(1) My home-stay is awesome, it's a bit far from the center but the metro system and buses are really easy so getting around is a piece of cake. I'm in an expensive residential area north of the Salamanca district, which is the extremely swanky and high-end area of the city. It looks like a Spanish version of the nicest areas in Manhattan. The only real bad thing is I have to take cabs home from bars/clubs which is averaging around 8-10€ every night I go out... definitely tough on the wallet. I attempted to figure out the "búhos" aka night-bus system and probably will never try that again, it's a story for a different time, but basically I ended up half an hour outside the city AT THE AIRPORT wearing a clubbing dress and holding nothing but my cross-body purse (read: gum, lipgloss, phone, wallet).
(2) My host parents are both 65, so freaking cute, it's more like living with grandparents than parents. The dad, Joaquin, is literally the character from Up--the Pixar movie--with a funny mustache and huge glasses. The mom, Carmen, is such a sweetheart. She's a little society lady with all her friends from the pool and her friends from the university and her friends from this and that calling her at all hours of the day. They're both about 5 feet tall, which makes us look particularly strange when we walk down the streets together...
(3) The city is so. fucking. amazing., I'm obsessed. I don't think I could love a place more. I've been here for a few weeks and am considering trying to move after I graduate. I have way too many pictures to upload, I don't know when that will happen, but if you just Google Image "Madrid" and see for yourself, it ACTUALLY looks like that--the photos aren't lying. It's probably the most beautiful city I've ever seen. There's just so much to do and see, I already know a semester isn't enough.
(4) If you do it right, everything is really cheap. I have an unlimited city transport card so I've quickly become an expert at the metro, I can get anywhere I need for free (during the day, that is...the metro closes ~1:30 AM). There's a tradition called the "menú del día" at almost every restaurant which ranges between 7-10€ and includes a first dish, a main course, an entire bowl of bread, a drink, a coffee, a dessert, and usually something on the house as well (a small salad or tostada). Safe to say you can eat very well for very cheap if you know where to go. The university cafeterias offer a college-food version of that for 5€ or less. Drinks at the right bar are anywhere from 1€ - 3€ for what would be $10 in the U.S., and club covers are generally around 10€ but they include 2 free drinks, so it's worth it. There's also little shops on almost every single street of the city called "ALIMENTACIÓN," fondly called "Chinos" by the locals due to the Asian descent of the people that own and run them, and these little stores are like marked-down convenience stores. They sell everything from food to toiletries to alcohol for only a few euros, the downside being that they only accept cash. (Clearly an under-the-table situation). I have been spending more money than I want to but I know it's because I'm just settling in and trying to figure out my way, I'm hoping in a few weeks I'll be able to reign it in and have a tighter seal on the ol' wallet.
(5) I really like my friends here (I have a solid crew of a few people that I’ve made friends with from Wesleyan, wasn’t that tight with them before Spain, but now I am). Since I didn't go abroad with anyone I'm really close with I've had so much freedom. It's good and bad, for example I don't always have that one person that really knows me and that I can just ask to chill with and not feel any pressure, but the upside is that every night of the week I can go out with a different group, or every day at lunch I can sit with 5 new people, and not have anyone expecting me to do something with them. By the nature of this lifestyle, I've been able to meet a ton of really cool folks and make a lot of friends. In addition to people from my program, which is made up of students from Vassar College and Wesleyan, I've also been trying to go out with and meet people that actually live in Madrid, such as spanish students from my school and a few locals I know. I'm making it a serious goal of mine to integrate into real spanish life and not just spend the semester with Americans. I've been out a few times with only spaniards, which can be hard since everyone talks so fast... (I'm almost fluent now but in a loud bar, semi-drunk, everyone yelling in street-Spanish... it gets a little overwhelming). Tomorrow night, for example, I’m going to a spanish house party which will hopefully be KEWL. This entire experience has forced me to practice putting myself out there and kinda take leaps of faith by asking people to get meals with me or go out to bars with me and whatnot which is a boost of confidence for the social abilities.
(6) The weather has been amazing, it's only rained/been chilly once. Most days still reach the 80's and the sun is so strong, the best part is that it's a dry heat (since Madrid is in the mountains) and I can say for sure that I don't miss anything about muggy, New England humidity. My hair doesn't get frazzled, I don't show up to class sweating after walking across campus, and I have yet to see a mosquito. It also drops to the high 50's/low 60's at night, which is so perfect since I don't have AC and I can sleep with my window open to get a niiiiiiiice, cool breeze.
That's all folks! ♡