Reason you chose this program: I really liked that I had the option to have an internship while abroad. To me, having the internship was more than just gaining work experience; I improved my Spanish through translating and I had the pleasure to work in a young and fun environment. In fact, I am still friends with some of my co-workers. Also, I wanted to live in a dormitory with Spanish students. It not only made making Spanish friends so much easier, I was able to participate in activities that other Americans couldn't, such as Carnival in the Spanish countryside, and writing for my school newsletter. I fully immersed myself in Spanish culture because I spent every waking moment speaking Spanish. I credit my amazing experience partially to my choice to live in a dorm.
Favorite classes: My favorite class was Almodovar and Women in Film. Once a week, we watched a film based on a theme such as passion, abuse, immigration, or comedy. As the semester progressed, my comprehension improved and I could have meaningful in-class discussions. Through these films, I gained a better understanding of the Spanish sense of humor and outlook on life. Every IES Abroad student was required to take a grammar class. We spent the class talking about Spanish culture, current events, movies, basically whatever came up. The best part of that class was our professor, Ana. She was funny, open, and really cared about us. We even had a class dinner at the end of the program.
Housing situation: I lived in Colegio Mayor San Agustin which is a large dorm located by Parque Oeste. There were 10 Americans, 4 exchange students from Spanish speaking countries, and over 100 Spaniards who lived there. While I had a single room with my own bathroom, the whole dorm got together every day for the three most important parts of Spanish daily life: eating, socializing, and soccer.
Best memory: My best memory is when my roommates and I cooked a special dinner together, ate it on our 4th story terrace overlooking the city, and then went out with a bunch of their Spanish friends afterward. I felt so much a part of Spanish culture and it was a great bonding experience with my roommates.
Advice to future study abroad participants: The most important piece of advice I have is to be open. This goes for anything between speaking the language to meeting new people to choosing which activity to do. Just remember that you are there for a limited time so take every opportunity you can to speak the language and do something you could not do at home.
Best memory: I had a Spanish best friend named Natalia who was from a small village about one and half hours north of Madrid. In March, I found myself spending Carnival in her village in "Espana profunda". It was amazing; we hiked along a 600 year old wall, ate the most delicious food, made our own lion tamer costumes, and won 500 euros in a costume contest. I loved the opportunity to immerse myself fully into Spanish daily life.
Biggest surprise: I was surprised at the way that Spaniards ate. Every day, we ate meat, pasta, bread, and almost no vegetables. The meal time is very different but it fits perfectly in the Spanish way of life so it is not hard to adjust to.
What I know now that I didn’t know before: Going abroad made me realize that I am stronger and braver than I thought beforehand. Throwing yourself into a foreign culture without knowing anyone takes courage.
If you participated in an internship while abroad, would you recommend that future students take an internship and why? I would always recommend doing an internship abroad. Not only did I receive relevant work experience, I improved my Spanish and I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. Also, as the workplace continues to globalize further, international work experience will become more and more important. In all of my post-graduate job interviews, I heavily referenced my internship in Madrid and it helped me stand out among other applicants. I honestly believe that my internship abroad helped me gain employment more than any other experience on my resume.
Going abroad vs. staying on campus: When on campus, I feel lazier. I am more willing to lay around and hang out with my friends. While we did have downtime in Spain, I felt that we were more active and our lives were much more exciting. Also, the teaching style is different. Spanish professors hardly ever hand out daily homework and everything is due in the last two weeks of the semester. Therefore, all of the American students felt overwhelmed the last month.