Visiting Team: Differences Between Madrid and the States

Read the observation Danny Rodgers shares as he spends his semester at Universidad Pontificia Comillas on the Student Exchange Program! He touches on the difference in the classroom, sports, to the daily life in Spain.

One of the coolest parts about living abroad is seeing how daily life works in another country. Some differences are minimal, whereas others are quite drastic. Over the past couple of months here in Madrid, I have diligently taken note of key differences and put together this blog featuring some of the more interesting differences between life back home and here in Madrid. With that, let’s dive in!

Daily Routine

Although three days of my school week beginning at 8:00 am, the typical Spanish day starts later than in the US. This became apparent to me rather quickly as I was the only one in the neighborhood awake, walking in darkness to class at 7:30 in the morning; traffic doesn’t really pick up until about 9:00 in the morning when Madrid is commuting to work. Another major difference in regards to the mornings is what is served for breakfast. Here, breakfast consists of strong coffee and maybe a small pastry, usually served and eaten quickly at one of Madrid’s plentiful coffee bars. Given the later start to the day, the rest of the day’s meals also occur at different times. The lunch hour starts around 2:00pm and is the heaviest meal of the day. Many shops and businesses shut down during lunch and people head home to eat with family. The result is a sort of 2-part work day that ends later than the typical US workday. For example, the relocation service I used when searching for accommodation followed office hours of 10:00am-2:00pm and 3:00pm to 7:00pm. Wrapping up the day around 9:00 pm is dinner, a lighter meal in comparison to lunch. At a full 3-4 hours later than the typical US dinner hour, this late meal is arguably one of the biggest adjustments to make when living in Spain.

In regards to studying in Madrid, Ohio State and my university here could not be more different. Here at Comillas, all my classes are under the same roof. The classes are about 20 – 40 students in size and I have multiple classes with the same classmates. Compare this to Ohio State where a brisk 20 minute walk across campus in between classes is not uncommon and a first year economics lecture brings out a crowd that can rival a small concert venue. Here at Comillas, the structure of the classes differs significantly as well. For example, a typical final exam at Ohio State usually accounts for about 20 percent of the final grade whereas here, my final exams currently looming on the horizon are worth a humble 50 percent of my final grade. As is with most aspects of studying abroad, adjusting to a different way of doing things is the norm. Add on a positive outlook and even the most daunting of tasks seem doable.

The Big Game

I am a huge sports fan, so a goal of mine going into the semester was to attend a match at Santiago Bernabéu, home of one of Spain’s top football clubs, Real Madrid. After a stressful morning of ticket shopping, I managed to snag a single ticket to a Champion’s League match between Real Madrid and Tottenham, an English football club. Champions league matches feature two high level international clubs, so I knew I was in for a good game. It felt great to be back in a packed stadium for a prime time game as I didn’t have the usual Buckeye game days throughout the semester.

The differences between Madrid’s marquee sporting event and a comparable event in the US were very interesting. For instance, the entire match was played in under 2 hours. The trade off to a shorter event, however, is that those 2 hours were filled with constant action. Compare this to a typical Sunday NFL game with all its commercial breaks and stoppage of play and you can see why some non-Americans find American football rather boring. Another interesting aspect of the Real Madrid match was how the moment halftime hit, everyone pulled out their pre-packed sandwiches from home to enjoy during the break. Quite the nice alternative to the typical $13.00 hotdog and soda found in US stadiums. Finally, and probably the most impressive difference, would have to be how the fans engaged in the game. From pregame to the final whistle, fans on both sides chanted and sang the entirety of the match. Their dedication to cheering was incredibly impressive and created a high energy atmosphere the whole game. Coming into the match knowing next to nothing about European football (very American of me, I know), the skill of the players, passion of the fans and the overall experience gave me a new appreciation for the sport.

City Life

When considering where I would spend a semester abroad, I only had two requirements. I had studied Spanish for 8 years and am currently working towards a Spanish minor, so studying in a Spanish speaking country was a must. Secondly, I grew up in Naperville, Illinois, so Chicago was always a quick train ride away. Heading to Chicago year after year, I developed a love for exploring cities. With these two desires, Madrid, Spain seemed like the perfect choice. Now several months into the semester, I can say Madrid is exactly where I am supposed to be. Trading towering skyscrapers and our beloved cars for royal palaces and public transportation, the experience of living in a European metropolis has been an incredible experience.

