‘I don’t think the lecturer’s going to come today,’ says Nina, an Erasmus student from Berlin sitting by me at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. So there we sit, raring to go though rather alone, waiting for our literature course lecturer. But he doesn’t arrive.
Nor is there any sign of him the next day. Some ‘real’ Spanish students pop by and explain the university system to us, Madrid-style: ‘A lot of professors don’t show up in the first week. That way the students can get to know each other better amongst themselves,’ smiles one Spanish girl. So that's what we do: from this moment on, Nina and I conquer not just the campus, but the nightlife too. And Madrid has a million fiestas to offer: in the first few weeks of term, around a thousand Erasmus students from Autónoma swamp Madrid’s party scene.
Over mouth-watering tapas and broken Spanish, Marie from Strasbourg, Fabio from Italy and Katalina from Poland get to know each other. Each tells highly entertaining anecdotes about their first few weeks. While shy Marie has a place on the Gran Via, Madrid’s main street, frantic Katalina is still desperately searching for accommodation. But even Marie isn’t completely satisfied: ‘My landlady and her daughter also live in the flat and they argue with each other twenty-four seven,’ she tells the other two. All the same, Katalina is envious. She lives nearly two hours from uni and would give her right arm to have somewhere a bit more central. She wants to move out within the next month, so she has to find a new home soon. It’s not always easy, though, to find an auberge espagnole in Madrid.
With this in mind, she has lowered her sights: she will be happy with a room with just one window and an internet connection, and has even resigned herself to paying high rent. Tonight, though, she doesn’t want to think about it. The European threesome don’t want to drag themselves away from partying, and move on to the next bar.
A Madrid hangover?
Madrid is vibrant by day too. With the Prado and the Thyssen Museum being saved for the official parental visit, Sunday mornings always mean one thing: the Rastro, Madrid’s huge city-centre flea market. In the afternoons we venture onto the Teleferíco, the cable car which winds its way across the Spanish capital.
The next morning, university and its attendant Spanish administration await. After breaks spent whizzing around the campus getting photocopying cards, Erasmus certificates and student passes, we race back to be on time for the lectures. We sit, and wait, and wait, for the lecturers.
The literature professor doesn’t turn up until the fourth class. He explains at length which works we are to read over the coming months. Some Erasmus students are already starting to flick through the lecture timetable to find a new course, but most of us decide to stick with this one.
It will take just five weeks for the easy-going Spanish way of life to rub off on us. At the end of October, the professor leaves us in the lurch again for two days - but Lucy from Belgium and the other Erasmus students have learnt their lesson. A rumour quickly goes round that he won’t be coming back until the end of November. So when the professor returns to the campus in early November, he looks around the room in astonishment. Now it’s his turn to be raring to go but alone.
Catch our second instalment in our special Erasmus series, where a young Maltese offers tips for settling in the ‘strike-city’ that is Rome