Archive for the ‘Madrid Experiences’ category

A year in Madrid …

April 17, 2011

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here a year.  It feels like I don’t even remember life before the MBA – it’s been an intense ride.  Even the relatively easy 4th and 5th terms are pretty time consuming because of the time spent on job hunting and Venture Lab (where I am the co-founder of a new business – DealBoss).

So, I’ve definitely adapted to living here in Madrid.  My Spanish is certainly not at the level I thought it would be by this point, but its much much higher than when I arrived.  I may not have the best grammar, and sometimes get lost hearing new people, but it’s a great feeling to actually be able to have conversations in another language.  I will certainly miss the city and wonder where I might end up next.  As a student of history and the classics I love Europe – its like a living history book.  I can walk down the street and see some of the most amazing artwork in human history, or take a short train ride to see ancient Roman constructions.

So what have I done in the last year besides an MBA?  Well, last May I went to Valencia, Spain – which is very underrated as a place to visit.  They have a first class museum complex, nice beaches, and a pretty “old town”.  I definitely enjoyed the trip.  Later on in the summer my girlfriend arrived and we went on our summer trip – Barcelona (including the can’t miss Gaudi buildings), Paris (the Louvre is the most amazing museum ever), Firenze / Florence (the churches there are stunning), Venezia / Venice (lived up to expectations), and finally Lisbon.  We didn’t spent much time in Lisbon, but I think it had pretty fantastic beaches, great food, and was very cheap.

In September we went to Gibraltar, which is a fascinating place.  The people speak an interesting mix of Spanish and English, and switch back and forth between both languages.  In English, they sound pretty much like they are British to my ears, and in Spanish they sound like Andalucians.  And of course the monkeys are a can’t miss tourist site (just be careful that they don’t steal your things).  I don’t think I would recommend longer than a two day trip, but it’s a great weekend trip if you can get there easily enough (the travel to it is the hard part as no planes fly from Madrid to Gibraltar).

In October I went to Tunisia, then under the now deposed Ben Ali.  It was also a very interesting country with a fascinating mix of both French and Arabic everywhere.  We went to the famous Golbis Hot Springs, which have been used as a bath since Roman times.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to see the ruins of Carthage (basically in Tunis), but the Romans didn’t leave much there.

My girlfriend was supposed to return in December, but unfortunately her student visa didn’t arrive until January so I spent my time in Madrid.  That wasn’t much fun, but I did get the opportunity to practice my Spanish with all the free time I had. 🙂

In March another friend came out and I finally got the chance to make the trip to the south of Spain.  Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada are all great places to visit.  I suggest taking a look at the wikipedia sites for those places, they really are impressive.

In a little over a month I will graduate with my MBA … and I have no idea what life looks like after that.  I wouldn’t call it any more stressful or exciting than jumping out of a plane without being sure you have a parachute. 🙂

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A Month in Madrid

May 8, 2010

So I survived my first few weeks in Madrid and have been ramping up at IE Business School.  I didn’t think I would work as hard as I did while getting my first Engineering degree, but it sure has been intense considering we just started.

Its been very interesting to see how many people here have dogs.  Lots of little ones out on walks – most of them amazingly well behaved.  Unfortunately for me, I believe the dog that one of my neighbor’s has does not match that description.  I don’t know about his other behavior traits, but he loves to go on barking sprees at various times.  At least I don’t hear him at night!

As I mentioned I have very little Spanish skills (more than a beginner, less than an intermediate level I’d say – so I probably should retake Spanish 201 – third semester University level Spanish in the US – as I apparently have forgotten all of it!).  I am really looking forward to classes starting on that topic as a key reason I chose Spain for my MBA was the language.  It really is quite challenging to get around here without speaking Spanish as a relatively small number of Madrileños speak English.  On the other hand, Its always pretty humorous when I stumble through something in my broken Spanish only to have the other person speak perfect English to me.  I think a lot of my classmates speak 3 or more languages – they may not consider it impressive but I sure do.  I can’t wait to be bilingual …

I’ve been closely following the challenges faced by the Euro lately and its a pretty interesting chain of events.  The more the Euro drops, the less I will spend while I am here so I have a vested interest.  Greece reminds me a bit of some states in the US that know they have serious money problems but are having trouble coming up with the political strength to do what needs to be done about it.  California comes to mind.  In the case of Greece they could focus on targeting their tax evaders and cutting public services until their economy recovers.  What is Greece’s strength economically?  I don’t actually know, besides tourism and perhaps some food.  And Spain is another interesting case – there is this perception that its been horribly run and that is why they are running massive deficits, but my recollection is that Spain is basically Arizona economically (and perhaps partially in terms of language 😉 ) without the support of the US Federal Government to bail them out.  What can you do when you have a tourism and real estate based economy and it collapses worldwide?  Its a tough situation to be sure.  I wonder how Spain could change its laws to become more economically competitive while keeping a good quality of life?  I think the line that we always hear about the problem being “too many services” is probably not the core of the problem – I think its more about competitiveness and efficiency of local markets and their resilience in the face of a very rough recession.  The large number of small shops here are very charming, but it seems like it would be tough to compete against what we have in the US (massive stores all over the place).  I think you lose some culture, but the Walmartification of the US (something I was always angry about) does make goods cheaper.  Having fairly short store hours is also good for work life balance, but it makes me miss being able to buy something at any time of the night (driving there nonetheless!  I miss my car).