As a capital city with over 3 million people, Madrid is an exciting place to live. Here, one can find everything from maze-like neighborhoods hailing from the 17th century to streets like Gran Vía, bustling with activity 24 hours a day. Madrid is also a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and impressive lineup of restaurants, night life, and shops. Outside of main thoroughfares, chain restaurants and businesses are not very common. This allows local businesses to take center stage, each providing a completely unique experience to the next. I’ve often wondered how so many of these little shops can stay in business, and I think it speaks volumes to the benefits of high density, walkable neighborhoods. This is a far cry from the car-centric towns we have in the US—outside of a select few urban areas. Only having to walk 5 minutes or less for fresh baked bread, a grocery store or coffee shop will be something I miss dearly.

Madrid has also provided the perfect setting for practicing Spanish. In these aforementioned coffee bars and little restaurants, English is hardly common. It is with this real world practice that I now feel more confident than ever in my language abilities. I can only image how proud my high school Spanish teachers would be, knowing I can successfully fight my way to the counter of a packed tapas bar and order without issues; this is why I studied Spanish. But in all seriousness, I have thoroughly enjoyed living in a city where I must speak Spanish daily. I strongly suggest to anyone studying a language to pursue an exchange in a country that speaks the language you are studying. It is far and away the best way to develop confidence in using the language, which is something that cannot be easily gained in a class that only meets twice a week. While it was certainly a challenge learning the ins and outs of new city, Madrid has become a place I’ve grown to love.

Although my semester abroad is coming to a close, there are still more stories to tell! Check back next time to hear about a global business experience I had here in Madrid. Later on, look out for my advice for outgoing study abroad students as the next semester rolls around.

As always thanks for reading!

Intro to Ireland – The Government

Join Grainne Hutchinson as she explores the political world of Ireland while on the Student Exchange Program. Hear what she has experienced visiting the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament, and her observations on how networking is done in Ireland. She also shares some advice on how to get involved at Trinity!

Dia dhuit! (Hello!)

This week I got the exciting and rare experience to visit the Dáil Éireann! The Dáil Éireann is the lower house of the Irish parliament. The Houses of Oireachtas, the Irish Congress, has two houses the Dáil Éireann (House of Deputies) and the Seanad Éireann (Senate). The two houses function somewhat the same as their American counterparts. One huge difference, though, would be that instead of the Prime Minister of Ireland being directly elected as our president is, he is nominated by the Dáil Éireann and to stay in power must keep the majority support of the Dáil. That’s a big difference between the US and is made even clearer to me as this is an election year. It would be like if we voted in our state representatives and then they chose the president out of all the candidates the parties put forth.

Picture of the Dáil. Photo from the Independent. Phelan, Shane. "Dail Bars Forced to Chase 11 TDs and Senators over Their Unpaid Tabs." Independent.ie. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Picture of the Dáil. Photo from the Independent. Phelan, Shane. “Dail Bars Forced to Chase 11 TDs and Senators over Their Unpaid Tabs.” Independent.ie. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Membership to the Dáil works a lot like membership to the House of Representatives in the US. The “Teachta Dála”, in English “deputies to the Dáil” usually just called TD’s, are elected in by their constituency. The constituencies are determined by population, and there must be a member the represents every 20,000 to 30,000 people. At the current moment there 158 members and 40 constituencies. 

I was invited as part of a Society I joined at Trinity, as it was a political society it’s going to remain anonymous. We were addressed by current TD’s and given a short speech on Brexit, as it will affect Ireland quite a bit as well. Then we were shown one of the two bars that are located inside the Dáil (because it’s Ireland) and a had a drink while we mingled with other students and current TD’s. Networking in Ireland is about the same as in the US. In this case, there were about three TD and 30+ students but every TD tried to say hello to each of the students there while I find in the states they usually let the students come to them.

I would strongly recommend students going abroad to join societies and make the most out of them! They can help you make friends as well as give you once in a lifetime opportunity. Definitely join the ones you have an interest, but consider some country specific groups as well. For a trinity example, there are always sports clubs to join but do consider clubs like The Hist or the College Historical Society. The Hist which I joined is mainly a debating society that everyone is welcome to, whether you debate or not. They are one of the oldest societies and host famous guests from time to time. This experience might be the only time in your life you can experience the culture like a local so join clubs that focus on local things like hiking or food. Or if you’re still feeling adventurous after agreeing to live in a foreign country for 4 months join a sports club you never could back home, in Trinity’s case Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs like Gaelic football and Hurling. I would also suggest looking at the international student club! At Trinity, the club arranges travel weekends all around Ireland and connects you to full-time students from your home country that you can go to for advice or questions. Thats all for this time!

