First Impressions of Madrid

No Pinterest article or advice from a friend can actually prepare you for moving across the world by yourself. It is both thrilling and terrifying knowing that you are about to begin a journey that will most definitely change your life in ways yet unknown. But what is the point in living if we don’t let life change us?

When I arrived in Madrid I was wide-eyed and a bit confused. I’ll be the first to admit that my Spanish is not the best, so being thrown into a Spanish environment was a shock to say the least. The taxi driver who hauled me and my overstuffed suitcases to my apartment spoke minimal English, so that was my first experience with the language barrier. I tried to fake it by replying with some very generic Spanish words, but I think he knew I just wasn’t understanding.

Since that moment I have encountered the language barrier many more times, but I’ve learned that trying your best to speak the local language first before resorting to English always seems to leave a better impression.

I have lived in Madrid for just under one month now, and I still feel like a tourist. I still get excited to see new monuments and buildings, and my head is constantly turning and looking at sights when I walk down a new street. In the short time that I have been here, I have managed to hit most of the best spots in Madrid. I’ve seen spectacular views of the city from the top of El Corte Englais, been to The Royal Palace, and wandered through Retiro Park.

View of the city from the top of El Corte Englais
The Royal Palace of Madrid.
The Glass Palace inside Retiro Park


I have learned so many things about Spaniards and Spanish culture from my time here. So let me share with you some realizations that are pretty important to know if you’re planning on going to Madrid.

  • Smoking is extremely common, much more so than in the U.S.
  • Madrid has a very “late” culture. They eat late, go to bed late and wake up late.
  • Most people speak English, but you would be surprised at how many do not.
  • The food isn’t spicy. So if you’re used to hot sauce and spicy San Diegan food, don’t expect the same here!
  • Jamon (ham) is a way of life. Madrid definitely values meat, so it may be difficult to be a vegetarian here.

My time in Madrid so far has taught me so much about the Spanish culture that I didn’t grasp just from reading about it online. It’s one thing to read about another part of the world, but It’s different to experience it first-hand.

I have also learned a lot about myself. I now know that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for, and I am much braver than I believed I was. I have made new friends and opened myself up to new experiences. I am proud of myself for making it to Madrid, but I am more excited to see the personal growth that lies ahead.

I think I’m going to love this city more and more with each day that I discover more about it and myself.

Ria Taylor is a Junior studying integrated marketing communications. She is studying Spring semester in Madrid, Spain.

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