It’s crazy to think I have officially been in Spain for 2 weeks now. Time flies! I spent my first week of Orientation in Madrid, and have spent the last week in the city of Oviedo, located about 5 hours north in the Province of Asturias. After being in each city for 1 week, I’ve noticed some big difference between the two environments.
Madrid is a heavily populated urban area with over 3 million inhabitants, many of whom come from all over the globe. Oviedo, on the other hand, has a little over 200 thousand citizens, many of whom have lived in Asturias for an extended period of time. In fact, my host mom has lived in the city her entire life! Along with a reduced population, the physical size of the city is much smaller. After only a week, I’ve gotten a good idea of the city’s layout and have become familiar with the cities main attractions–the University campus, the Theater, the Calle Gascona, a major street full of restaurants and Sidrerias, and the Cathedral of Oviedo.
In addition, because the city is much smaller, it seems that students studying abroad here get a lot more one-on-one attention. On Wednesday we had the opportunity to tour the Ayuntamiento de Oviedo (City Hall) and got our picture in the paper. Clearly, Temple Spain is doing big things. One week in and already famous!
I thought I was used to the heat, as summers in Philly can get pretty sweltering. Turns out, they have nothing on summers in Madrid. Temperatures started out pretty mild in the mornings, but by late afternoon, temperatures ranged from high 90’s to about 106 throughout the week. In Oviedo, because of the city’s proximity in the North, the weather is much more mild. Comparable to weather in Ireland, most days the temperature averages somewhere in the 70’s. On bright, sunny days, everyone flocks to the nearby beaches in Gijon, but the city also has a fair share of rainy, overcast days. No matter the weather, it is a far cry from the sweltering heat of Madrid.
Prevalence of English Speakers
Much like New York City or Los Angeles, Madrid is a culturally diverse city, with inhabitants from all over the globe. While this is a fantastic aspect in terms of access to museums, art exhibits, shopping, and dining, it also means that a large percentage of the population speaks some or fluent English. At times when I would use Spanish to communicate with someone, they could tell I wasn’t a native speaker, and replied in English in order to be courteous to me. This is not the case in Oviedo. My host mom (like the majority of my classmate’s host families) speaks no English. The vast majority of Oviedo’s population, including many store owners, waiters, and pharmacists, speak no English. Therefore, in order to communicate with anyone or make purchases, speaking in Spanish is a necessity. This was definitely intimidating at first, and people can usually tell right away that I’m not a native speaker, but the more I practice, the less daunting it becomes. In a larger city where it’s easy to revert to the language you are more comfortable with, it’s a lot harder to improve your language skills.
During the orientation week in Madrid, each day had roughly the same structure: We would hop on a bus around 9 AM, travel to our touring destination for the day, return around 2 PM for lunch, and then we were free in the evening to explore on our own. In Oviedo, we still have lots of chances to explore the city, but we also have to factor in time spent taking classes. We take classes each morning until around 2 PM, and afterwards, we are free to spend the remainder of our afternoon and evening however we choose.
Popular activities include going to a park, the beach, studying in a café, visiting a restaurant, shopping or taking a siesta. So many options! In addition, on Saturdays, the University hosts all-day excursions to nearby towns. This past Saturday, one of the towns we visited was Ribadesella, a picturesque beach-town on Spain’s northern coast. There is definitely a nice balance between time spent learning in the classroom and time spent outside the classroom in order to take advantage of all that Oviedo has to offer.
Another big change between Madrid and Oviedo is the living situation, which went from shared hotel rooms to homestays. It is definitely an adjustment living in another person’s home and communicating only in Spanish, but even after one week, I have felt that my Spanish improving due to the constant need to practice. The view from my apartment didn’t take much time to get used to.
Regardless of the differences between each of the two weeks, Spain has been a great experience so far, and I am eager to spend my next 3 in Oviedo!