¡Viva la vida loca!


Perhaps a good start would be to speak about my very first impressions of my new house. I arrived here after a very long (but quite pleasant) car drive, and soon I saw myself inside of an apartment with 10 other flat mates to share my life with! I must say that the first day was slightly uncomfortable, since I honestly did not know what to expect from any of them. Either which ways, I decided to simply accept the new circumstances and make sure to just be opened for new situations! After all, what harm can it be to just get to know new people!?

My attitude thereon after was to make sure that I would be part of every activity that was going on in the house, regardless of the radical changes in my usual agenda. To begin with it seemed no one would answer my uncertain knocks on their doors, but I later found out this had nothing to do with “rejection” of their new flat mate, but more due to fact they were too busy having fun either on their holidays or in a typical bar somewhere in Madrid. I had to wait until the next day to start having some contact with them.

On Monday, I arrived from work to meet about five of them, who have already become almost as family to me. We spoke and had a great dinner together, as we often do when we all get back from our daily activities. The diversity of nationalities ranges from New Caledonia to Mexico making it even more of an experience, with one very important rule: no English allowed between us! The only exception to this is when we have visitors that cannot even try to speak the Spanish language; for all other times this agreement must remain unbroken!

Despite fond and frequent thoughts of those I miss in Holland, the extravagant weekends here in Madrid surpassed all my expectations and this will be the main topic of our next encounter! Meanwhile, I wish all the best to those of you who are starting or have already been experiencing new phases of your life! In other words, ¡Viva la vida loca!

A Spanish All-Nighter


Each culture has its own way of saying goodbye to the summer. Some celebrate, others simply accept the chilly breezes with slightly less enthusiasm. Yet, somehow all cultures and countries have their own way of doing it. Apparently, Spain- or more specifically, Madrid, has a very original way of saying goodbye to the warm days: They call it “The All-Nighter”. It is named after the fact that the entire city stays up all night, and by that I honestly mean almost every single inhabitant of this enormous city. The all-nighter is filled with music, culture, creativity and plenty of fun! I heard lots of people talking about it but I never imagined I would be seeing as many people that night as I did.

In addition, I had my doubts about how much fun it could actually be, since the picture I had of the event was simply one big mess! But again, I was wrong! As I left the house on the morning prior to ‘the night’ I was starting to get an idea of what was to come: Trucks with sound equipment could be seen literally on every corner. The city’s cleaning teams were busy making sure that the city was organized and ready for the night, and artists from many different parts of Spain and Europe were arriving in busses in big numbers. The atmosphere was light and I could not wait to find out what the outcome of so much work would be.

The city had been divided into four parts in order to stage 129 different events. The main idea was to have, as described in the newspapers’ special editions for this night, “a live transformation of the city”(Berástegui, 2008). The activities varied from open-air art exhibitions and the National Jazz Orchestra at the entrance of Madrid’s cathedral, to a collection of the best international DJs playing their beats in the narrow streets of the student neighbourhood. There was also plenty to do for the ones who preferred staying indoors, enjoying a more intellectual night: All the city’s museums stayed open until dawn and with absolutely no entrance fees!

When the night had arrived and I left the house with friends, I saw what I would be seeing on almost every single square: a typical gathering called the “bottellon”. This is basically a large group of people, usually students, who all bring their own drinks and music and stay at their square – or park – drinking, talking and dancing. Normally this is actually against the law, but during this night almost everything is allowed!

There was one fact that astonished me. Even though so many people were drinking, I did not see any fighting or other disturbances. The 1.5 million people crowding Madrid’s large and small streets, parks and squares all had one single thing in mind: Let us enjoy this very last night of the summer of 2008! And Madrid’s City Hall certainly lived up to its promise of making every one of the four million Madrileños, (residents of Madrid), feel part of one single community. Even I started to feel a proper citizen of the great Spanish capital! ¡Olé!

