Finding a Forever Amiga in Madrid
My final semester of college was spent in the great city of Madrid, Spain. Rather than taking classes at a university, I chose to take the road less traveled and fulfilled my degree’s foreign residency requirements by doing an internship. The purpose of this was to not only challenge myself and completely immerse myself in the Spanish culture but to also spend time outside of my comfort zone. I would be living with a Spanish woman with whom I only spoke to via email twice prior to arrival, and would not have thousands of foreign students at my disposal. This made it difficult to meet other expats to do fun, simple things with such as sharing meals and exploring the city.
The first few weeks were challenging. I spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the city, the metro system, and the neighborhood I lived in. I also had to acclimate to the time difference and become comfortable speaking Spanish, although I had been studying the language since middle school and was conversationally fluent. Once I settled into my internship and the people with whom I worked, I felt the flame igniting and was ready to get out there and take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
After a few online searches, I discovered a Madrid-specific forum for young expats in solo-situations such as my own, hoping to meet others to explore with. There were a few very nice people I met for coffee or to roam El Retiro Parque with. But I didn’t find the type of friends I was used to back home, and that I so dearly missed.
It gave me so much perspective on the world. Here I was, this small town girl from the US, learning first-hand about the struggles of my new, dear friend.
One day I came across someone around my age who was in Madrid working as an au pair. We met up for dinner and ended up at a disco, as she was dating a local guy who frequented the place. Once he came into the picture that night she disappeared, but luckily his friend’s girlfriend and I immediately clicked! We laughed, drank, danced, drank some more and just had a blast. Her name was Irina, she was from Ukraine and from that moment on we were inseparable. My entire Madrid experience was about to go from bueno to maravilloso!
Ira was in Madrid with her mother, working in an apartment building that housed students from a local university. They would cook meals for the students and do some light cleaning. One night we made plans to go out dancing so I met Ira at her apartment building and was introduced to the group of students she’d made friends with. There were a number of girls who were childhood friends from New York City, another from South Africa, and we all discovered the city together on a regular basis.
Finding a Forever Amiga in Madrid
I’d found my clan and we were all there for the same reason, to explore and live it up in a foreign land. We would hang out at the apartment prior to hitting up the discos, meeting even more people from around the world. We’d all share info on parts of the city the others didn’t know about, went to museums, shopping, had coffee and tapas. It was life altering!
Some of my favorite memories included those days when Ira and I would have lunch with her mom. We’d sit at their dining table and the dynamic was amazing. I spoke English and Spanish, Ira spoke English and Ukrainian (plus a little Spanish) and her mom spoke Ukrainian and Spanish. So we would go in circles around the table during a conversation, Ira and me in English, her mom and I in Spanish and they in Ukrainian, to translate for each other.
They’d tell me about living in the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and explained how food was rationed and how Ira had never eaten a banana until her early teens. It gave me so much perspective on the world. Here I was, this small town girl from the US, learning first-hand about the struggles of my new, dear friend. The land she came from I’d only previously read about in History class.
Her name was Irina, she was from Ukraine and from that moment on we were inseparable. My entire Madrid experience was about to go from bueno to maravilloso!
It was extremely difficult to say adios to my amiga, but I knew we’d be lifelong friends and remain in contact. Fast forward to the emergence of Facebook, we did just that, finding each other after several failed attempts to keep in touch via outdated phone numbers and email addresses. As I plan my trip this summer to attend the Pink Pangea writing workshop in Venice, I will most definitely spend a few days with my favorite Ukrainian in Valencia, Spain where she now lives.
I’m grateful to have made it to the beautiful city of Madrid, proud of how I put myself out there, how I learned more in four months than I had in several years, as well as a chance meeting with this amazing individual who helped me discover the full Madrid experience. Nos vemos pronto mi amiga!
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