Getting Involved Across the World When There Is No Student Center

Beep. Beep. Beep. I toss and turn in my bed and see the alarm flashing the numbers 7:40 a.m. in the dark. Geez, am I late already?! I was supposed to meet my friend 10 minutes ago down the street so that we could catch the metro together from Plaza de España to Moncloa, the main metro stop for the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM).

I am in Madrid, Spain, studying abroad at the UCM for the school year. This week has been a whirlwind – rushing from one class to the next trying to explain myself and comprehend what others are saying to me in Spanish.

The university itself has been the first of my adjustments because it is, to say the least, huge beyond compare.

It is composed of two campuses: the Somosaguas campus and the Ciudad Universitaria campus. They are located on two different sides of the city – to trek to the Somosaguas bus, you need to take the A bus that takes about 30 minutes. The days when I could easily walk to get to my classes around Ring Road on campus are lost.

One thing that I was particularly interested in was finding a Welcome Week for new and international students. Welcome Week has long been a standing tradition for me and one of the things I look forward to most when school begins in the fall. I have been blessed to be involved in many organizations at Irvine, and these opportunities have helped me make new friends and gain experiences that made me feel at home with the campus. As a result, I embarked on a journey to find opportunities to get involved in UCM and Madrid in general.

I have found that the students are more focused on their specific departments, or facultades, than the campus as a whole. For example, the Somosaguas campus didn’t have a Welcome Week per se, with food and clubs galore, but instead had a presentation in their auditorium about the organizations that are available. The presentation focused on groups that worked on sociological, political, or economical issues because these are the three academic areas that are housed at Somosaguas.

On the other hand, many of the activities offered at the Ciudad Universitaria campus are activities that would be offered at the Anteater Recreation Center (ARC). I have found fliers advertising martial arts such as Karate and Capeoria. There are some workshops offering Salsa and Modern dance. However, the organization I see most often at the different facultades is called deportivo, clubs that offer sports teams for students to join such as volleyball, soccer, and basketball.

To mix it up a little, I checked out a dance studio called El Horno, which means “the oven” in English. El Horno is a renowned studio for fine arts, housing 12 dance studios, a gym, a patio area, and a dressing room for students. They offer a multitude of classes for both fitness and dance as well as classes for voice, acting and clown training. Many of their instructors are professionals who have many years of training.

I took a Bollywood class and it was an intense workout but also really fun as well. I am hoping to take some Flamenco and Salsa dance classes as well in the future. For now, I am checking out my various options and hoping to not only become immersed in the Spanish culture, but to challenge myself in the process as well.