A ‘real’ spectacle in Madrid


Watching a football match can mean many things to different people. Usually, for a football fan a match is more than just fun. It is an extremely important moment, no matter how many times they have been to a stadium already. For women in general, football tends to be a very personal matter. Many love it and cannot miss it and others do not mind it. Only a few say they hate it. For me it has always been complicated to explain. Being Brazilian means that a crowd screaming for a goal, will send a chill through my spine. I just have to join the excitement. This may or may not have been the reason why I decided to go to a match where Real Madrid was playing. Ever since I arrived here and saw the size of the stadium, I knew one day I had to go and visit it. So, together with six other people, I went to the match between Real Madrid and Nomancia at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

As we got there, one thing impressed me right away: the security check we had to go through. It was understandable, since it is such a conglomeration of people- especially of children. But surprisingly, all of these people seemed very calm and just waiting to simply be excited by the spectacle that was about to start. The pitch itself is majestic! I had to drop my jaw at the size of the stadium, but I suppose that was just because I was not used to the size of football stadiums in general. After taking many different pictures, we took our places and waited for the show.

Barely had the game started when Nomancia showed all of us that, even though its name may not be as well-known as their opponent’s, their ability to play football is astonishing! The first goal came, by Nomancia. Nevertheless, there was one part of the stadium that just would not stop cheering! They are the so called “dragons”. All they did was to make sure the noise was present no matter what! Also, they had enormous flags, bongos, flouts, whistles, and many other “noise-making” items. Perhaps this enthusiasm was what helped Real get back on to its feet to show everyone they were alert and ready to change the game: 1 -1 was the score, only after a few minutes already.

The pace of the game did not change at all. It went on until the final score read 4 – 3!!! I could not believe it! Could it be any better!? One small observation here: the Dutch are absolutely adored in Madrid (of course), and I felt just as proud of them as the Madrileños are!

The next day I had to answer many questions of all my colleagues, who were wondering why I had no voice… Well, I guess you all know what my explanation was, right?

A bullfight: A remarkable experience


Since I arrived here I knew that one day I would have to go to a bullfight. This feeling grew day by day, especially after I had spoken to people about it. They all told me different stories about their experiences, but always with one thing in common: you must see one before making up your mind on whether you like it or not. I definitely took this piece of advice, and combined it with the presence of Aurelie Darrose, who has been following the famous ‘corridas’ (bullfights) for more than fifteen years. I will try to describe all I got to know, but it is important to mention that there is a lot more which I will have to leave aside due to space and time restrictions.

The bullfight is traditional Spanish event and its origins go back to Roman times. There are very strict rules with respect to the way bullfights are done. This is especially true for the Plaza de las Ventas here in Madrid, since it is considered the most important bullfighting venue in the world. The bullfight I went to was considered rather special because it involved the “confirmation” of a Colombian bullfighter, which is the equivalent of someone’s university graduation. He would be fighting with two other ‘toreros’, and so in total killing six bulls.

The fight always starts with a parade of all the fighters and their assistants, called ‘paseíllo’. They go around the ring on the sound of trumpets. The following acts are divided into three phases: Firstly the ‘picadores’ appears on horseback and injures the bull with pointy spears, to ‘get the bull started’ as they like to say. Then, the ‘banderilleros’ place three pairs of a type of small spear in the back of the animal, so that it will be ready for the actual fight against the bullfighter, the torero. Thus, the last one- perhaps more important part of the spectacle- is the ‘suerte suprema’ in which the torero demonstrates his skills and courage. The show ends with the ultimate thrust of the spear in the back of the animal’s neck, thereby killing it. Some followers say that a good bullfighter knows exactly which spot he should hit for the blade to go right through to the bulls’ heart and kill it instantaneously.

