Kathy M., Spain- Universidad Carlos III, Madrid (Communication)

Madrid: My experience in one of the most liveliest cities I have ever lived in

ACADEMICS

  1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? Did you take major, minor, or GE courses? How did courses compare to UCSB (e.g. level of difficulty, grading system, course structure, method of assessment, length of lectures, number of meetings per week, language of instruction)? Was the student/instructor relationship more formal than at UCSB? Could you call instructors by their first names? Did they hold office hours? Did you find you needed to be more independent and take more initiative abroad?

When I was studying at Carlos III in Madrid, I was taking major courses. They were difficult because I took them in Spanish and although I am a native speaker, college level spanish was challenging. I did find that they did not assign as much homework but rather there was a lot of work to be done during section. It was very practical and hands on, rather than theoretical. It was not difficult to manage traveling and school for the majority of the semester, but I would recommend to not travel the last 3 weeks of the semester, because it can get stressful. In terms of the relationship between professors and students I would say I found it quite informal. Students would address professors by their first names, and would talk to each other more as friends. Professors were very approachable and had office hours as well. I found it easier to form solid relationships with professors in Madrid.

  1. What was your favorite class abroad? My favorite class abroad was Social Journalism. It was also my most challenging one, where I constantly felt out of my comfort zone. It was a really interesting class, where we actually wrote press releases, did news reports, and went out and interviewed people for our final project addressing a social issue in Spain. I liked the practicality of it, and the professor was very knowledgeable and had a lot of career advice to provide us with.
  2. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
    I did conduct research while I was abroad as part of my final project for the Social Journalism class. I interviewed many latinas in Spain, with the purpose of finding out how Latinos adapt to Spain, and their experience while doing so. It was very eye-opening and interesting to see the obstacles they have to overcome, but also how beautiful it is to become immersed in the spanish culture.

HOST INSTITUTION

  1. How would you describe your host institution?
    How does it compare to UCSB? Student enrollment and approximate campus size. How far or close is your host institution to the city center and nearest airport?

    Carlos III was on the outskirts of the city, so it took approximately 40 minutes to get to school. It was quite far, but it is easy to get there with public transportation. The campus was quite small compared to UCSB. I only had to go to school Tuesday through Thursday so it was not a big deal. Most of my time was spent in the city centre, as there is a lot to do there, and most events are held there anyway.
  1. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
    There are a couple of sports clubs, but other than that I did not see many student organizations. It is very much a commuter school, and therefore there is not really school spirit. It is not a bad thing though, as you will want to be exploring the city rather than the university.

HOUSING

  1. Describe your housing situation.
    Please include type of housing (e.g. dorm, apartment, homestay, etc.). How did you find your housing (e.g. Study Center, on your own, pre-arranged by program, etc.)? Who did you live with (e.g. local family, UC students, local students, international students)? How did your housing compared to UCSB/I.V. housing? Was it more affordable than UCSB/I.V. housing? Was it furnished or unfurnished? How long was your commute to your host institution and the city center from your housing?

    I was able to find cheap housing through Aluni.net. It was definitely cheaper living there than it is to live in IV. The apartment was already furnished and there were dishes, pans, utensils and cleaning supplies. I shared this apartment with 4 other girls. Two were part of UCEAP and we met online, and the other two were spanish girls. It was a 5 minute metro ride from the city centre, so it was at a really good location.

FOOD

  1. Where did you eat most of your meals? Cafeterias, restaurants, street vendors, at home, etc.?
    Most of my meals I either ate at school, as they had a cafeteria, serving three course meals, or at home. The food was not my favorite in Spain, but I am also used to eating with a lot of spices in my food.
  2. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
    An average meal could vary from 4 to 12 euros. I would not eat out as much, and I would recommend cooking at home if you are on a budget. Takos al Pastor was the place we would go to if we wanted decent Mexican food, although the tacos are not authentic they are good.
  1. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
    Madrid definitely has many food options for vegetarians and vegans. A couple of my friends were vegan and they were able to enjoy the food there too.

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My favorite food was definitely the one I had in Morocco. I do not remember the name of the dishes I had, but it was delicious.

