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4 posts from May 2011


CIEE Madrid Study Center Internship Course: A Student's Perspective

   InMadrid small
Year student MacKenzie Elmer with one of her "co-workers" at the monthly newspaper InMadrid

Why Do An Internship?

By: MacKenzie Elmer (University of Iowa)

    I am having “smashing good fun” working as a reporting intern at InMadrid, an English monthly newspaper. Although all of the writing I do is in English and my editors and the other volunteers are generally from the UK, Australia or the US, I have had opportunities to interview Spaniards for stories. My first opportunity came naught three days after my job interview with the editor. I got an email asking if I could attend an event called “Escépticos en el pub” which is a Spanish-throwback of London’s Skeptics in the Pub, a guest-speaker series where patrons talk about sciences and disproving, or sometimes proving, paranormal theories. I spent the month transcribing Spanish interviews I captured on an old-fashioned tape recorder and writing a 1000 word story for the February issue. To me, being asked to turn in a 1000 word story even before my first day in the office was completely unexpected, extremely exciting, and completely unheard of in the journalism world!

    Not only did I have the chance to publish an article, but I was also asked to collaborate on the “Scene” page, where I became familiar with press releases and wrote about various special club nights around Madrid. Because I am also interested in photojournalism, I was extra pushy about including my own photos in the paper as volunteers usually look on Flickr for photos, and I had the opportunity to have about 3 printed. By the end of the month, I partook in the final editing, which meant reading every word in the new 24-page edition searching for grammar mistakes and also fact-checking.

    At the University of Iowa where I study journalism, the competition is cut-throat and many students would actually cut-throats to have an opportunity like I have had at InMadrid. To work at the daily newspaper at Iowa, students struggle with balancing their studies amongst the back-breaking schedule of pitching three stories weekly and writing at least 2. Working at a monthly paper allows me enough time to thoroughly research a topic and double-check facts that would normally be missed by the poor night editors at a daily. I am learning a lot about Madrid as a city, meeting wonderful people from around the world, and heading to fabulous events like Madrid Fashion Week where I spent an evening gawking at odd outfits and sipping from the free cocktail bar, a perk I am sure I will only experience once in my life.

    Aside from the outrageous amount of luck I have had working for InMadrid, I have come to a lot of conclusions about my future career in journalism. I am learning about cultural journalism because the magazine covers things like arts, events, social activity. At Iowa, the focus is mainly investigative journalism. The benefit of working outside just one area of focus is that eventually, you will decide which “niche” fits your writing style best. InMadrid is helping me develop my writing style but also directing me more towards pursuing investigative journalism upon my return. I strongly encourage all students who study abroad to seek out an internship that suits their interests for it can only help you to expand those interests and discover more about yourself.


Taking Classes at Universidad Carlos III - Madrid: Some Pointers

06 Alcazaba
CIEE Madrid Fall 2010 students at the Alcazaba in Málaga, Andalucia: (Joe Corsello is second from left)

Taking Classes at Universidad Carlos III - Madrid: Some Pointers

By: Joe Corsello (Brandeis University)

It is difficult for me to gauge the true differences between classes here and classes in American Universities because I am not taking any direct enrolled courses.  However, I will try to explain some useful points to understand before walking into the classroom.

 Just like in the states, it is important to attend class.  Every CEH course takes attendance, and the classes are small enough so the teacher will notice your absence.  None of the CEH courses are big lectures where it is easy to fall asleep; the classes require your full attention, especially if you do not want to miss a beat with the Spanish! The professors understand the topics, and usually give a weekly homework assignment that they collect.  However the language class assigns practice every evening.  Participation is a component of the grading system, as are tests and the final exam.

As far as classroom etiquette, it is similar to that of schools in the USA.  Be respectful and take notes.  The most substantial difference is in the grading system.  The university grading system is on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being superb work.  An average grade is between 6-7, while a passing grade in Spain is a 5.  On some homework assignments, they give letter grades like B(bien), R(regular), or M(mal).  The professors are friendly and accessible; if you have any questions, feel free to contact them directly, normally after class or via e-mail.


Being Vegetarian in Madrid: Is it Possible?

Felisa y Noelia
CIEE Madrid Fall 2010 student Felisa Saldutti with her host Noelia

Being Vegetarian in Madrid: Is it Possible?

