My Journey: Studying Abroad Changed My Life


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233 days in, 49 more to go.

It doesn’t feel like very long ago I was struggling to find an apartment in Madrid and now I’m already thinking about moving back home.

In January last year, I started researching about Erasmus because Simona, Agata, Priyanka and I were interested in moving to Spain for a year – it sounded perfect – getting away from Coventry to explore a new, sunnier city. In March, I finally submitted my application, to the wrong university. I changed my mind and had to redo my application and chose Carlos III rather than Europea (where most of my friends were applying). I spent half my days off in second year sat inside the IEMS Office, speaking to staff about the process and the funding. In April, I found out that I’d been accepted by my nominated university in Madrid.

My older brother was incredibly supportive and I forwarded all the information to him so he could check them for me. My parents – both immigrants from Pakistan who moved to England in the 70’s in search for a better future – only studied until the equivalent of Junior School so they’ve always encouraged me to study as much as I can. My brother and I spoke to my parents together to explain the advantages of studying abroad. As the youngest in my family, they’ve always been protective but very open to my decisions. It didn’t take long to get my Dad on board and my Mum began looking for sturdy suitcases so I could take everything I needed with me. I didn’t expect them to accept my decision so quickly because I knew it would be hard for them to let me go venture out on my own, especially because I wouldn’t be able to just hop on a train to visit them.

Before leaving Coventry before summer, I was pathetically emotional. I dealt with some pretty stupid issues with my housemates during second year so honestly I couldn’t wait to get out of the house but I found it hard to say goodbye to friends who would’ve graduated by the time I return. I made the most of my last month and cried my eyes out the night before my brother came to pick me up. Priyanka and I spent most our time on FaceTime and Skype looking at apartments and flights and we only booked it all a week and a half before flying out. I can’t even put into words how exhausting it was.

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A week after moving to Madrid, I met Simona at the station nearest to the university, we went for lunch and I instantly fell into a routine. We picked the same modules, decided on train times so we could always catch the second train together and walked to our lectures together. Unlike first year at Cov, I signed up to loads of events, talked to everyone and went for lunch and coffees with people I’d only just met. I remember looking through my phone at one point trying to figure out who the bunch of random new contacts were because I’d forgotten their names. I made some pretty amazing friends in first semester but most of the Australians and Americans only study abroad for one semester which was hard. I’d gotten used to hanging out with certain people but when i got back after Xmas break, there was no one around and I had to go through the whole process again.

Living abroad and having to make new friends forced me outside my comfort zone. University had already taught me that friends can be pretty temporary, some friendships can last a semester, others a few years or more. In between lectures, I used TripAdvisor to visit typically touristy places and recommended lunch spots. I’ve become so comfortable in my own company. I no longer rely on someone to come shopping with me or to grab a coffee. I think my new-found independence did put a strain on the friendships I already had because I was still getting used to the idea of being able to do whatever I want while finding time to do things with other people. It was difficult because I would visit somewhere new with Simona and then have to do the same things with other friends.

Chamartin Metro station

Chamartin Metro station

In terms of saying goodbye to Madrid, I’ll definitely miss my metro adventures. Who would’ve thought I would know most the metro routes without looking at a map? The last bus I took in Southampton was the last day of college. The freedom to travel wherever I want to has been the best. I’m the same girl who was scared of the dark, who kept the en suite room’s lights switched on during first year so I wouldn’t be in complete darkness when sleeping. I now keep my shutters down so it’s pitch black until 1pm (when I wake up on a lazy day, sorry mum I love sleeping). All I need is my iPhone charged to 50% or above and decent headphones and playlist and I’ll hop on a train across Madrid. I remember taking a metro map and saying I would travel to every stop by the end of the year – okay it didn’t happen, but I’ve been to 50/200. Pretty good. 

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I’ll miss being able to choose something new to do and plan a nice day with friends. What’s the most exciting thing I can plan in Coventry? Nando’s. That’s about it. I’ve seen/done everything there is to do. Living in Madrid means I have lists of rooftop terraces to visit and I can always count on wandering the streets of Sol to look for somewhere to eat/gossip with friends. And the Royal Palace has been the perfect spot when I just want thinking time, it’s beautiful.

Madrid

But like any city in the world, there’s still downsides to living here. Firstly, wherever I go I always have to take two or three metros. Principe Pio doesn’t have a direct train from the centre. Annoying as hell because my friends can leave their house and get to the city centre within 10 mins but it takes me 20 minutes walking or 25 on the metro.

 Also I hate food shopping. The supermarket is a few streets away. A few uphill streets away and when you’ve bought 5 tins of pasta sauce, I’ve been on the verge of tears pulling my suitcase up to the apartment. And there’s not much of a selection. I miss Asda. Everything has meat in it including kidney beans! Kidney beans! Why on Earth do you need to add pork to an innocent can of kidney bean? It makes me so mad. I’ve been living off spaghetti, jacket potato and pasta and spaghetti. Hence the need for a dozen pasta sauce jars. It’s not been easy, especially when I’ve had deadlines and no time and patience to cook. I’ve had Doritos dinners. Just a packet of crisps and a bar of  Milka. Ugh Milka. That’s another one. I don’t care if you add hazelnuts or Oreos or Diam but Milka doesn’t do it for me. I crave good old Cadbury’s.

I know it’s barely anything to be complaining about but a year in an it does get frustrating. Also I don’t want to be completely biased. Studying abroad has been difficult and really opened my eyes to several things. 

My beautiful city, Madrid

My beautiful city, Madrid

I’ve been blogging about whatever I found most relevant and useful to students who want to study abroad but most of all, I wanted it to be like my personal yet public diary. I’ve loved living in Madrid and although I still have just over a month left, I wanted to reflect on my time here.

Adios Madrid, you’ve been wonderful.

Aisha xx

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