Don’t forget your units.

April 25, 2010

So … I landed, and slept.

Waking up I decided to try to get some things done.  I wander out of the hotel, still halfway in a daze and start walking around.  Everything felt pretty alien – the signs were in another language, I couldn’t find any street signs, the cars were completely foreign, even the signals on the stoplights looked different.  Now, Im coming from a suburban environment in the US with huge, well lit roads and lots of space (and distance) around you so it was even more shocking to come to a major “world city” where you can walk almost anywhere.

I think out of the things I saw the cars were the most surprising.  I knew that Europe had lots of different types of cars than the US, I just never expected it to be such a dramatic shift.  I’d say that 95 percent of the “coches” here are different than what we have in the US (almost universally smaller versions).  And for some reason they are almost all newer models (I should research that – I am guessing they must have some way of encouraging only newer cars?).  Fiats, Alfas, Seats, Skodas, Smart cars all over the place (and in different varieties – a larger one and a pretty wild looking roadster).  And even the Fords are different cars – Fiestas and Mondeos for example.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a GM here, although I may have seen a Chrysler 300 at one point?  And the scooters are all over the place – some of them look pretty cool but they make a pretty annoying noise when you are trying to sleep 🙂

Another struggle I had almost immediately was units.  Now I spent a lot of time in college learning and using metric, but its still a shock to use it in your day to day life.  How hot is it?  What do I weigh?  How tall am I?  Sure, you can do the conversions for temperature (C = (F – 32) * 5/9), weight (Kg = lbs / 2.2), and height (1 inch = 2.54 cm), but that isn’t the easiest thing to do off the top of your head.  Spanish isn’t the only language I need to brush up on while Im in Madrid!

Landing in Madrid

April 24, 2010

So I’ve survived my first couple weeks in Madrid, Spain and thought I might put together a blog to try to catalog various thoughts and experiences.

I guess the story starts a few years back when I first came to my last employer and realized that long term I probably needed to pick up an MBA at some point.  Previously, despite not believing I really liked school all that much I had earned (mostly by continuing to go to school even when I wasn’t doing all that well) a few technical degrees in the past – a Bachelors in Aerospace Engineering in 1999, Mechanical Engineering in 2001, and a Masters in Management Information Systems degree in 2005.  In 2008 when my plans to move to a subsidiary of my company in the UK didn’t work out I decided that I should try to go get my MBA before it was too late – and why not focus on something international.  I really feel that business is going to continue to move more than more globally, even in the defense sector where I worked.  And if Im going to try to learn international business, why not do it overseas?  I’d never been out of the country besides some short trips to Mexico and wanted to see a bit of the world and broaden myself.  I have always wanted to finally become fluent in Spanish – I’m exposed to it all the time in my hometown, have taken classes, and yet could never get over the hump where I could converse with folks – so I decided that living in Spain and going to school there would finally get the job done 🙂  So that left me with a few top choices (there are some excellent business schools in this country) and I picked IE Business School in Madrid.  Depending on what ranking you follow, its often placed in the top 10 of business schools worldwide.

It took me a while to jump through all the hoops (especially funding, which was very difficult) but finally in late March of this year it was obvious that it was finally going to happen so I quit my job (I didn’t have my student visa yet, but it looked pretty certain that it would work out once I got my police records check from the FBI back in the US) and prepared to move to Madrid.  It felt like any other business trip as I headed to the airport back home and flew to Dallas Ft Worth airport.  I had been there a number of times over the past few years flying around for work, so it felt pretty normal.  Then I stepped onto the Iberia Airlines flight to Madrid … and I was clearly no longer in my comfort zone.  Folks were no longer speaking a whole lot of English (the flight attendants were the main exceptions along with a few random Americans I heard talking) and the plane was huge.  I immediately wished I had retaken Spanish 201 last fall like I had considered 🙂

And then I landed – and of course had no idea where I was going to get my luggage, get my passport stamped, or find a cab.  It wasn’t so much that the signs weren’t always in English (I am fairly good at reading Spanish, less good at understanding it, and very poor at speaking it), but my experiences so far here are that they don’t seem to put as much focus on helping people find things.  In the US I am used to huge signs everywhere – here for example the (small) street signs are on the buildings, sometimes, and never in the middle of the road like they are back in the States.  There was no convenient chart when I got off the plane telling me where my luggage was at so I just followed the crowd through the international arrival area (which was pain free) and wandered around until I saw a few familiar faces from my flight … and there was the luggage.  Two huge bags, a carry on, and my backpack.

I picked up my luggage and wandered out to the cab area (taxi is easy enough to understand in any language).  Surely the cab driver would speak English right?  After all, its Europe they must all speak 10 languages each like most of my classmates.  No such luck.  Fortunately for me I read that the hotel was hard to find so I saved the directions and GPS coordinates on my iPod Touch, in Spanish.  See, and you all thought I was unprepared 😀

After a short drive we made it to my hotel and I stumbled on in … and then proceeded to sleep on and off about 3 hours at a time for the next half week.  International jet lag is pretty brutal 🙂

Welcome to Madrid!