Student Reflections

Adjusting to a New Lifestyle

Jake Austgen
September 22, 2022

Walking down Calle Gran Vía, one of the busiest streets in Madrid can feel like an obstacle course. There are people walking fast and people walking slow. There are people going left, right, and directed towards you. If you aren’t paying attention, you might crash. My first few times experiencing the pedestrian traffic of Madrid left me confused. How can walking down the sidewalk be so difficult? Why is it so different from the US? After three weeks of living in Madrid, I figured out why. It is a side effect of one of the main lifestyle differences between the US and Madrid: in Madrid, people aren’t in a rush.

In America, especially in big cities like New York and Boston, everyone always seems to be in a hurry. Everyone is always rushing from Point A to Point B, and there’s no stopping to take a breather. In Madrid, people are much more relaxed. You will often see people stop walking to take in the beautiful architecture, pick out fresh fruit in the local market, or just chat with a friend. And it isn’t just on the street that the relaxed culture of Madrid is noticeable, you also see it in restaurants. After the tapas have been finished and the plates have been cleared, Madrileños will remain at the table to drink and chat. The servers have no problem with this, in fact, they will only come to your table if you get their attention. This is quite different from in the States, where waiters will stop by your table several times throughout a meal.

Due to the relaxed nature of Madrileños, it should come as no surprise that everything runs late. In the US there is a popular quote that goes, “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable”. In Madrid, it is the opposite, if you show up on time you will be early. I experienced this right away at my international student orientation. It was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but by the time everyone got settled in and the presentation started, it was nearly 10! It isn’t just people that are late, meals in Madrid are also eaten later than what is common in America. Lunch typically starts around 2 p.m. and dinner, not until 9 p.m. At first, I disliked the late meal times, but now that I have adjusted, I‘m a big fan! It feels like there is much more time during the day when you are eating dinner at 9 p.m. instead of 7. In the US, if I finished work or class around 5 p.m., by the time I got home I would make dinner, and soon after that, it was time for bed. In Madrid, I am in no rush to eat dinner and have more time for homework or to hang out with friends. Late meals that last for hours result in another significant difference between Madrid and the US. In Madrid, people stay up late. It is common to see people still out and about at midnight, even little kids!

As I am studying abroad, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the differences between my classes at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and at Northeastern. There is a big difference in the structure and schedule of courses. At Northeastern, most classes have two to three lectures each week, and some also have a small recitation. At UC3M, classes meet twice a week. The first meeting is a large lecture that covers the theory of the lesson. Later in the week, there is a smaller session, similar to a recitation, that is for the practical application of the topics discussed during the lecture. Classes have only been in session for two weeks, but so far I enjoy the structure at UC3M. Who wouldn’t want to go to fewer classes each week?

Another significant difference is in the amount of homework. While there may be a few homework assignments assigned throughout the semester at UC3M, it is rare for them to account for a large portion of your final grade. For most courses, the final exam is worth at least 50% of your final grade, while the remaining portion can consist of other exams or a large project. I have heard of classes where your entire grade is determined by the final exam! I am a big fan of less homework, but we will see how I feel the same way when final exams roll around.

All in all, there are several lifestyle differences between the US and Madrid. They can seem significant at first, but after adjusting you might find that they work better for you!