Five months, ten countries and a lifetime of memories.
- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
While abroad I was able to take four courses through the UC Center. I took courses about Immigration, Gender Studies, Political Ecologies and a Spanish course. All of my classes were really interesting and the professors were passionate about the subjects they taught. Since the theme of my program was “Contemporary Spain” all of my classes were about issues in Spain and taught through this lens. For each of the courses, we went on two field trips as an entire class. These field trips were a fun way to get out of the classroom and learn more about Spain. All of my classes, except Spanish, counted towards my major which was very helpful and helped make my study abroad experience less stressful. They were also all taught in English.
Since my program was through an UC Center, my courses were structured in a very similar way to UCSB courses. All of the courses were taught in English. We were given syllabi in the beginning of the semester, had midterms, finals and weekly assignments and readings. However, rather than being on the quarter system, the UC Center was on the semester system. This allowed the students to take 16 weeks of classes rather than 10. Also, the class sizes were smaller than UCSB classes so the students developed more of a relationship with the professors.
- What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite course abroad was Immigration, Ethnicity and Nation in Contemporary Spain. Professor Jose Maria was very knowledge about the subject and had a lot of very interesting insight. We also went on several field trips with this class that allowed us to see how immigration policies and services directly impacted people. Through these field trips we also talked to a lot of immigrants and heard first hand accounts of what immigration in Spain is like. Since the issue of immigration is a hot topic in California and the United States, it was really fascinating to learn how other countries deal with the issue.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
No I didn’t.
- How would you describe your host institution?
My host institution was very similar to attending a UC except it was not an actual college campus. The UC Center consisted of several classrooms in a building where we went to take our classes. There were study rooms, printers we could use and couches to spend time in between or classes. The building itself is relatively small and I really only went there for classes. All of the students in my classes were from other UC schools, but there were other universities that also used the center.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
There were no student organizations to join directly through my institution.
- Describe your housing situation.
I lived in a residence hall about 35 minutes away from the UC Center and the city center. The majority of my program lived in the residence hall together along with other Spanish university students. Since we all lived in one big building together it felt a lot like living in the dorms again. I think we all got close because we lived together and would thus travel to school and eat our majority of our meals together. Each dorm room consisted of 2 beds, 2 desks, drawers and 2 closets. There were also bathrooms in each room and the rooms were cleaned twice a week. All of the UC students had roommates, whom we could pick, from the same UC program. There were also a lot of Spanish students and other exchange students living in our building. It was really interesting and fun living with so many different people and learning about different people’s lives.
- Where did you eat most of your meals?
My program had a meal plan through the residence hall; so, I ate most of my meals in the dining commons in my building.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
There were always vegetarian, not vegan, options available in the dining commons; but, they were often very bland and not nutritious. The city of Madrid itself does have a lot of vegetarian options though.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My friends and I loved to have picnics in Retiro Park. We would often go to the grocery store and buy bread, cheese and fruit and eat it in the park before sunset. These are some of my fondest memories from abroad and were my favorite meals because I was eating yummy food in a beautiful setting with my favorite people!
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
Now that I am back I really miss eating tapas. My favorite tapas were croquettes, which are fried balls filled with meat and cheese, and patatas bravas, potatoes with a special sauce.
- Describe your host city.
Madrid is a big, metropolitan city. I would equate Madrid to any other big city like New York. It is always busy and full of people from all ages. There is always some new place to eat or an event to go to in the city. Madrid is also well known for its nightlife. Madrid is full of parks, restaurants, shops, museums and monuments. I would really recommend Madrid for anyone who is interested in living in a big city. Madrid is also the Spanish capital, so there are a lot of monuments and a lot of history in the city.
- Was it easy to get around?
Yes! The Metro made getting around Madrid very easy! It only took about 35 minutes maximum to get anywhere in the city and my program provided a student metro card.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
I always felt safe in Madrid. There are always people around, even late at night, and I was never put in situations that made me question my safety. The only threat in Madrid is pick-pocketing. Madrid is known for its’ professional pick-pocketers. But, pick pockets are rarely ever violent and all they do is steal things. I was never pick-pocketed while abroad. As long as you are alert and aware of your surroundings you are safe. One tip to avoid being pick-pocketed is to never put your phone in your back pocket and always walk with your hand on the zipper of your purse, even in clubs or bars.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
There are SO many interesting and fun things to do in Madrid. There are tons of fun restaurants, bars and clubs. Some of my favorite places to eat are at the different markets in Madrid. In these markets there are stalls with different types of food and you can get all kinds of food to try. They are often crowded and have a really fun atmosphere. There are also a lot of really famous museums in Madrid, such as the Reina Sofia and the Prado. Madrid has a lot of beautiful parks in the city and towards the outskirts of the city. These parks are great locations for picnics, walks, jogging or watching the sunset!
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
I experienced a lot of cultural differences while abroad. One difference between Americans and Spaniards is that Spaniards are very direct and to the point. This can often be perceived as being rude, but it is just the way Spaniards speak. Another big cultural difference is meal times in Spain. Almost all meals are eaten later in the day than they are in the US. For instance, dinner isn’t eaten until 8:00pm or 9:00pm and lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day.
- How did you handle culture shock?
I did not experience a lot of culture shock. I was able to cope with the little culture shock I did have by just keeping an open mind.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
My favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the nightlife. I loved eating my meals late and being able to walk around the hustling and bustling city late at night.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
One of my favorite travel stories from abroad is when I went to Morocco and rode camels. Traveling to Morocco itself was an adventure. We took a night bus, a ferry and several other busses just to get into Africa! Riding camels on the beach in Morocco was an experience I will never forget.
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
My biggest fear about studying abroad in Spain was that I wouldn’t be able to get around the city since I do not speak Spanish. But the language barrier did not end up being as big a problem as I thought. While abroad I took beginner Spanish which quickly taught me some necessary phrases and words that eased my transition into the Spanish language. I also remembered more Spanish from high school than I expected. Additionally, many of my classmates and friends were proficient, if not fluent, in Spanish and were able to translate when necessary. Many Spaniards also had a basic knowledge of English so we were able to more or less communicate.
- What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge while abroad was balancing school, homework and travel. Though I was abroad to travel and have new experiences, I still had to prioritize school and complete all my work. However, after a few weeks of being abroad I was able to find a good balance and get all my work done while still traveling to 10 different countries and many different cities.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
Since going abroad I have become a more confident person. I am no longer scared of new situations and am much more comfortable being alone and traveling alone. I find myself more open to talking to new people and trying new things. I am also a lot more confident navigating cities and public transportation.
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
Get out of your comfort zone and do things you never thought you would do because that is where the memories are made!