Adjusting to Spanish Nightlife

Visiting Students Struggle to Adapt to Spanish Culture

One night while 20-year-old Irene Todd and her friends waited for the metro, a group of Spanish boys began to call across the platform and sing in Spanish to them.

When the girls didn’t respond, the guys shouted in English: “You must be Americans, how much for the night?”

Then they cursed and made crude gestures towards the girls.

“I’ve never felt more degraded in my life,” said Todd. “I tried to laugh it off, but I was sort of crying at the same time.  Even when guys are drunk at home, they are never that rude and vulgar.”

Studying abroad in Spain is supposed to be the best experience of Todd’s life.  Eating tapas.  Drinking sangria.  Visiting Museo del Prado.  Dancing all night at the discoteca.  But so far, her encounters include catcalls and harassment in the metro stations.

Unfortunately these types of incidents are not unique to Todd and her friends, and are just one example of the many difficulties visiting students face as they adjust to life in Madrid.

Most students find the combination of jet lag and a new lifestyle overwhelming, especially during the first few weeks.  Students struggle to overcome language barriers, balance schoolwork with sightseeing and travelling, and learn their way around a new city.

Living with a Señora or host family where dinner is served at 10pm contrasts campus dorms or apartments.  Students don’t mind adjusting to the legal drinking age of 18 in Spain, but living with Spanish families challenges them to discover new places to hangout, meet up, and pregame.

Stores and shops take a siesta between 2pm and 5pm, and local cafeterias close for siesta from 5pm until 8pm or 9pm.  And just because the kitchen doesn’t open until 9pm, don’t expect it to still be open when coming home from the discoteca Joy at 6am.  Even McDonalds isn’t open for a late night snack.

Sharing a dorm room and co-existing with a roommate proves difficult for some students in the U.S.  But imagine coming to a foreign country and sharing a small apartment with a Señora, her 34-year-old live-in daughter, and her two young children.  Welcome to the host family experience.

Visiting student Allison Blackburn, 21, barely speaks Spanish and her Señora speaks no English.  Neither one understands the culture of the other.

“She´s weirdly frugal.” Said Blackburn,  “She’ll make enough food to feed 20 students, but she cringes every time we ask for a new roll of toilet paper.  Since the roll is always empty, we either sneak into their bathroom and take some or we´ve even taken rolls home from school.”

Kimberley Mogg, a 20-year-old visiting student, struggles to adjust to the late hours of Spanish nightlife.  Mogg admits that going to Pacha with friends, having two vodka tonics, dancing until it closes at 6am, and hopping on the metro as it opens to go home takes its toll more than a frat party back home in the U.S. would.

“It wasn’t even that I was drunk.” Mogg explains. “We didn’t get home until 6:30 or 7:00am, and I completely slept through my class at 2:00pm.  I woke up thinking it was like 11:00am, not 3:00pm.”

Mogg’s experience is common.  Students have trouble not only with the late night hours, but also grow accustomed with the availability of alcohol, sometimes too quickly.

Under-age partiers who are used to carrying fake I.D.s, sneaking alcohol into dorm rooms, and bribing older students to make a package store run are embracing the lower drinking age and freedom that comes with it.

Any SLU Madrid student can walk into the nearest OpenCor or %Dia, pick out a bottle of wine, a couple cans of beer, or a bottle of Absolut, pay for it and leave no questions asked.  But even if they had been stopped, nothing they’ve done is against the law.

“One night in Chueca as I´m walking down the street to El Tigre this dude walks up to me, whips a beer out of his pocket and tries to sell it to me.  I´m thinking to myself `this has to be totally illegal´, but it´s not.” said 20-year-old visiting student Joe Fumo. “It is a totally different world coming here where you don’t even get carded at all even though there is still an age limit. It’s almost as if the bars would let anyone in.”

Fumo says he loves being able to skateboard down Calle Vallehermoso to a local cerveceria and have a beer or go to a cafeteria in between classes for croquetas de jamon, patatas bravas, and sangria.  Not only is this completely acceptable, but also so appealing to students who normally don’t possess this freedom.  The same is true when these students go out to the bars and the discotecas at night.

Victoria Edwards, 19, has seen her fellow visiting students going overboard with their drinking the first few weeks here in Madrid.  She admits that it´s easy to drink too much, because of the thrill of being legal, and there´s no guilt or fear of getting caught.

“Yea it´s exciting, but some kids take it to a whole new level” says Edwards. “Girls stumble home so wasted they don´t even know which way is up and that´s so dangerous, especially in a foreign country. I mean I barely know my Spanish address, even when I´m sober.”

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