By Felipe Monge 

Many may think that it is arguably easier to do the international MiM at IE if you’re from Madrid, like me. However, albeit it is undeniable that I do not have to deal with the same obstacles as foreign students do at first, I feel that there is an added responsibility in being a local, insofar as I am a host to my classmates. Hence, I and those peers who are also my fellow countrymen, have the duty to ensure everyone has a good time, gets to know the city and does not have any major problems in relation to their stay abroad.  In this sense, one of the reasons why my class -F1- constitutes such a close-knit group of people, who genuinely enjoy going out together and don’t exclude anyone, is because the local students are doing an excellent job at showing everyone around and making them feel at home in Madrid. I also believe very strongly in the importance of getting along with my workgroup, for IE stressed since day 1 how essential it was to develop teambuilding skills, and I have over the course of the last 45 days learnt that sharing work, excitement and fears with your team is also a very rewarding experience. All in my group, made up of Polish and Indian girls, as well as boys from Germany, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Spain, are proud to have become more than a group of students with shared interests, but true friends who are there for each other and enjoy getting together beyond their academic meetings. Being close friends does not just make us all feel understood and supported, but also allows us to work better together, complement each others’ talents more solidly, and genuinely have fun preparing cases, presentations and exams. I am happy to say that the trigger to this, the turning point that brought us closer, was an afternoon we spent together touring around Madrid’s most iconic bars, tasting Spain’s delicacies.

Casa Labra

Front entrance of Casa Labra, behind Puerta del Sol

It was not the usual tour you might expect, since I was keen on showing them the ‘other’ Madrid: the remnants of the Castilian town it was before becoming a multicultural financial hub; the village of narrow streets and hidden taverns that many Madridians seldom come across and in which even fewer know their way around. In the most entrenched Spanish tradition, ‘los madrileños’ don’t quite worship certain foods as much as they worship the places that master their creation: it’s not that much about ‘tortilla’ as it is about the tortilla of La Bodega de la Ardosa. It’s not that we are crazy about fried fish, but only about the fried fish nuggets -enshrined under the name ‘Soldaditos de Pavía’- that are served in Casa Labra. Few Madrileños ask for sherry wine -Jerez- during dinner, but there is no day when La Venencia, which only serves Jerez in its many forms –Manzanilla, Palo Cortado, Pedro Ximénez, Cream, Brandy…- is not packed, with people piling their drinks on top of dusty barrels and between grimy bottles, in one of the few corners of Madrid that still note down the bill by writing it on the wooden bar with chalk.

All of these ancient places –Bodega de La Ardosa, Casa Labra, La Venencia- and some others like the Cafetería San Ginés, celebrated for its churros con chocolate and which we could not visit for the queue went almost round the building, as well as the Spanish temple of roast chicken and cider –Casa Mingo- or the business with the Guinness World Record as oldest restaurant in the world –Casa Botín- have something in common: they are pebbles that have not been eroded by the flow of time. They are witnesses of how Spain -and very especially Madrid- evolved from a poor and isolated land to a modern and dynamic country.

Barrels of Jerez

Barrels of Jerez at La Venencia

I have always believed that, in order to be successful, you must have a balanced life: you must be able to both work hard and fulfil your duties, as well as enjoying an amusing and fulfilling social life. That vital balance cannot be struck without roots and wings: wings to fly high and aim higher, and roots to know where you come from and who you are. I trust IE to give me powerful and reliable wings that allow me to fly very high, and I enjoy showing my friends around for I feel like I am showing them something very personal about who I am, and where I come from. Those are the bars and atmospheres of my childhood, to which it feels great to come back after many years living abroad; thus, it brought me very close to my teammates to share that bit of me with them, and I appreciated how deeply they felt them as theirs too. I am sure that the landscapes of Aditi’s childhood in Delhi have stark differences with these, and Florian will struggle to find a tortilla de patatas when he’s back at a Biergarten in Munich no more than Maja if she looks for a fino de Jerez in Warsaw, but together we discovered a vibrant and hidden side of Madrid that will hopefully make them relish delving into Spain’s culture, and will allow them to understand better the noisy and undisciplined -yet exciting and addictive- way in which Spaniards live and behave.

Overall, it was an amusing evening that reflects well on what our IE experience should be like: six youngsters from different countries, religions, ethnicities and apparently very little in common found out that actually, they share a lot, and enjoy learning from each other. I am proud to boast five new friends, and I love to think there’s five more places in the world where I will feel at home. IE will broaden our horizons with what it teaches us in the classroom no more than by allowing us to come together with people from all over the world. Madrid, with its colourful buildings, sunny afternoons, rowdy nightlife and vibrant streets is the perfect scenario for this thrilling process of growing as a person and getting to know yourself.