By: Felisa Saldutti (Muhlenberg College)

Choosing a study abroad location is an exciting but challenging endeavor. So many different aspects must be addressed and thoughtfully contemplated. In the scheme of things, the food does not seem as important as how close to the hottest tourist sites you might be, the language you will be learning, or the intensity of the night life, but given that your nutrition and health are on the line depending on the foods you eat, the cuisine of the country should be one of the top considerations when choosing one of countless study abroad locations.

If you are vegetarian and looking for a vegetarian-friendly country, Spain offers some challenges, but, with a bit of know-how, can be achievable. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by cured legs of their famous jamon iberico (with which they are obsessed), fresh meats on display, and tapas that somehow manage to turn a normally vegetarian dish into a carnivorous treat. However, there are some tricks to keeping your vegetarian lifestyle while in this country of meat eaters.

First, you must make your dietary restrictions infinitely clear to all necessary personal. The residents of Spain all have different definitions of vegetarianism, so you must be on the same page with them. This is especially true for your host family! Explain what foods you eat and do not eat as well as if you have any issues with preparation (such as you don’t want to eat anything that has been cooked with meat or in the same pot as some meat product). There are different levels of vegetarianism, so explain to people which level you are at. The levels
are as follows:

Semi-Vegetarian: Abides by a mostly vegetarian diet, but will at times
consume red meat, game, poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet
and/or gelatin.

Pescetarian: Does not eat red meat, game, poultry, but does eat fish,
crustacea, and shellfish. He/She may or may not abstain from by-products
of animal slaughter such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin.

Lacto-ovo vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game,
poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses
products such as eggs, milk, and honey in food preparation.

Lacto vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game, poultry,
fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses milk but
not eggs in food preparation.

Ovo vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game, poultry,
fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses eggs but
not milk in food preparation.

Veganism: In addition to not eating animal flesh (red meat, game,
poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), he/she
does not use animal products, including milk, honey, eggs in food

Some students I have met that were vegetarian before coming to Spain switched to being pescetarian to widen their food choices. This is an option, but not the only option. I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian and managed to remain so during my duration in Spain. However, this means that you must be more careful when you venture outside of your host family’s kitchen to the tapa bars and restaurants of Madrid.

As I mentioned, everyone has their own definition of vegetarianism. This, however, really isn’t a shock given how many different types of vegetarians there are. Here in Spain, I have found that most restaurants will label vegetarian options, but, in reality, they are pescetarian options. Tuna is often included in vegetarian salads and sandwiches, so ask before you order! I have found no harm in asking restaurants to make my dish without fish. There is really no harm in asking for clarifications about dish ingredients. Hey, it’s just another opportunity to practice your Spanish! (: The Spanish tortilla (basically an omelet with potatoes and sometimes onions) is the best friend of a lacto-ovo vegetarian. It is an appetizing protein source that can be found just about anywhere in Spain (this dish is in running competition with the jamon iberico in frequency of consumption and availability). I have also eaten grilled vegetables, which are tasty and easy to find in the city. I recommend exploring the city and studying menus until you find something that is appetizing to you.

Remember to keep a balanced diet, finding plenty of sources of protein. I often times run into the local grocery store and picked up a package of nuts to munch on for a quick source of protein. You are in a new country with new experiences and new foods. Although they love their meat here, it is possible to enjoy the city as a vegetarian.


A year student tells all!

SPAIN! (1st month) 132

Basketball: It's the Same No Matter Where You Are

By: Kevin Josephs (University of Iowa)

My first bit of advice for anyone planning on embarking on a journey overseas is to talk to everybody.  Preferably, not just Americans (because we already know we're fantastic ;P).  But seriously, when I came to Spain I had a goal of immersing myself in the culture: not carrying a culture from America and trying to plant it here.  Trust me, America does that by itself.  My favorite sports are basketball and skiing, and while I haven't skied in Europe (yet...) Luckily, I met a basketball player one of my first weeks on campus.  It is funny how one conversation with one stranger can cause such a huge impact on your life.