This Spanish tradition is not just a simple act. It involves many different people, and it is in fact a market that is driven by these spectacles only. Aurelie believes “the bullfight can indeed be seen as a cruel and archaic event. But in fact, all the people that are somehow related to it also have their lives depending on it, since it is usually their only source of income.” She also adds: “The same day bullfights are banned, so will disappear the jobs of hundreds of people and perhaps even the supreme admiration that many – especially the Spanish – have towards these extraordinary animals.” As for me, I can say that it was a very strong feeling, and perhaps I could not say that I would like to go to another “corrida”. It was interesting to watch, from the perspective of learning about a different culture and respecting traditions in general. At the same time however, it is difficult for me to get over the heavy atmosphere that was generated and the cruelty involved in the act of killing these animals.

Giovanna Sanches is a 3’rd year IBA-student and studies in Spain for a while.

End for the Sleeping Beauty´s dreams (based on the special report on Spain by The Economist)


When we think of Spain we automatically think of joy, fun and sun. Spain is a sunny holiday country and has developed greatly over the past decades. However, just like anywhere else, the global economic crisis has hit Spain, and in quite an unforgiving way. The past has shown the Spanish potential to develop while maintaining traditional values without experiencing many problems. But predictions for the next few years mention severe economic and even sociological changes to the ´Southern Giant´.

Prosperity is a word that has entered the Spanish vocabulary. Like many other countries, after a period of war Spain experienced a steep curve of development. This started in 1950, when dictator Francisco Franco opened the country to foreign investment. Nevertheless, the real boom came in 1986 when Spain and neighbouring Portugal joined the EU. The effect has been extremely positive, resulting in the country being ranked the fifteenth world economy in terms of purchasing power in 2007, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

Be that as it may, the Spanish ´Sleeping Beauty´ has now woken up to a very harsh reality. After petrol prices rose and the European Bank raised interest rates last year, the country came to feel the painful consequences of the global economic slowdown, especially in one of its economic pillars: construction. The current deficit adds up to almost ten percent of Spain’s GDP, and inflation is on the rise. The most-feared consequence is an L-shaped recession, which was mentioned by Michael Reid of The Economist in a special report on the Spanish economy.

In order to recover, Spain needs to take action and use available resources in the most efficient and intelligent manner. Yet, many barriers may have to come down first. One of them is localism, which represent a serious threat to Spain’s business relations with other countries. The territorial divisions within Spain are also a problem that should be addressed urgently. The current Prime minister, José Luiz Rodríguez Zapatero, recently reached a compromise by giving almost total independence to the existent autonomous regions. Yet the country needs to unify in order to try and overcome the economical tsunami that is about to come.

Moreover, Spain has also started to feel the strain of the aggressive increase of immigration. At first, the arrival of foreigners was seen as a relief. There was a lack of labourers and workers. The current decline in available jobs fuels the immigration-aversion effect, seen in most of Europe and America. Zapatero has already taken a few steps to decrease the impact of the issue, but there is still a long way to go.

In the face of so many challenges, it is hard to tell when there will be an end to these problems. Most Spaniards believe it would be good to no longer count on the support of the European Union, but rather push through reforms, radically overhauling the way management has been organised, taking into account the fast pace of world’s economical developments. Indeed, the times of the sweet dreams of the ´Sleeping Beauty´ are now over.

Being an ¨Erasmus¨ in Madrid


Just like any other country, Spain has got its wonders that attract people in general. But, the land of ‘fiesta’ is a serious magnet to students as well! They come literally from the four corners of the earth, and pretty much all of them look for the same thing: fun, fun and fun! The combination of nice weather, friendly people, and a culture of freedom guarantees their enjoyment here! Just have a look at what daily life is all about for the exchange students:

It usually starts at 10am or 11am, which compared to the ones that have to work from 8am until 6pm, can be one of the great advantages of being a student here. Also, like in Holland, lectures are not mandatory which means if your night was a little too long, staying home is always an option. But be careful: The most important classes are often taught in the mornings!

