Amy B, Spain- Complutense University of Madrid (Spanish/Biology)

Rowboats at Parque de El Retiro

ACADEMICS

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

I took five courses while I was in Madrid, two for my Spanish major, two for fun, and an intensive 4 week Spanish course. I took all of my classes in Spanish, although there were some classes that were offered in English. The courses were a lot less structured than what I was used to at UCSB; many of my Spanish peers showed up late to class and the professor often started about 20 minutes after the start of the class period. Besides my intensive Spanish language course, my classes met twice a week for two hours each day, which was definitely hard to adjust to after the 50 minute UCSB lectures. Most of my classes had very few assignments, if any, besides the final examinations, which was intimidating, but the professors were very approachable and checked in with me frequently. In Spain, formality is very important, so the student/instructor relationship was not as casual as at UCSB, but some professors expressed it was okay to call them by their first names or use the informal “you” when addressing them. My professors all held office hours, but with COVID-19, many were by appointment only; I attended them way more often than I did at UCSB because I had to have lots of clarification since I was learning new Spanish words everyday.

2. What was your favorite class abroad?

My favorite class abroad was Catalan, which is an official language of Spain, spoken in Catalonia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, Valencia (although they refer to it as Valencian language), and some parts of France and Italy. I wanted to learn another language and I loved this class because it was one of the only classes that I felt comfortable messing up, since everyone there was learning a new language, too. My professor for this class was also my favorite, so that probably contributes to my liking for the class. 

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

I did not intern, volunteer, nor conduct fieldwork/research. 

HOST INSTITUTION

4. How would you describe your host institution? How does it compare to UCSB? How far or close is your host institution to the city center and nearest airport?

My host institution, Complutense University of Madrid, was fairly similar to UCSB. It has a large student body and campus, has a wide variety of majors, and has students from all over Spain and the world– one of the friends I made was from the Czech Republic! I’d say that it is considerably larger than UCSB, but not overwhelmingly large. It has a really extensive history, founded in the 1200s and being bombed in the Spanish Civil War. The campus was in a great area, pretty close to the center of Madrid, but somewhat secluded from city activities while still super accessible by Metro, which was convenient. It probably took about 10 minutes to get to the center of Madrid and about 40 minutes to get to the Madrid airport from campus. Madrid’s airport is really accessible by Metro, with stops in 2 different terminals. 

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

There were opportunities for the international students to get involved in clubs and sports, similarly to UCSB, there were emails that got sent and posters around campus for recruitment. While I personally didn’t join any, one of my best friends from UCEAP started playing basketball on campus and made lots of Spanish friends.

HOUSING

6. Describe your housing situation.

In terms of housing, my program did not arrange housing, except for homestays. I lived in an apartment that another UCEAP student and I rented together from a renting website called HousingAnywhere. My apartment was in a really cool, historic area of Madrid (La Latina), which was different from my living situation in Isla Vista, being surrounded by noise and other students. My apartment came furnished, so we had a couch, beds, chairs, etc., however, it does seem like some of my UCEAP Madrid friends had different experiences with what “furnished” meant and had to buy some home items– but luckily, Madrid has an IKEA. My neighborhood was further from the university than most of my friends, and it took me about an hour to get door to door from my apartment to my classroom, taking the Metro and walking from the stop. But, I was walking distance from the Royal Palace, the most popular plaza, and the street for shopping. But, many good and safe neighborhoods were only 15 minutes away from campus and generally close to the city center.

My street in Madrid- Calle de San Buenaventura

FOOD

7. Where did you eat most of your meals?

I ate most of my meals at my apartment, but I usually had a meal on campus from the cafeterias when I didn’t have time to go home to eat between classes. I also ate out often, maybe once or twice a week with friends.

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

students?

In my experience, food in Spain was way cheaper than in America, especially in the cafeterias. In the cafeterias, a meal cost me at most 6 euros and often less. Restaurant food was obviously a little more expensive, but even nice meals were usually less than 20 euros per person, with drinks, sharing an appetizer, and a meal. I would suggest not to eat out every meal because that would really blow through your budget, despite how tempting it sounds.

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary

restrictions to find meals?

I don’t think it would be too difficult to be vegetarian or vegan in Madrid. My roommate was actually vegetarian and dairy-free, and we ate a lot of really delicious food together. There were also a decent amount of vegan restaurants and grocery stores in Madrid that were really tasty and affordable. 

10.Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience abroad was an Indian restaurant in Madrid, called Indian Aroma. One of my professors had recommended it to us in class, telling us that the Queen Consort of Spain, Letizia, had eaten there. A group of UCEAP friends and I went on one of my last weekends in Madrid as a going away dinner for me (they were all staying the year) and it was really tasty and a meaningful experience. We ate about 30 euros worth of naan between the six of us.

My friends and I at Indian Aroma

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

My absolute favorite drink that I had in Spain was called “Tinto de Verano”, which was iced red wine with lemon soda. I am definitely going to be making some for my friends now that I’m back in America because it was so refreshing. I also have to shoutout churros con chocolate– very popular breakfast in Madrid.

Churros con chocolate!

HOST CITY

12.Describe your host city.

Is it small, medium-sized, large? Rural, suburban, urban, tropical? Is it diverse?

