Moving to Spain has been, without a doubt in my mind, one of the craziest experiences of my life. The first time I moved from home was a more delicate transition, going from Milan where I studied at a British school to the UK, it felt right and I knew what to expect. However, moving to Madrid was a whole different story. I had only been to the city twice before, and as I think most of us do whilst on holiday, I stuck to the tourist attractions. Moving here for good allowed me to live as a madrilena and indeed, study as one. And this is what I wanted to get to: education and university in Spain. Where to start? I find it extremely hard to express how I felt about my experience as a social science student arriving at Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
First impression, not that great. Old grey building that used to be a prison, located in a far away campus, not much green and no UK style welcome fair, society and sport fairs and all that jazz. Now after 5 months here, having gotten used to the disorganization, the professors not showing up, the continuous strikes, whether done by students or professor, I can say this place is NUTS! In a good way obviously! At Warwick University I have been accostomed well. Organized teachers, always on time, I used to receive emails informing me whether something was cancelled or moved and students were lively but all was kept within reason. In Madrid, at least at UCM, it is a whole different story. Graffiti cover every inch of every wall, anarchy signs and anti fascist lines have been plastered over every free surface not occupied by art and political or philosophical quotes, dogs run free in the corridors waiting for their owners to finish class, and the smell of marijuana is, well, inescapable.
As much of a shock this was for the first month, I learnt to cope with it and to be honest, it has been absolutely breath taking. I started to expect teachers to not show up, to know that if I (for once) made my 9am, it might be cancelled (as is usually the case), and that there is no point in arguing against the student strikes (they strike because their fees get higher yet they have no problem skipping classes day after day due to their strikes, not understanding that they are losing out on precious class time that they are paying for). I learnt that trying to enter the building anyways to attend class is a bad idea because you will get oranges thrown at you, and yes, they hurt.
I don’t even think I can compare a public university in the UK to one in Spain, at least in my personal experience. I seem to have gone from one extreme to the other and I am loving it, I could not have asked for a better or more stimulating erasmus experience. Going back to the UK in October will allow me to see everything differently, I won’t moan about my lovely home University anymore, and I’ll be more socially and politically active when need be. I can’t stress enough how great an opportunity like this is and has been, so if you get a chance to take a year abroad, go out there and grab it, you won’t regret it!