Bienvenidos a Madrid

It’s been a while since my last post, and life has been quite hectic since graduating from Madrid. A lot has changed since I entered my Master Program, and life continues to be challenging now that I am back in Abu Dhabi. A long, arduous yet fruitful journey, it’s one that ends with lifelong friendships and a couple of great achievements. I have divided this story into two parts, to complement the 2 phases of my experience in Madrid. I experienced my life change in every semester, and I feel that each one has it’s own story. When I finally received my acceptance into IE Business School, I was ecstatic, and I was looking forward to a presumed life changing experience. Everyone talks about these kinds of experiences and that your life will change after you’re done, blah blah. I knew my experience in Madrid would change my life, although what I didn’t know is how much it would change. You won’t believe me until you experience it yourself, and as I did, you’ll have to take the plunge.

Puerta de Alcalá, at Plaza de la Independencia in Madrid - coincidentally my first picture in Spain.

Puerta de Alcalá, at Plaza de la Independencia in Madrid – coincidentally my first picture in Spain.

Why Spain? That was the question everyone asked me and my parents. Why not the USA, the UK, France, or even Lebanon? Of course, the latter was sadly out of the question. Spain seemed like a random choice to many people I spoke to back in 2012.

Madrid at first sight

I landed in Madrid, and stayed in a hotel on Goya street in the Salamanca District. The taxi ride seemed frightful. I finally sat down to relax in my hotel room, opening my laptop to watch an episode of Californication. Then it occurred to me. I said to myself “What the hell did I just do?” “Why on Earth did I accept to do this?” I was in a city all alone, entering a master program I didn’t think I’d pass, and neither did I speak the language. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone. I decided to leave the hotel room for dinner, yet as soon as I went down to the street, I didn’t know whether to go right or left. My smartphone became my best friend, guiding me to potential apartments to rent, restaurants for my lonely lunches and dinners, and other places I needed to know.

Friends everywhere!

It was not until I started my Spanish classes that I met some people in my program, and on the first day, I met my first partner in crime. A mix of Palestinian, Kuwaiti and American, I quickly confided in my fellow classmate, who also attended the American University of Beirut. The next few days comprised of learning how to survive with the language, which we very well needed to open bank accounts, and rent our flats. Finally, on the 10th of September, 2012, a new chapter began for my classmates and I. Our program required us to be split into work groups, because droves of cases, presentations, assignments and quizzes lay ahead of us.

From left to right, a Lebanese, South African, German, Italian, Indian and the seated Spaniard

From left to right, a Lebanese, South African, German, Italian, Indian and the seated Spaniard

Luckily, I had already met three of my group mates. A South African, a German and Italian with whom I was going to spend countless hours with solving cases. To complete the six members, we had a Metallica loving Indian and one of the nicest Spaniards I’ve met. I still remember the first day we all met to finally test ourselves out. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, more so because I was so focused on giving a good impression to my group mates.

In regular classes, I ended up sitting next to my second partner in crime, a Lebanese who attended AUB as well; someone who I wish I had met back in university. A realization that came to me as we spent our class time in our permanent seats for the 6 months before our specializations.

More than a club at the San Siro

More than a club at the San Siro

As the semester flew by, all of us in the program were surprised at the amount of work that was needed to be done. That didn’t stop us from traveling to different places in Europe however, especially when all I needed was an ID card. Our first trip was to Barcelona, comprised of eating paella and snails at “Los Caracoles”, visiting Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, a stroll in Park Güell, a stopover in Camp Nou, only to end up in one of Barcelona’s night clubs.

We also had dinner at a dry cleaner’s. Go to Barcelona and you’ll find out why you can.

Paris can't be more beautiful

Paris can’t be more beautiful

My first semester in Spain ended quite nicely, relaxed and ready for more cases to be thrown at me. But before all of that, I had the chance to have a Spanish Christmas in Madrid, followed by lunch the next day from the biggest paella pan I had seen to date. Lastly, New Years in Paris couldn’t have been better, except for the fact that when we arrived, the hotel we thought we “booked” at said they didn’t have our reservation.

Click here for part 2 of my experience in Madrid.