I have wanted to study in Spain since my first Spanish class in seventh grade. Eight years later, I am in Madrid, and it is a dream come true.
I am passionate about languages, so being in a country where I get to immerse myself among the speakers of another language is fantastic.
Upon arrival in Madrid, IP students stay in the university's residence halls for two weeks while they look for their own housing. We still reminisce about our times in the residence halls. We all loved living on the same floor, and it was a great way to bond early in our stay.
We got some advice on house hunting during an orientation held in the residence halls, but after that we were on our own. Looking for an apartment in a foreign country can be tricky, to say the least, due to the language barrier. The most important thing is to be proactive but not stress out or rush the process. I found a piso compartido, or shared apartment, with three other IP students.
I discovered the benefits of public transportation early on in my stay. Although there are lots of cars in the city, many commuters, students, and others elect to hop on the metro or take a bus to their destination. With an affordable monthly pass, I have unlimited access to Madrid's public transportation.
Madrid's many neighborhoods are diverse in architecture, people and overall atmosphere. Every section of the city has its own special feature. The neighborhood of La Latina, for example, has a fantastic outdoor flea market called the rastro.
No trip to Spain is complete without a bullfight, or corrida de toros. Madrid has a beautiful stadium, and the tickets cost us about as much as a movie does in America.
Although bullfighting is an older tradition, soccer, or fútbol, as it's called here, has earned its place as Spain's national pastime. Madrid's most popular soccer team, Real Madrid, played AC Milan, and my friends and I decided to go watch the game at a cafetería, or café/bar, near the stadium to be closer to the action.
Perhaps one of the best ways to experience Spanish culture is through its food. Madrid is brimming with restaurants, most of which serve traditional Spanish cuisine. Cured meats are a specialty, as are shellfish, cheeses, and delicious baked goods.
International Programs has enabled us to see much more of Spain than just Madrid. We have already had group excursions to the cities of Segovia and Toledo as well as to the region of Extremadura. These cities are overflowing with history, including remnants of the Roman presence in Spain as well as the reign of Isabel and Fernando.
As part of our trip to Toledo, we took a detour and visited the famous molinos de viento, or windmills, described in Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quijote. This is just one example of how my studies of Spanish language, literature and culture have come alive during my stay here.
Another perk of studying abroad in Europe is the ease with which you can travel to other countries. Flights are often affordable, and you can be in a completely different place with its own language, food, and customs and back home again in a single weekend. So far, I have been to Italy and Portugal. This picture features the typical tourist pose in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Although my friends and I have managed to experience lots of amazing things outside of the classroom, school is still a very important part of my day. The Universidad Complutense de Madrid houses the IP Madrid program. Our classes are conducted entirely in Spanish by Spanish faculty and are comprised of students from all over the United States. We don't have many small assignments, so individual tests and final papers count for much more.
Although my time here is far from over, I have learned more about Spanish culture than I could have ever imagined. Perhaps more importantly, this time out of my comfort zone has encouraged me to grow immensely as a person. I am sure that this experience will continue to expand my horizons, and I look forward to making many more memories here in Madrid.
Learn more about the study abroad program in Spain