La Primera Semana – The First Week

Around every corner, down every street, in every cafe, Madrid offers something charming, exotic, comforting or surprising. In my first week in Spain’s capital city, I’ve already had countless new experiences. USC Madrid’s scheduled activities and sessions provided all 20 students (17 girls, 3 guys) with a thorough, but not overwhelming, introduction to the city.

On the first day of our orientation week, Gloria drove Ashima and me to El Instituto Internacional en Españaour school. So sweet, so motherly! The study center is a Spanish historical landmark. It was constructed in the late 19th century and was originally used as a school to educate the young Spanish women during a time when that was far from the norm. Today it is home to several American study abroad programs. (I’ll post a picture in a future post.)

From Monday to Sunday, we did and saw so much, yet we hardly made a dent in all that there is to do in Madrid. Here are some of the first week’s highlights:

  • Evening Tour – we met our professors andDSCN0005program directors to go on an evening tour of Madrid. It was a chilly evening  – drizzling with temperatures in the low 30s – but it was worth every cold-toed minute to see the cobblestone streets slick with rain, illuminated by street lamps. We saw the Palacio Real, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de España, Mercado San Miguel and more.
  • Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetGroup Dinner on the Rooftop Restaurant of Mercado San Antón – our group was stunned when we arrived at this hipster-chic restaurant situated at top of Mercado San Antón. I felt muy de moda when I dined at the trendy table for 26 (!!). Our program staff ordered some aperitivos like salad and jamón ibérico for us to share. (Cultural Tip #4: everyone loves ham and jamón ibérico es lo más rico.) We selected our own entrées and dessert. USC picked up the tab on everything. Dinner. Dessert. Vino. If you ever come to Madrid (*hint hint Mom and Dad*), you have to try La Cocina de San Antón.
  • Tour of Toledo – to end Week 1, we went to the medieval town of Toledo. Our professors accompaniedDSCN0039 us so we had our very own expert tour guides. It was a real treat to have Spaniards show us around and teach us so much about the city’s architecture, history and art history. We centered discussion around the notion of Toledo as “The City of Three Cultures”. For centuries, Christians, Jews and Arabs lived together and built churches next to synagogues next to mosques.

It is hard to distill one unforgettable week’s experiences into just a few bullet points. There were so many enjoyable moments during my first 168-ish hours in Madrid that I can’t pick just three. So I won’t. Here’s a one last rapid-fire list of just a few more memories:

  • Exploring my barrio, walking through Retiro, leaving my apartment at 10:30 pm to meet friends at bars, getting just little bit lost while heading to said bars, stopping at a pastelería on the street to purchase whatever kind of pastry my heart desired that day, finding everything I could ever need and more at El Corte Inglés, and taking advantage of 1€ and 0.50€ bocadillos at 100 Montaditos

After a whirlwind week in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, I think about how lucky I am to be here and be able to spend 16 more weeks here. While I miss my family and friends at home, I’m loving my time here and look forward to each new day’s adventures. I know I will only grow more comfortable as I fall into a routine of classes, studying, exploring and traveling.


And one last surprise! Here are some flowers I saw at one of Madrid’s Sunday’s Farmer’s Markets.


Mi Llegada – My Arrival

IMG_4966It’s been one week since I made the 13 hour, 5,814 mile journey from Los Angeles to Madrid. The two-part voyage (LA to London, London to Madrid) was very pleasant. Thanks to British Airways in-flight entertainment, I watched Monuments Men, nearly half of the first season of True Detective, and caught some shut-eye. Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 11.44.19 pm

Once I landed in Madrid and breezed through customs, I found el baño and then collected my checked bags. After a quick taxi ride to my new home, I was officially on my own.

I had the address and recognized the exterior of my building from the thorough virtual tours I had taken of my barrio on Google Maps. I also knew my host mom lived in unit #4, but I was very surprised to see 4C, 4D and 4I and no names on the directory. The taxi driver had departed and I was standing alone outside a locked door on one of Spain’s longest streets. I pressed the call buttons for 4C, 4D, 4I and the porter, but no one answered. Thankfully I had my host mom’s direct phone number so I called her and she was able to buzz me in. She lives in unit 4C. (Cultural Tip 1: The “C” is for centro, “D” is derecho and “I” is izquierda, referring to the units’ locations in the middle, right and left of the building.)

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My building is the middle brick one. I am on the fifth floor though my unit number is 4C. Cultural Tip 2: In Spain, they count the ground floor as 0, so the second floor is level 1 and so on. Photo courtesy Google Maps.

Squeezing my two suitcases, backpack, tote bag and self into the small ascensor to head to 4C, I thought “will this all fit?” The elevator’s weight capacity read 320 kg., but how many pounds equal a kilogram? Turns out it’s 705 lbs. Likely having heard me bumbling to get out of the elevator, I was greeted by a smiling, blonde Spanish woman named Gloria, my host mom. She immediately hugged me and kissed me on each cheek. (Cultural Tip 3: when doing the double-kiss, one always goes to his/her left first, then his/her right.)

Gloria helped me with my luggage and showed me around our apartamento. The unit was more spacious than I imagined. My housemate, Ashima, was out visiting family friends, so it was just Gloria and me. She showed me my dormitorio. As fate would have it, my room is decorated with pink and red bedding. I felt home already. My clothes fit away nicely in the standing armario and I stowed my suitcases on top. Gloria regularly checked in on me as I was unpacking, asking me “¿Necesitas algo, mi hija/cariña/bebita?” “Do you need anything, my daughter/honey/baby?”



Around 8:30 PM it was la hora de la cena and I ate my first Spanish meal. I asked if she would be joining me the dinner she cooked, but she said it was much too early for her to eat. After a homemade meal of rice and chicken and vegetable stew. (Gloria provides us three meals a day, seven days a week!) Ashima arrived near the end of dinner and we caught up. It is a coincidence that she and I are living together as we are both Tour Guides at USC. Soon after, I retired to my charming pink bedroom.

Tomorrow would be my first full day in the city. I made it. I was finally in Madrid.

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Why ¿Dónde Está el Baño?

Growing up, if I were to embark on any sort of road trip, air travel, or even just a quick jaunt to the grocery store, anyone with me knew I had to hit the restroom before we left. And then probably again when we got there. And before we left to return. Too personal? Well, it’s the truth!
For this blog’s title, I thought I would play on the fact that I’ve always searched for the nearest bathroom and that the phrase ¿Dónde está el baño? is one that everyone seems to know, even if they don’t really speak a lick of Spanish. Hopefully this light-hearted title sets a playful tone, and one that will guide my four months in Madrid.
Any hunch on what my first question will likely be when I set foot in the Madrid-Barajas airport? You betcha, ¿dónde está el baño?