Foreign exchange student Madison Dearie shares experiences in Spain

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Madison Dearie

Traditionally unique from the United States, this historic church in Spain embodies the old spirit of Europe. The vibrant Spanish culture provides an inspiring experience for any avid traveler.

“You only get to live life once and you only have so many places you can see, people you can meet and experiences to have, why limit them when you don’t have to?”

This is the question senior Madison Dearie asked herself before she decided to live abroad for a year in Madrid, Spain. Below, the Lancer Link asked Madison about her experiences and the effect it had on her life.

Lancer Link: What do you feel Spain has given you that you could never have gotten in California?

Madison Dearie: What my exchange program says about a year abroad is that “it’s not a year in a life, but a life in a year.” That couldn’t be more true. In one year, I started a whole other life. A new country, new home, new family, new school, new friends, new language…practically, a new me. I know a lot of people say they want to start over when they leave high school, they want to go som eplace new where they can become…more themselves. That’s a hard thing to do living in the same town you’ve always lived in. I couldn’t have grown up, or grown into myself as easily in California. But in Spain I could. Being here I had to learn to cope with all new situations, ones I’d never been put in and never would be put in back home. It’s been without a doubt the hardest, strangest, craziest daydream of a year that I’ve ever had and also by far, the most interesting and rewarding. Not to rewrite a quote or anything…but, to rewrite a quote “California is my country but Madrid is my hometown.”

LL: While in Spain, what left the biggest impression on you?

Madison Dearie: Spain, I found, was exactly like I’d heard it was and yet it was totally different. They do love parties and drinking and dancing, every weekend is a special occasion in Spain. But also, they work as hard as anyone, they just know when to leave the office for a well deserved siesta or a cerveza in an outdoor bar or café. And probably more than anything else was how friendly and open they are. Yes, the cliché is generally true. I mean being blonde (they, and I quote, “loooooooove blondes!”) and from California (they WILL recite Red Hot Chili Pepper songs at you) definitely gives you an edge in the making friends departement (as well as in the pick-pocket market). But in general, if any person is standing in line waiting to order a pizza the person next to them will undoubtedly strike up a conversation. In the U.S., we make our friends at school or work, and they do the same in Spain of course, but I’ve also made friends in the metro, in discos (in Spain clubs are a whole other thing. If you’re looking for dancing, you’re looking for a disco. If you’re looking for a brothel, you’re looking for a club. Something to be aware of). I’ve made friends in the park, coffee shops, bars always are good, and once even in an elevator. That’s just Spain for you and it’s probably one of the things I most want to take away from this year, that ability to make friends wherever I go.

LL: Any tips for going abroad?

Madison Dearie: So, if you’re thinking about going abroad, a few heads ups for you. It will not be anything like you expected. It won’t be like the movies or the songs. It will feel like an entirely different planet for a few months, you will feel like an alien, they will treat you like one. And while before you go you will have people telling you there will be all these cultural differences and you (if you’re like me) probably won’t believe there’s that many. You will be wrong.

The main thing to know though, is that you have to 100%, wholeheartedly accept and take part in these cultural differences. You basically are Yes Man for a year and honestly that pays off in the end. You have no regrets and you enjoy your year and new life much more when you’re not trying to hold onto what you’re used to and are comfortable with. You have to let it go, and try what they give you even though it might be hard to do sometimes. (I’m an ex-vegetarían who’s now eaten pigs ears, if I can do that, you can do this).

LL:  How has your time in Spain influenced your decisions about the future?

Madison Dearie: After a year of navigating cultural differences and things getting…lost in translation (I once meant to tell my friends I was embaressed and instead said I was pregnant) I’ve learned that I really enjoy having those types of challenges in my life. Suddenly, the idea of living in a country where I already speak the language and know how to live and work in the culture seems much less appealing, I want something a bit more adventurous. When I first came to Madrid, I’d already started applying to Universities but after two months here I knew I didn’t want to go back to California, or even the U.S. So, I looked for Universities in Europe and managed to find two American ones (classes in English) located in Rome and Paris. I sent in my applications, then, I told my parents. They did come around to the idea though, and eventually after getting my acceptances I decided on Paris. I’d already known that I wanted to study journalism, I love meeting new people, talking with them, hearing their stories…it’s practically what I’ve done all year here, I’ve gotten a lot of practice in listening to people (mainly because I couldn’t speak to them for the first few months). But I realized I loved learning a new language and being forced to use it everyday, and as a journalist, being fluent in Spanish and French would be quite useful. So, in the end Spain gave me a much clearer picture of the future I want (Although, once or twice after eating some really amazing spanish food, I did think, forget it all I’m going to culinary school so I can make that for myself every day of the week)

LL: What has your experience in Spain taught you about life?

Madison Dearie: I’ve always been one of those people that has felt they could learn everything they needed to know about life from the movies. This year though I finally understood the idea of you’re life is a movie and you’re the main character, you learn as you go. You can’t just sit back and watch, you determine how you want it to go. Part of that thinking probably comes from exchange itself, randomly doing something crazy most people wouldn’t think of. The other part though I think comes from the people I’ve met here. These interesting and occasionally crazy (at least in my eyes) people, whom I wouldn’t have met if I’d stayed in my little corner of the world. You only get to live life once and you only have so many places you can see, people you can meet and experiences to have, why limit them when you don’t have to?