11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I miss sangria. It is Spain’s popular drink and it was delicious anywhere I went. It is also about the experience. If you are having sangria it probably means you are out sharing some with friends, just socializing and having a good time.

HOST CITY

12.Describe your host city.
Is it small, medium-sized, large? Rural, suburban, urban, tropical? Is it diverse?
Madrid is a medium-sized, urban city. Everything seems close by, as it is easy to get anywhere on the metro.

13. Was it easy to get around?
Describe the public transportation in your host city. In non-English-speaking cities, was it easy or difficult to get around in English?
The public transportation was decently efficient. The only thing is that sometimes the metro gets extremely packed, so it can get uncomfortable. It is easy to use though and it gets you everywhere in the city fast. As a student you can also get a metro card for 20 euros a month, and you can use any type of public transportation in the city.

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
Was pick-pocketing common? Was cat-calling common? Did you feel as safe, less safe, or more safe than in the U.S.?
I felt safe but pickpocketing is definitely common and a lot of my friends had their phones stolen. You definitely have to be careful and buy bags that are not easily accessible.

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
Going to plaza del sol was always a fun time, because there are tons of shops, food places, and places to hang out with friends and family.

HOST CULTURE

16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
At first it made me uncomfortable how direct and blunt Spanish people can be. Mostly in my Mexican culture, this is not seen often, and so I thought they were being rude, but that is not the case. They value straightforwardness and after I acknowledged that, I was able to create great relationships with Spanish students and professors. Another cultural difference was how late they eat dinner. They usually eat around 8 or 9 pm, if not later. I did not really adapt to this, but it was mostly because I did not go out to eat as often so I would cook dinner for myself at the usual time I eat here in the US.

17. How did you handle culture shock?
I speak Spanish so I was able to get around and I think that helped reduce the culture shock I experienced. I only felt a culture shock the first couple of weeks, but it was relatively easy to adapt to Madrid. I handled it by reminding myself of the amazing opportunity I had to be studying in a different country and knowing I would enjoy my experience a lot more if I made the effort to genuinely understand another culture.

18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
My favorite aspect is that they put family and friends over work. They value maintaining their close, social relationships, and therefore, are out socializing over coffee or a beer, many times during the week. Work is important, but they do not fixate on it as I feel that we do here in the United States.

TRAVEL

19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
This one is difficult because every trip was so much fun. I do think I made the most memories in Munich, Germany. A huge beer festival called Oktoberfest takes place there every year, and it is honestly a great time. It takes place on fair grounds, and there is a lot of traditional german food, delicious beer, and women dressed in dirndls, and men dressed in lederhosen. From morning to night, people are dancing, singing, and socializing left and right, with all types of different people. I definitely recommend attending Oktoberfest. It is a bit pricey but so worth it.

  1. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
    I was worried that I would not have enough money to really enjoy myself but I was able to budget my money well. Traveling over there is not as expensive, and if you plan well, you can get really good deals. For example, I got a flight to Morocco for 45 euros round trip. Also, I was worried that I would not have a friend group I fit in, but I found some of my best friends, and we are constantly in touch, calling each other and facetiming now that we are back.
  1. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
    My biggest challenge was being able to share my opinions in my classes, because although I grew up speaking spanish, college level spanish was significantly more difficult. I was not able to easily express my thoughts on more controversial topics because I did not know the terminology for them in Spanish.
  2. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
    To start off, I have become more understanding of different ways of thinking, and improved my ability to still be able to communicate effectively, despite listening to ideas that might not resonate with me. I am also more willing to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself into new experiences. Being courageous is so important when you’re in foreign countries, and I can now be more confident in traveling and experiencing more cultures.

23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
My advice would be to save as much money as you can so that when you are abroad, you can spend it on trips and experiences. That being said, even if you are not able to travel as much, just know you will have an amazing time, if you put in the effort to meet new people and be exposed to unique activities that you usually might not participate in here. Also, the earlier you plan the better your experience will be, because you won’t be as lost and the more you can research places and foods you want to try/see while abroad.


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