Hola! I’m back this week to paint a broader picture of where I’m staying for the duration of my study abroad. As a summer student at the Instituto Franklin—a division of La Universidad de Alcalá devoted to graduate programs in North American studies and study abroads for international students—I live in the Lope de Vega residence hall in the old campus, right in the middle of Alcalá de Henares. While the residence’s exterior mimics the surrounding buildings (some of which date back as far as the sixteenth century), It’s actually a relatively new construction. Inside, it’s clean, modern, and spacious; I love my single dorm on the second floor, which features a gorgeous skylight that keeps it well lit for most of the day. While it’s full of small rooms and common areas to read, chat, or study, the dorm’s back patio-courtyard is easily the most frequented hangout (that is, when it’s not one hundred degrees out like today).
Definitely more interesting than my dorm is the beautiful city of Alcalá de Henares, which is large enough to merit its own bus routes but small enough that many destinations within it are easily walkable. It lies just a 40-minute train ride outside Madrid, retaining a relaxed small-town atmosphere while remaining well within easy day-trip range of Spain’s pulsing capital (today’s picture is an unmarked statue I discovered in an excursion to the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid). The old part of the city is a wonderful mixture of narrow cobble-stone streets, wider walkways, picturesque plazas, and heavily-trafficked roads. One of my favorite things to do has been exploring Alcalá—with friends or solo—and on days less baking-hot than today I’ve enjoyed going for runs in the Isla de Colegio, a local park/hiking area that borders the more expansive Parque Natural de los Cerros.
While I’m absolutely loving my stay in Alcalá, it’s definitely taken me some practice to get used to the immersive Spanish-speaking environment and culture of central Spain. Here’s an example: ulike American pharmacies, Spanish farcmacías are small, frequently encountered stores dominated by a long counter, where you ask the pharmacist on duty to get your desired purchases for you before paying. This is all well and good if you’re well acquainted with the proper Spanish names of the products you want to buy, but if, say, you don’t know that hydrogen peroxide goes by a title a somewhat different than its literal rendering from English, you might end up empty handed and beating a hasty retreat, realizing that you should have researched the name more fully online. Hypothetically speaking. On the bright side, soap was unbelievably cheap at one of the local grocery stores. While I’ve definitely made lots of mistakes as I navigate my day-to-day life in Spain, it’s also been an incredibly rewarding experience and I’m excited to keep learning more!