Written by Guest blogger
This is a guest blog by current student Chloe Neal studing BSc (Hons) Retail Management.
From September until December 2018 I took a leap of faith and studied abroad at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. So why Madrid you may be asking? There were many options of places to study globally due to Bournemouth’s great links with international universities. I chose Madrid because from a young age I had always been fascinated by the Spanish way of life and had vowed to live there one day. I also knew a little bit of Spanish so thought this could help me to integrate into the society reasonably easily. I originally focused on trying to find a university in Barcelona as I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the city. However, the university in Barcelona did not offer the units I would need to study so it was not an option. That shifted my focus to Madrid, the cosmopolitan capital city of Spain. As a Retail Management student my love for retail coincided with my love for city breaks making Madrid the perfect balance between the two.
The Erasmus grant allowed about €1400 which was a great help with deposits and rent. My rent was €450 p/m with bills included. I spent about €50-100 p/m on food and leisure. I would say the general costs of living in Madrid were similar to what you would pay in England, but I was told by many Spanish students that other places in Spain had much lower costs of living. The one weird thing I would say about the Erasmus grant is that you only get 2/3’s of your grant initially and do not receive the last part of your grant until your study abroad experience is finished which I thought was a bit unhelpful really. All in all, I am not sure I would have been able to study abroad without the help of the grant so I am very lucky that my application was accepted!
Before I arrived at URJC I noticed on their study abroad web page that you could sign up for a ‘buddy program’ to help the Erasmus students to settle in with a native guide helping along the way. After signing up for the scheme I received an email from my buddy in which he introduced himself. However at the end of the email he said that due to summer job commitments he was not completely sure when he would be arriving back at university. As university started on the 5th this was not particularly helpful as this was the crucial time I would need help with getting used to Spanish culture and finding my way around the university for example. I responded to him with a couple of questions which he then ignored and was never contacted again from that point on. So all in all the buddy program was pretty badly organised and controlled by URJC. I feel I could have really benefited from the program as it was quite overwhelming trying to navigate around the university with signs only in Spanish and not a lot of student helpers around. If I had not had Hollie with me I think that my initial experience in Spain would have been quite lonely and confusing. When I eventually worked out how to get to the right building for the welcome speech, me and Hollie sat in a lecture hall whilst the Vice President and study abroad team talked about what we should expect from URJC as Erasmus students. At the end of the speech they mentioned that classes started the same day the welcome speech occurred and I therefore realised I had missed some classes already before the speech was scheduled. The campus was not explained very well and the staff in the international office were very rude and unapproachable. They mostly ignored emails and when talked to in person it seemed like any question was a chore to answer.
Education and Leisure
I was in university 5 days a week (17 hours of lessons) being taught 5 different units. So, this meant that my free time was limited in some ways but also not e.g. my assignments took a lot less time to complete in comparison to in Bournemouth. In the midst of the city there is a park full of greenery, trees and beautiful lakes. I went there with friends and when family came to visit. Another thing that took up my leisure time was shopping and exploring the amazing retail Madrid had to offer. The shops were digitally inclined and featured new concepts such as self-checkouts in stores such as Primark and Pull and Bear. The association of smells with brands was also heavily focused on as displayed by stores such as Mango and Stradivarius. I love the Inditex brands and hope to work for one of their brands one day so being placed in Madrid was helpful in distinguishing the differences in their offerings. I was also given the opportunity to do some ‘style spotting’ in Madrid by online fashion retailer ‘SHEIN’. I was offered the opportunity to be a student brand ambassador during the summer and when I told the General Manager I would be going to Madrid she contacted me afterwards asking if style spotting would be something I was interested in. I have always been keen on fashion so accepted straight away. It was also a way to drive a bit of income to support me whilst I was in Spain.
This was one of the most stressful parts of my study abroad experience, and this occurred before I even left the country! You are very much left to it to find your own accommodation with little guidance in my case from my home university nor my international university. The international university after a couple of emails replied to queries about accommodation by sending some links to Spanish accommodation websites. They recommended websites such as ‘Spotahome’ and ‘Uniplaces’ which had hidden costs which could take up to 500 euros just as an agency fee along with the deposit and first months rent. What made searching for accommodation slightly harder in my place was trying to find a place which had 2 free rooms as I was going to live with another Bournemouth University student. A lot of the landlords did not respond when I sent questions about the accommodation options and after months of helpless looking we thought we had found the perfect place. I messaged the help team on Uniplaces to ask about the safety of the area and was ready to click ‘book’ when the operative responded saying the area was not safe for 2 girls to be walking home potentially late at night. This ruled out the place completely as some of our lectures finished at 9pm. Mentally drained from searching and checking different websites I was lucky that one of my relatives has a contact who lives in Spain and offered to help us look for accommodation on the less commercially known Spanish accommodation websites. She found a place which was 30 minutes from university on the metro and 15 minutes from the centre so a great location! She offered to look round to check the place was the same as the pictures on the website and came back saying it was great but it lacked windows in the rooms. At this point after months of searching we just booked it. The flat was nice enough but the lack of window made being in my room slightly stuffy and uncomfortable. In a way it was a good thing as it forced me to get out and see the beauty of Madrid! My flatmates were all Spanish and working in the age bracket of 25-30. They very much kept to themselves and only offered a polite ‘Hola’ every now and again. One of the girls in the apartment completely blanked me and Hollie (the other Bournemouth university student) for the entirety of the time we were there but quite happily conversed with the other Spanish tenants. So she put a slight dampener on my living situation, generally due to the icy looks and pretending we did not exist. Apart from that the living environment was fine, with a great location. I would recommend definitely trying to get a window in your apartment though if you are looking to move to Madrid as it can make the world of difference.
In summary, study abroad was a great experience in helping me to understand and live a different way of life and meet some amazing people from all over the world. I have made some amazing friends and my confidence and understanding of other cultures has grown immensely. I am more independent and I feel that this experience has taught me so much about myself and others. However my advice would be that if you are a speculative study abroad student, you should only go to this university if you are not concerned with furthering your education at the same level as you are used to. If you are completing study abroad for leisurely reasons then Madrid is an amazing place to go! It is also an experience that tests you as a person and of course, sometimes it was tough and the homesickness kicked in. The friends you make and the memories made make it all worth it and I am so happy reflectively writing this blog that I took that leap of faith to live in a different country and study in a different environment.