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Friday, May 30, 2014

Kelli Pape in Madrid: Week One

Week One: The Assimilation Phase

 So this was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed version of me just one week ago, posing with my beloved mother on our cattle farm in rural Michigan for the last time in my teenage years, never having stepped foot in another country.  From the homestead we drove to the Flint Bishop International Airport, where I bid farewell to her and my over-sized tube of toothpaste in time for my one-stop flight to Madrid via Chicago.  It sure was a genius idea to pull an all-nighter before the plane ride, on which I was still too excited to get any sleep.  Fast forward about twelve hours, and I found myself looking down at Europe, where the farms are not arranged in perfect rectangles.

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Time Traveling: Dawn - Dusk = 3 Hrs.
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Worried a bit on the plane
about only having packed
my summer wardrobe.
Essentially a typical Friday morning, right?

From the airport, it only took me two hours to navigate the metro system with all my baggage (because I was too stubborn to spend the fare for the easier option of a cab) and arrive soaking wet to the hotel where I'd stay with the four other Wolverines for our weekend orientation.  And man, did I need orienting.  For anyone traveling abroad to a huge metropolitan city where you need to speak another language, my advice is to stick to the basics and don't forget to sleep and feed yourself.  My first three meals in Madrid actually included green olives and potato chips as complimentary appetizers.  Also when you order coffee here, it's assumed you want a hybrid of half-coffee and half-milk unless you indicate the "café americano" instead.  Our orientation consisted of going out for a two-hour lunch (not an unordinary length for Spain) with our program director Diana and her mother.

Directly following that lunch, I perched myself and all my luggage again outside the hotel as I waited for my host family to pick me up.  I had found them online two weeks prior and by a stroke of fate was welcomed into their home.  I swear they're angels or something, because they've gone above and beyond the call of helping out the foreign girl.  My household here consists of a father who is a lighting designer and professor, a mother who is a graphic designer, a 22-year-old brother, 21- and 18-year-old sisters, another exchange student from England, and our dog named Chispa.  For confidentiality purposes, please only read to the word "dog".  We live about a twenty-minute subway ride from the city center in a neighborhood called Puente de Vallecas.  The apartment in itself is strikingly cool, being a former carpentry workshop and occupied by such artsy people.  For some reason I had noticed a excess of national pride that day sitting outside the hotel and just figured, "wow, Spaniards must just always wave/wear their flags to welcome the newbies", but apparently it was because of some huge rivalry game between the city's two soccer teams.  So we watched that my first night in the apartment.

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The Cliché Hammer Smashing Eggs Hotel Photo

To be honest, the first few days were pretty rough, despite knowing that I should be grateful and enthusiastic for this opportunity to be in another country.  The culture shock was real and there were so many logistical things to settle before I could even relax enough to remember all the verb conjugations and articles I learned in school.  It is rumored that Madrileños speak the fastest Spanish of anywhere in the world, and although I have no way of measuring that right now I'd have certainly put money down on that bet in my first two or three days of hearing it.  Not to worry though, it all started getting better as soon as I had the basics of survival in Madrid down: getting the unlimited metro card, having a functional cell phone, and adapting to their unique time zone.  I say unique because the daily schedule is so relaxed/delayed compared to America's.  Delayed in the sense that, for example, my family eats dinner around 10 or 11PM.  The work day often doesn't begin until 9:30 or 10AM, and people only begin to go out around midnight.  The jet lag caused me to not fall asleep till 5:30 my first night home.

From there, my first week was a whirlwind of new experiences, which can be decently represented by the following photos and captions:

Drink of choice for the first
Intercambio de Idiomas
(Language Exchange Night)

These are usually much bigger
events in which people seeking
to practice their foreign language
skills come to a café/bar and
chat freely, but this Wednesday
night intercambio consisted of
only 2 Americans / 3 Madrile

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A 6+ mile shortcut home through El Retiro Park
(350 acres as compared to the 123-acre Arb in Ann Arbor)
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 Madrid from the train on my first day of work out in the suburbs:
Let's just say it took me three hours to navigate my way home.
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No shortage of reminders to vote in the election,
which took place on a Sunday afternoon
while notably everything else is closed.

Rotten Attempts at Cartwheeling

I don't think I'll be missing many sunsets this summer with a view like this.
Climbing those mountains in the background tops my bucket list.

Chris's First Sunset
We might sound ridiculous
as two Americans walking
around speaking Spanish
to each other, but no pasa nada.

Failing at looking like a local at the Plaza de Sol

Would have taken a photo of the Floating Man,
but was afraid to ruin the sanctity of the moment.
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Not too far off the famous Gran Via
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A shot of my street in Vallecas
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Last night's view from my local Parque de las Siete Tetas...
Feel free to translate that one on your own.

All in all, it's been quite an enormous transition and I can't believe how much has happened in the past week and how much I have to attribute almost every success to my choice of host family.  As a farm girl who moved to Ann Arbor my friends never hear much else than my annoying cow jokes and how huge U of M is compared to anything in my previous life, but this is a whole new ball game.  The rules must be much different in this ball game, however, considering how often couples make out on the metro, everyone kisses my cheeks when they meet me (no handshakes/hugs here), and one day a woman defecated right in front of me in the park.  Welcome to Europe, I suppose.  On the other hand, I've encountered a multitude of extremely generous, outgoing, and good-smelling natives.  And yesterday I found an awesome second-hand bookstore/bar called J&J's in the hipster barrio of Malasaña which is owned and operated by an American, and I plan to hit up their intercambio Spanish practice nights as well as others throughout the city.  Now that I've been mentally refreshed from the shock and starting to do some of the very touristic things, I'd say I'm ready to take on the challenge of making myself seem less horribly foreign, despite being a pale-skinned blonde girl.  Undoubtedly should have prepared a ton more on my grammar and vocabulary before arriving, but at least I've been brushing up and adding to my lexicon every day and the decision to live with a host family will only speed up the learning process.

Stay tuned for more specific future accounts about my internship (only just began) and other adventures in Spain. Here's a huge shout-out of gratitude to U of M for getting me here.

'Ta luego!

Kelli Jo Pape


  1. Awesome! Glad to hear you're having fun - muchos besos ha

  2. Kelli,

    Undoubtedly, one of the best first blog posts I have ever read. It's too bad that some of your pictures didn't show up. Maybe try uploading them differently next time? You drew such a clear parallel to the "farm girl" you were before leaving to the "foreign student" you became once you arrived in Madrid. Those details you wrote about (refusing to take a cab, the coffee, etc.) are things that you will never forget. You definitely have a ton of acclimating to do, but it sounds like you've already begun that adventure. It's really great that you can recognize what makes you "foreign"; once you identify those things, you can work toward making them more comfortable.

    It sounds like your host family is a perfect fit for you. I hope that continues to go well. Have fun with Chispa :) You're right- living with a host family is really going to help your Spanish skills. No matter the amount of studying you did prior to leaving, the conjugations and intricacies of the language are bound to escape you. Attending the Spanish conversation hours at that bookstore is a great idea. It's a "safe" place.

    I really look forward to your next post and hearing about where you are working. Don't forget to take pictures at work too!