First Week, First Insights: Madrid, Spain

Alexandra Goodin, ’25, is a Psychology major studying abroad at Nebrija University in Madrid this Fall 2023.

Ahh, Madrid. The place I’ve wanted to go since I was a kid, and the place that has already exceeded my expectations – and it’s only been a week!

There are so many insights and new experiences I’ve already had that I could share, but I’m going to try my best to keep this short and sweet. (If you know me, you know that’s hard!) I arrived in Madrid on Thursday, September 14, at 6:20am. Even running on very little sleep, the excitement and nerves were simultaneously kicking in.

I stayed in a hostel for a few days, sleeping, adjusting to the time difference, and beginning to explore the city until I moved in with my host family on Sunday. Orientation was the very next day, and classes started the day after that!

Insight 1: If you can, arrive early.

I was so grateful that I had arrived a few days before classes started to give myself a chance to adjust. Madrid has a six-hour time difference with Philadelphia, and adjusting to that along with a whole new city and language and culture is certainly overwhelming at first. Being able to arrive and start to orient myself before jumping into classes was a huge blessing.

Insight 2: Take advantage of public transportation!!

Madrid has a GREAT public transit system that I was able to figure out very quickly. Using Google Maps is a great tool as you’re getting used to the metro here! In each Metro station, you can buy single-use or ten-ride cards. You can also make an appointment to go get yourself a more permanent metro card at: The cards themselves are only 4 euros each (a one-time fee), and then you can get a month of rides for only 8 euros. If you, like me, take the metro at least twice a day, this is an incredible deal!!

Insight 3: Free university/city activities!

My host university, Nebrija, offers a ton of cultural activities for its international students, which are usually either free or very discounted. Just in the first week, I went on a walking tour of the Sol area of Madrid (the center of the city) and to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. There’s also a free trip to the Royal Palace next week, and many more to come! The city itself has lots of discounts for students, if the museum is not already free! I’ve gotten into CentroCentro and Museo de Historia de Madrid for free! There are also lots of agencies and programs that cater to students. One here is called Citylife Madrid! They offer trips and activities, but also services and tips for settling in, such as installing a new SIM card for you. You can find them here:

Above: Museo de Historia de Madrid

Above: The exterior of CentroCentro

Above: The interior of CentroCentro


Maybe I shouldn’t say this considering I’ve only been here for a week, but I literally feel like Parque de El Retiro is the best place in Madrid. It’s a giant green space in Madrid complete with a pond, statues, food vendors, playgrounds, etc. There are also multiple buildings on the property that you can tour, and one of the buildings had a free art exhibit when I was there recently! If you want to get out on the water, you can rent a rowboat to take on Retiro’s pond. It’s only 6-8 euros (depending on the day) for forty-five minutes, and you can have up to four people on the boat! My friends and I have already rowed twice since being here.

Above: The inside of one of Retiro’s buildings

Photo credit: Anna Bokarev

Insight 5: It’s only been a week. You don’t have to have it all figured out.

Being in a new country away from everything that is familiar is an incredible experience, but also an incredibly scary and overwhelming one. My first few days in Madrid were amazing, and I was so happy to be there, but I also felt lonely and homesick and was struggling with my Spanish. It’s ok to be excited but nervous, happy but homesick. There’s no timeline on being “adjusted” or feeling “comfortable,” no matter what people tell you. Feel all the feelings, continue to challenge yourself, but also give yourself some grace. All you can do is your best!