip to Salamanca was a nice break from studying. The city itself didn’t compare for me with some of the other Spanish cities, but there was a really cool library covered in shells stone. I’m still glad I got to see a smaller city while I’m here.
The weekend before midterms I went on a trip with Citylife, a trip and event planning company that Suffolk suggests, to visit Andalucia, a Southern region of Spain. This trip included a day each in Granada, Sevilla (oh yes, round two), and Córdoba.
The real reason for this trip was because Citylife had tickets to La Alhambra, which isn’t very easy to do unless planned months in advance.
Spring break was packed, and I wasn’t sure if I was anxious about everything we were trying to accomplish or if I was super excited. On Thursday night I left for Amsterdam, Netherlands, where I stayed in an old train that was converted into a hostel. I ended up sleeping on the third bunk, feeling like I was going to die anytime I rolled over too far but somehow also feeling like Harry Potter when he hides from Draco on the Hogwarts Express.
Amsterdam was cold and windy, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. My favorite meal by far in Amsterdam were the Dutch pancakes I ordered for breakfast/lunch on the first full day.
The next stop during spring break was Berlin, Germany. I’ve always wanted to visit Germany so I was very hyped for this part of the trip. Like Amsterdam, Berlin was cold, but it wasn’t quite as windy, though it did rain a bit on our second day.
We went on a walking tour that showed us more of Berlin’s history than we would have ever learned on our own walking around the city. I don’t have quite as many pictures, because many of Berlin’s buildings are reconstructions since the originals were destroyed in wars.
The final stop during spring break was at Athens, Greece. After two cold cities, the warm mid-seventies of Athens was amazing. Our hostel was a bit seedy but it was clean, safe, and that’s all I could really ask for with how little I paid for it.
I got gyros all three days I was there, and I still want more. I’d never had one before and now they’re one of my favorite foods ever. I will definitely be looking for some great ones back in Boston!
Everywhere you turned in Athens there were ruins or statues or something else commemorating and boasting their history. Just like in Berlin, I took another guided tour and learned so much more than I would have walking around on my own.
Athens was beautiful, and I only hope that I can go back to Greece one day and explore more of what the country has to offer.
Thankfully we ended our spring break trip on a Saturday and I had Sunday to rest before classes started up again. Also, before I traveled for practically every weekend left in the semester.
The weekend after spring break led me to London. Finally, an English speaking country that wouldn’t immediately know I was a tourist by my sad attempts at speaking another language. Being the giant Harry Potter nerd that I am, I went on a guided Harry Potter tour that highlighted many of the areas of London that were either in the films or inspired J.K. Rowling. I lived.
I also lived when I ate these fish and chips.
And this meat pie.
And this full English breakfast.
Also word to the wise: when booking an Airbnb in London, be careful if it’s really cheap. Sometimes you really get what you pay for.
The following weekend, I visited Dublin and stayed in what is, to date, the nicest Airbnb I’ve ever been in. When I walked in, there was a fake fireplace going, water bottles, tea and coffee pods, and little candies. This woman was a godsend after a late flight.
Walking in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde and many other famous Irish writers, I explored the city that reminded me so much of Boston. By the time I left, I wasn’t quite as homesick as I was when I arrived.
My last weekend before the weekend of studying non-stop for four days for my three midterms on the same day, I went to Barcelona. And no, I didn’t see even one Cheetah Girl.
The weather was beautiful, and there was a cool market right near where we were staying that had everything from chicken heads to chocolate covered strawberries on a stick.
My final trip during the semester was to Porto, Portugal after I somehow survived my day of three finals (which was conveniently also my birthday).
While the weather in Madrid was in the eighties the week leading up to my trip to Porto, it was low seventies/high sixties when I was there. I still went to the beach on the first day, though I didn’t keep my sundress on for the rest of the day and instead switched to pants.
I enjoyed and learned so much from every city I visited, and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to travel around Europe while studying in Madrid for the semester. I know that not everyone has this opportunity, but if you do, do it. If you’re thinking about spending a semester abroad but you’re not sure if you want to do it, or if you’re ready, I promise you that you are and it will really be the experience of a lifetime. Don’t stop exploring.