I wake up to a South American breakfast and a cup of tea before being shown the city centre in the midday sun of 36 degrees, in true tourist style. I’m living in Alcalá de Henares, patrimonio de la humanidad and birthplace of the infamous Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. We pose against statues and stop for ice-cream under the authentic archways of la calle mayor. It’s beautiful, really breath-taking and I get to stay here for a whole year!
Immediately I grab a map from the tourist information centre and the next day seek out my own way to town, following the locals, hopping on and off of buses. Four hours later I’m back at my flat, sweating from a day of walking and photo taking in the heat of the midday Spanish sun. Such a giri. But I’ve found the gorgeous ancient building that is my university and haven´t got myself run over yet, despite no completely knowing which direction cars are going to come from and whether or not they’re going to indicate or ignore traffic lights.
In the evening I’m treated to tapas and ballroom dancing in the town square. One thing I must express is the joy that seems to radiate from the very streets, the way Spanish people seem to know how to enjoy life, the way that despite the size of the city there is no stress, no worry of the future. And late into the night the town is alive with music, chatter and the soft flutter of the opening and closing of fans.
#MyAdvice. On arrival: 1. Find a flat, look round a hundred if you have to but find a place to stay that you like and doesn’t mean compromising on location, price or flatmates – remember you’re living there for a year! 2. Find the Erasmus Office and familiarise yourself with the layout of the campus. Find your rooms before class starts so you’re not late on your first day! 3. Get a map and go get lost in your city! It’s the only way you’ll start to find your way around. 4. Be prepared to be confronted with a whole new culture that goes much deeper than you first thought. For one thing, Spanish organisation leaves a lot left to be desired…”No pasa nada. Mañana, mañana.”