Madrid was a large, urban city, but wasn’t overwhelming. The neighborhoods in Madrid were all super diverse, so although being a large city, every neighborhood felt unique. 

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?

I found it really easy to get around in Madrid. The public transportation in Madrid was perfect and what I miss most– it was easy to use the buses, the Metro, and trains. There was an unlimited transportation pass for young people (younger than 25, I think), which was only 20 euros per month and let you go on basically everything in Madrid, and could even get you to some of the surrounding cities. I can’t really speak on how hard it would be to get around if you don’t speak Spanish, but I think there would be some difficulty.

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.?

Personally, I felt safe in Madrid, safer than I would feel in any large city in America. Obviously, walking around at night is scary anywhere, but in Madrid people were out at basically all hours. My roommate and I always laughed about this time where we were walking home from dinner, and it was past midnight and we passed a playground full of kids– the people of Madrid think their city is really safe, and I agree. Pickpocketing is fairly common in Madrid, and even on campus I heard about stolen laptops. I never experienced pickpocketing, but some UCEAP students had their phones stolen, sadly. I never heard cat-calling, but I’m sure it exists in some isolated incidents. 

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

Madrid was really diverse in things to do, like I said, every neighborhood had something to offer. One of the coolest things I did was use the teleférico, which was like a sky cable car that had really cool views of the city. Madrid is also home to two huge art museums, the Reina Sofia and the Prado, which were free for students or had free hours. There is also a huge park in Madrid, Parque de El Retiro, which has a pond for rowboats, walking trails, and an art exhibition. I really enjoyed going to the Royal Palace in Madrid- close to my apartment and just fantastic views inside and out. I really enjoyed just walking around Madrid, there was so much to see– historical sites, street art, cool restaurants, etc.

Royal Palace in Madrid

HOST CULTURE

16.Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.

I honestly didn’t feel that there were any cultural differences that really rocked me to the core, but some things were just a little weird. One thing is the party culture, obviously in COVID, not many people were going clubbing, but the people that did stayed out until like 6 am– I’d be waking up for my classes at 7 am and hear neighbors stumbling up to their apartment. Another thing is when people in Spain eat dinner, most restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8 pm. And of course, I mentioned that class doesn’t start on time, generally 15 minutes after the scheduled start. It just seemed like Spanish people didn’t have the same strict definitions or expectations about time as we do in America. 

17.How did you handle culture shock?

I definitely felt some culture shock in my first few weeks in Madrid, but luckily I had a good support system of friends I had made through UCEAP that I had to talk to. We really bonded over things that were confusing or things that made us miss home. I think I would have been really lonely in my feelings if I didn’t have another Californian student to talk things through with– shoutout to my friend Ariella for getting me through it!

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

My favorite aspect of the culture in Spain was that they didn’t rush eating. My professor was telling us about her culture shock of America, being that Americans tend to rush when they eat, walk and eat, eat in the car, take to-go cups everywhere, etc. I really enjoyed the sentiment of just sitting somewhere, drinking a coffee and having pastries for hours, and not thinking about the next place I was going or rushing at all.

TRAVEL

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

My favorite travel story is when I went to Rome, Italy, with one of my best friends. My friend was studying in a different country with UCEAP and we both flew into Rome for a long weekend and we just had the best time with the sights and the food. I was really excited to go to Rome because I had a friend that had studied in Rome for 3 years, so he had lots of good recommendations and tips. The food was fantastic, my company was fantastic, and feeling like I was in the presence of such an important part of history was fantastic.

Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy!

REFLECTION

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

My biggest fear was feeling alone while I was abroad. It turned out that my fear was irrelevant, since I was able to have other UCEAP students to talk to about my problems and I found that the native Spanish students in my classes were really intrigued by my being American so they were always willing to talk to me. 

21.What was your biggest challenge abroad?

The language barrier was definitely my biggest challenge while I  was studying abroad. Even though I met the prerequisites for studying abroad in Spain and taking courses in Spanish, I often felt exposed as an outsider and embarrassed. but it didn’t stop me from being able to succeed or have a good time– it just made me feel insecure at first until I realized that it didn’t matter.

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

I feel like I have changed as a result of my time abroad largely because of what I considered to be my biggest challenge. I was so embarrassed and nervous at first to speak and feel like I was messing up or people didn’t understand me. It took a lot of emotional maturation for me to grow out of that fear but I feel like that growth will also continue to help me later in life, with things like public speaking or if I ever need to use my Spanish skills in my career or everyday life. 

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

One thing that I wish was emphasized more often, especially when you are in an immersion program, is that school is different– you can’t expect things to run the same way as they do at UCSB. It’s important to stay adaptable and don’t freak out with academic stuff, it’s confusing but UCEAP is on your side.

COVID

24.What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying abroad but have COVID- or other health/safety-related concerns?

My advice about COVID or safety concerns while studying abroad is to stay informed the same way that you’d be doing at UCSB. Make sure to not put yourself into any risky situations if that’s not something you would be comfortable doing. There is definitely still a way to have a good time while you’re abroad without risking health, follow the safety guidelines and all will be fine. In the worst case scenario, you have UCEAP representatives that will guide you and make sure all is well.


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