Erasmus Memories: renting a room in Madrid (2012)

It’s been ten years since I was in Erasmus! I was having writer’s block when this just hit me. January is the blue month, and I just don’t feel very inspired. Reflecting upon time, my brain took a trip to what I was doing ten years ago… I was planning my studies abroad! The first big adventure I was able to take. When I was 20 years old, I studied for a semester in Madrid. All I wanted was to go abroad at the time. My dream was to study in Rotterdam, but unfortunately, our budget only allowed me to go to my country’s only neighbour – Spain. And that is how I ended up studying Periodismo (Journalism) for a semester in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Univer.-Madrid-building-min
Source: ctouch.eu
The ugly Facultad de Ciencias de La Información ( College of Information Science) that contrast heavily with the older Complutense building. Source: change.org

I wrote before on how important this was for me. I learn valuable lessons that made me into the person I am today. You can see it all here – whether you’re deciding on whether to study or work abroad for an experience or letting your kids doing so…you can refer to this article.

While I loved the whole experience, it did not start the best way. I started looking for a room to rent before my departure, making phone calls from Portugal with a not very convincing Spanish, and not even half of the confidence I have today. They say millennials hate phone calls. As a millennial, I can say it is true. And to be honest, that strategy did not work. Rooms were being rented at an insane speed, the competition was high, and I was just a foreigner…and a student. With a very little budget. So I was forced to go to Madrid without a room, and see if I could find something in my first weekend there.

I recall sitting here in distress. This is called Puerta de Europa (Europe Doors) which is ironic since I was starting my very European Erasmus programme.

Well, my first mistake here was to have let my parents decide things for me. My dad insisted on driving me there, instead of me taking a quick 45 minutes flight from Lisbon. From where we lived, it was almost a seven-hour drive. But this also meant I was taking more stuff than I needed and would have to endure whatever they thought was best. Well. Suffice to say when we got to Madrid, it didn’t get any better. Quite the contrary. No one was picking up my phone calls or responding to my messages. At the time, mobile data wasn’t something I had, so I had to go to some shady places called locutorios (sort of an Internet Cafe) looking for reliable internet connection and announcements for rooms.

Imagen de archivo en un locutorio en el centro de Madrid, en 2010.
This one looks much better than the ones I went to. This image is from El País, illustrating an article from 2020, naming locutorios as the Internet of the poor.

It was insufferable. It was the start of September but the summer was still extremely hot. The few times I managed to actually book a room viewing, I got stood up. Eventually, I stepped on gum and got a sticky walking for a few hours until I was able to get rid of it. When I finally got someone from the rent room ads to pick up the phone, this angry Spanish lady just told me how she didn’t trust students and I could not get any friends or family to stay with me not even for a few days. All of this while asking for €400/month of rent, which I could not afford.

In the midst of everything, I still snapped some pictures of that weekend. I don’t like beer, but I was even willing to drink Duff beer, as I could only be stuck in a Simpsons episode.

At the end of the weekend, with the pressure of my parents (they didn’t want to leave me there without a place, even though I could have stayed at a hostel), I ended up having to stay in an awful room in a family home, where I found loads of pubic hair in the toilet, there was literally no space in the fridge for me to put any food, and there was just a weird smell in the house. I spent one night there just so my parents could leave me to it. The next day I finally found a place (a very bad and tiny bedroom, but I was desperate) and moved out of there, lying to my then landlady by saying a friend of mine had just asked me to move in with her.

With this, I learned a valuable lesson. Parents are great. But sometimes, they need to let us go. And we need to be confident enough to know we can be let go. That was probably one of the most stressful weekends of my life, and since then I have moved alone to London, been solo travelling quite a bit… but that weekend probably made me lose quite a bit of hair. While gaining confidence in myself.

And now, to end this post on a fun note – did you remember hearing about the elderly lady who decided to restore a fresco from a local church, near Zaragoza, Spain? That was in 2012, just a few days before I moved to Spain. You can still find the article here. And the below was what I found in Madrid while desperately trying to get a room 🙂

Hope you enjoyed my first entry of my Erasmus Memories!

Love, Nic

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