Olivia G., Spain – Carlos III University

Perfecting my Spanish and exploring Europe as a woman of color

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? 

I took classes for my Global Studies major and they were a bit more challenging than UCSB, but they were very interesting and rewarding. They required that you do the readings and participate, and there were lots of papers and presentations. The grading system was completely different than the American grading system. They used a 1 to 10 scale, with 5 being a passing grade. Most of the lectures were an hour and a half and met twice per week with no sections. I took three classes in Spanish and two classes in English. The student/instructor relationship was similar to UCSB. I did not call professors by their first names, but they were very cordial and helpful during office hours. I think there was a bit more independence being in Spain, due to managing time between studying and exploring other cities. 

2. What was your favorite class abroad?

My favorite class from abroad was Social Inequality in Spain. It was taught in Spanish and analyzed the various intersectionalities that affect poverty and development in Spain and in comparison to other countries. It required us to participate in a volunteer-based service learning activity. 

3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience. 

I volunteered as a tutor at Culturas Unidas, an after school learning center for kids. The children were so sweet and were enthusiastic about learning English and about American culture. I enjoyed the organization because it promoted multiculturalism and celebrated diversity. The experience inspired me so much that I am now considering becoming an educator abroad. 

4. How would you describe your host institution? 

My host institution was University of Carlos III. It was a commuter school and was located about a 40 minute train ride from Madrid. It was smaller than UCSB, but it was a medium sized school. The nearest airport, Madrid Adolfo Suarez Barajas, was located about an hour away by train and metro. 

5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? 

While I did not participate in any clubs or campus organizations, I know other UC students who participated in intramural sports and enjoyed it. 

6. Describe your housing situation. 

I lived in a homestay and it was the best decision I made. I found it through the homestay coordinator and I lived with the nicest mother and daughter and their adorable dog. My housing was more expensive than UCSB housing, but that is because it included meals. It was only a 15 minute metro ride to the center of Madrid and an hour ride to the school. 

7. Where did you eat most of your meals? 

Since I lived with a host family, I ate most of my meals with them. I loved that my host mom liked cooking a variety of cuisines, like Spanish, Thai, French, Italian and Mexican. 

8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? 

When I did go out, an average meal was about 10 euros. I would suggest that prospective students budget by going to cheaper places and cooking at home sometimes, rather than eating out often.

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? 

I think vegetarians would find options that they could eat, but being vegan would definitely be difficult. The Spanish diet contains a lot of meat, fish, olive oil and bread. 

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. 

My favorite dining experience was going to a restaurant called El Sur. The paella, garlic shrimp and patatas bravas were unforgettable. 

11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? 

The food that I miss the most is a Portuguese custard pastry, called pasteis de nata. I tried them in Portugal and there was also a shop in Madrid that sold them. 

Pasteis de Nata

12. Describe your host city. 

Madrid is a big, bustling city with very distinct European architecture. It is very densely populated with very narrow sidewalks and small living spaces. 

13. Was it easy to get around? 

The transportation system in Madrid was the best and most reliable transportation I have ever used. There were signs and marquees in the metro system that tell you the directions that the metros are headed and how many minutes until the next metro arrives. Everywhere I went, there was almost always someone who spoke English if I needed help.

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?

I felt relatively safe in Madrid, but I did have to be cautious about keeping track of my belongings. A few of my friends got their phones stolen, so I would normally carry my backpack in the front and never leave it unattended.

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? 

I went to the Royal Palace, the Reina Sofia and Prado museums, Retiro Park and I went shopping in Gran Via.

Outside the Museo del Prado, Madrid

16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

Some of the cultural differences I experienced were learning to not tip at restaurants, learning to not eat spicy food, and learning to eat dinner very late.

17. How did you handle culture shock? 

My host family was very supportive and helped me adapt to living in Spain. I also took each day as a new learning experience and tried to learn from the locals. 

18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? 

My favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the afternoon siesta. 

19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. 

My favorite moment from my time abroad was going to London with a few of my friends. I was able to get pictures while crossing Abbey Road and I love the Beatles so I was overjoyed! 

20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? 

My biggest fear was getting lost, but luckily I always had Google maps, a couple of good friends, and a protective host mom that helped me navigate myself throughout the European cities.

21. What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

My biggest challenge going abroad was finding a routine that I liked. I eventually was able to find places I liked to eat, study and shop.

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? 

 My perspective has completely changed on the differences between various countries. It was interesting learning about how their political, economic, and educational systems function. While I was able to learn all of this, I witnessed growth within myself and learned to be more independent.

23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? 

I would tell prospective EAP students to try to send in their study abroad application as soon as they have the opportunity to go. I wish I would have done it sooner!


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