Group sizes are relatively small, which for some is an advantage but for others, whose first language is not Spanish, this can become a little challenging. Furthermore, the teachers are all rather motivated. According to Social Sciences student William Treherne “this is good, but I have to say that it can sometimes be a little intimidating when you have not mastered the language completely yet”. For Sabine Ambros, a Biology student who also came to Spain expecting to find much larger classes, the atmosphere reminds her of high school times: “It is interesting to see that most professors know you by your name!” Another fascinating point is the way things are taught. The lessons are planned by a governmental institution, which means that everything is pretty straight forward and there is no ‘reading between the lines’. William adds: “In this sense I think German and maybe other European unis are a lot more difficult, since what you should actually know is simply left to your interpretation.”

Many of the exchange students that do not speak Spanish encounter a barrier when trying to get close to the Spaniards. The Spanish do not speak English a lot, meaning that they much rather speak their mother tongue, with people who completely understand them. In addition, as William points out, “they have become used to exchange students too much”. So why would you be interested in something so common?” For others it is good to speak Spanish because it adds to the international experience.

Being in Spain involves going through a few things that are considered quite unusual in other countries. The most remarkable thing to William was to see that beer is served in the university cafeteria at any time of the day and that it is cheaper than anywhere else! Also, already at eight in the morning the restaurant is filled with smoke, and it is not from normal cigarettes only. Something you would probably expect to see in Holland, but I suppose this is exactly why he decided to mention it as a curious part of student life here!

Sabine said that to her, the way people are served in restaurants is simply amazing. “I felt like a queen the first time I entered a restaurant in Madrid!”

I …don’t cry because it’s over, but I definitely …smile because it happened!

It sounds like it was ‘just’ four months that I lived here in Madrid, but I can assure you they were some of the best months of my life. I arrived in August when most fellow students were still enjoying their vacations, or preparing for their introduction weeks. I was looking forward to my new adventure, but at the same time I was a little scared as well. I started my internship on 18 August, and my very first thought was: How on earth am I supposed to manage this job? I went to work in the retail banking department of Barclays Bank, which would involve direct contact with clients and therefore required people skills. So far so good, however my Spanish was as rusty as an old bike. Somehow it did not matter though. I took it as a challenge and great opportunity to test my limits learning a new language and many different skills! I experienced a lot while working, it being quite exigent at times but also very rewarding at other moments. If one day you get opportunity to work for a bank, simply smile and do it. But be prepared for possible difficulties, especially now with the credit crisis. Realize that you will work long hours, but also learn more than you thought you would.

I obviously had to find a place to live, and as you can imagine this can be quite a challenge in a huge city like Madrid. The rents are often exorbitant, and since I was just an intern I had to look for cheap alternatives. Surprisingly, this appeared to be not as big a problem as I thought it would be. I found a room in the centre of the city, in this huge apartment with ten other housemates. Most people, when I tell them, react like “Gee, that must be so chaotic!” or: “How can you possibly manage that?” You would be surprised to see how much fun it really is! We are pretty disciplined, and share a fairly straight-forward objective: Enjoy life as much as possible! And this is what happened! There is always someone to talk to, no matter what mood you’re in. Also, there is always someone to teach you something new, and we share a pretty big space while respecting each other a lot. We have the rule of speaking Spanish to one another, which I think has helped everyone here. It certainly made a huge difference to me. Plus, the cultural diversity means that we unconsciously learn about other cultures and traditions. In sum, it has been perfect to live here!

Another great thing about living in Madrid is the easiness of traveling to other places in Spain. Madrid is so central; it takes the same amount of time to go the cities in the north, south, east, or west. It is also affordable, which means that you can get to see quite a lot of Spain with little money. Also, the country has plenty to offer to party-lovers, history fanatics, architecture followers, or even city-admirers. As you can see, diversity has become a key word during my stay in beautiful Spain and it is difficult for me to say that all this will be ending soon. I believe we are all really pleased with what we have learned, and we all wish it could go on forever. At the same time, I am also looking forward to sharing all these great experiences, and make sure to keep this flame of energy that Spain has put inside me, going for as long as possible: Thank you for La Vida Loca, and hopefully see you very soon Madrileños!