Living abroad: new country, new challenges

26 March 2020

Ben is an LLB student with Hispanic Law. He studied at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid for his year abroad. Read his first blog about his experience living abroad.


As everyone going to study abroad – be it for a term, a year or even for their entire degree – will realise, living in a country far from your own is going to have its challenges. You must adapt to a new country, which comes with its own way of life – often very different to that to which you are accustomed. If you want to get by and actually be able to talk to people, rather than spluttering some half-baked Spanglish, you need to get a grasp of the language. And you need to prepare yourself for the simple fact that the level of independence expected of you has risen substantially; no more can you go home for the weekend with all your dirty laundry.

madrid view

Calle Arenal, the busy shopping street near to my flat in the centre. It’s not so bad if you are wandering around seeing the sights, but trying to get to the Metro station at the other end of the street is like trying to rush through Covent Garden at peak time.

New Culture

I moved about a month ago to Madrid, arguably the culture capital of Spain. So, within the first weekend of having been here, I had ticked off most of the main sights to see. Parque del Buen Retiro, the Prado art museum and Plaza Mayor were all seen in a matter of hours of my arrival. I also managed to catch the final stage of the Vuelta de España, Spain’s answer to the Tour de France! Plus, in comparison to the grey September of London, the 30˚C temperatures, day and night, have been glorious (though the fan in my room is always on). It also helps that the food and beer are so much cheaper than in London, so it is much easier to have fun here on a budget.

However, I’m still getting used to the change in body clock– nights out that only really start at 1am, the need for siestas in the afternoon (a struggle for someone who isn’t a fan of naps, though you probably won’t have any sympathy for me here), and having classes until 7:30pm really have an effect on someone who prizes his night-time sleep very highly. I suppose adapting to the siesta is the only way to cope!

El Parque de Buen Retiro, or just “Retiro” is an idyllic place to visit, great to escape the heat and take touristy pictures.

New Challenges

The first big challenge you come across is the issue of language. For those living in other English-speaking countries like Singapore or the US, this won’t pose too much of a problem. But for a Brit moving to Spain, it has been an uphill struggle! From dealing with banks and landlords to merely conversing with my classmates, I often finish the day with my brain feeling completely fried; it’s hard trying to translate everything that you want to say! It’s not that I can’t speak Spanish; I’ve been studying it since I was 11. Now, I have immense respect for the international students at UCL who have to constantly translate what they want to say into English.

The other main challenge for me, and for I suppose everyone else studying away from their home country, is the feeling of absence. I use that word in two senses. First is the absence of your friends and family, who have stayed back home, and second is my absence from UCL. The estrangement from UCL is particularly easy to feel at the start of term, when everyone is back there having tonnes of fun! I complain about London all the time, but I do miss the city. Both missing the people back home, and missing the English university lifestyle can be tough, especially so when you’re adapting to a new way of life at the same time. However, I have found that the feeling of absence quickly subsides after I spent some time in the country, and kept myself busy with the seemingly constant Erasmus parties!

It genuinely feels like freshers all over again, though with much better weather and a noticeable lack of freshers flu.

I was lucky to stumble across the final stage of the Vuelta de España, for both the men and the women’s races. It was such a good atmosphere!

By: Ben Cartwright