Sláinte! (Cheers!)

Impact of Going Abroad

Studying abroad with Fisher has been one of the highlights of my college experience. In our short time of 11 days we were able to see and experience so many things. I had previously studied abroad in high school with my senior Spanish class to Costa Rica to experience the culture and language. This immersion was entirely different. The business component is what made this trip. Being able to speak in my native language, English, to global business professionals is something that simply could not be done in a normal classroom at Ohio State.

This experience opened my eyes to just how connected the world is today. We were able to meet Ohio University band students and directors who were playing at the Vatican, an English teacher from my hometown of Dayton (Ohio), and plenty of Michigan and OSU fans. In a single restaurant in Italy we met people from Denmark, Romania, Italy, Finland, England, Spain, Brazil, Germany, and France. In one single restaurant. These were just people my own age that we spoke to. It was unbelievable.

Our classroom discussions were reinforced daily in real life discussions. While we were discussing the European Union with one of the representatives I remembered tidbits of information that Melissa had taught us in class. This was classroom learning implemented in the truest form. We were using knowledge learned from a book to speak with someone who actually worked in the EU! It was phenomenal. It made the learning experience so much more real and beneficial.

One interesting fact I remembered from the class is a woman that was mentioned who ran a business making gluten-free dough. Surprisingly, most of her business was overseas through exporting. Today’s world is so much more different than it was thirty years ago. It’s hard to believe a woman can make a living selling dough by shipping it all over the world as opposed to a conventional bakery.

After going abroad with Fisher I am much more interested in International Business. Although my major is Finance I definitely plan to look into career opportunities that may allow international travel opportunities. It would be amazing to find a job with a global corporation that would allow me to meet with colleagues in other countries.

The benefits of going abroad are not only academic and professional. Some of my best friends at Ohio State are Global Lab students that I never met before this trip. We bonded in the class time and overseas. Not only that, but the friendships we have made will surely be valuable someday. We are all Fisher Direct Honors students. When we returned in the fall and visited the involvement fair I saw more Global Lab students than any of my other friends. We were all there representing different organizations! Whether it was the running club, or a fraternity or sorority, or the Undergraduate Finance Association, so many of us were there. The students who went on this trip with me are some of the best, brightest, and most involved in Fisher. There is no doubt that we are all headed toward bright futures.

 

How Firm Thy Friendship O-H-I-O

The Idea of “Kaisu”

Officially, it’s Week 4 of my semester here at Singapore Management University. Only 9 more weeks to go before it finals time! Not that I want the semester to come to end, it’s been amazing living and studying out here.

My new campus!

I’ve been experiencing so many new things here and adjusting to everything at the same time. I find that Singapore is not much of a culture shock for me as I’ve been to Asia before. What I find interesting is however is the myriad of cultures here. Singapore has four national languages- English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Every day I find myself hearing all four languages. Singapore is still a mystery to me because it’s hard to pinpoint what precisely the Singaporean culture is. It’s a wonderful mix of the West and the East.

Before I got here, I didn’t realize that I would be adjusting to SMU (Singapore Management University) culture in additional the local culture. The culture at my university is a whole new ballpark. I’ve noticed that the academic competition is fiercer here. In fact, it’s straight up cutthroat. There’s a Singlish word here (Singlish is a unique blend of English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and local dialects that is spoken in casual conversation) called Kiasu that means, “fear of losing”. Kiasu is a part of Singaporean culture as people grow up ingrained with the notion that hard work will get you ahead. It also means that Singaporeans are generally very competitive by nature in all aspects of their lives.

The idea of Kiasu became even clearer after my class discussion today. I’m taking a class called “Current Issues in Business, Society, and Government” and today we talked about Singapore’s education system. We watched a movie called, “I Not Stupid” by Jack Neo which is about three boys who are at a disadvantage because they’ve been streamlined into EM3. In the past, Singapore used to streamline students into three academic streams (EM1, EM2, EM3), the best students were placed in EM1 and the students who learned at a lower pace were placed into EM3. Although EM3 was supposed to create a learning environment suitable for students who needed a slower pace, it actually had negative effects for the students because it created a stigma that these students were “stupid”. There was also no possibility that EM3 students would move up the ranks. All of this relied on an examination that students took around age 10. As you can imagine, growing up here is very different than growing up in the US.

One of the best things about studying abroad is the exposure to different societies, cultures, and ideas that I would have not realized if I wasn’t here such as the idea of Kaisu. I’m constantly learning something new each day and I look forward to sharing all of these experiences through this blog!