I met Daniel (who pronounces his name Danielle) on campus at University Carlos III de Madrid.  My Spanish was still in the caveman phase: I knew basic nouns, verbs, and conjugation patterns, and was extremely unconfident with my linguistic skills.  I am almost 6 feet 4 inches tall, and Dani was clearly taller than me.  This was very rare to me because it made him the tallest Spaniard that I had ever met, by about 4 inches.  One of, if not the, first questions I asked him was if he played basketball.  He said yes, and graciously invited me to play with him and his friends.  A couple days later, I met Dani on campus and we walked to the metro nearest campus to take it to his hometown, Móstoles.  I thought we were just going to go straight there and play.  Instead, I met Dani's mom, who is also unusually tall, but, like most Spaniards I have met, an incredibly hospitable host.  She served us a snack; ham of course.  Dani and I hung out in his room for about an hour.  I suddenly felt like I wasn't in Spain at all, but my dream room as a teenager.  He had NBA posters all over his walls.  If a player got traded or changed numbers, he crossed out the team name/number and wrote in the new one on his poster.  I am from Chicago and impressed him by naming 12/13 players on the 1996 NBA Champion Chicago Bulls poster he had.  The gem of his room was clearly a newspaper cut out from when Spain won the world championships the year or two before.  He then showed me his collection of basketball videos on his computer.  He had everything.  Literally.  Hoosiers, Love and Basketball, Coach Carter, and SpaceJam.  When he played the opening scene of Space Jam I nearly lost it.  He also had a bunch of classic NBA and Olympic games that I could have spent all week watching.  For that hour we were in his room, all cultural barriers washed aside, and we just talked about basketball, which was easy for me because I follow the NBA and know most of the players’ names.

Dani drove me to the Polideportivo.  We listened to Cream on the way.  I am an incredibly streaky shooter, but was having one of my on-days where anything I threw toward the basket found its way in.  Its days like that that keep me going back to play basketball every time.  My Spanish was still very intermediate, at best, but I really got lost on the basketball court.  Not because the lane is 8 feet wider, but because I realized that sports are a universal language.  In basketball, there are shots that are 2 points, and there are shots that are 3 points.  You pass, the other player shoots.  You foul him or you don't.  There's offense and defense.  Although there are different words for these terms in every language, the rules are universal.  So is the love of the game.  For about two weeks, I was able to communicate with them better on the basketball court than through verbal communication.  The second time I came back, they invited me to play in their league.  I made the sign up for the league by about 3 minutes, and had no idea how lucky I was at the time.  Upon signing up, I was told by the team captain, Victor, in Spanish of course, "we take it seriously, we play good teams, and we are a good team, but this league is more of an excuse of having a good time with friends".  This was the best thing I could ever hoped to stumble across in Spain.  Although our team has a losing streak (during which my teammates have realized I don't always make every shot), we go to a bar after every game and laugh it off.  I can't recommend enough to anyone studying in Spain to make a sincere effort to talk to Spaniards.  They are generally nice, and if you are lucky enough to hang out with a group of them, you will realize that they really know how to have fun and have a very unique zest for life.  I have never seen a group of people consistently laughing so much in my entire life.  I hardly understood a word my first days with them, but now am confident enough to give directions on the court.  Better yet, I can understand (some of) their jokes.  They are always making jokes.  They'll make fun of one thing then hop to another, and it's always in really good fun. 

I have been hanging out with these guys for about two months now and have learned a ton.  The first thing that I had to learn was to laugh, especially at myself with my mishaps in learning the language.  With this, I learned to appreciate their zest for life, and I think some of it has rubbed off on me.  I never expect someone to pronounce my name correctly.  I also learned how to understand a foreign dialect without enunciation.  Most Madrileños, especially our generation, don't enunciate.  When I finally worked my way past that, the next roadblock was the slang.  I understood the sounds, but not the words.  I told a guy in the group this problem and he immediately took a sheet of paper, and wrote 22 synonyms for 'penis' and 18 for 'vagina'.  It was clearly a huge joke, and the whole group joined in, but I now recognize these words, the meanings of which I would have never guessed.  Hanging out with them, my Spanish has improved immensely.  I walk down the street and I understand conversations going on around me.  Best yet, I understand my new friends enough to know that they are great guys and a lot of fun.  Like most Spaniards, they see nothing unusual with staying out until 6a.m. and frequently beyond. 

Had I not met Dani that day on campus, I definitely wouldn't be in near as good of a mood day-to-day as I am today.  I love basketball, and it is my sole form of exercise.  It makes me feel at home even though I'm a million miles away.  Had I not been welcomed into this new group, I would miss home a lot more and I probably would have spent a lot more time hanging out with the CIEE group speaking a lot of English.  I still hang out with the group, and love every minute with them.  We have a great group that I will miss come next semester.  I just didn't come to Spain for that experience.  I came here with the intent to learn another culture first hand and assimilate, and I accidentally found that opportunity through basketball.  I am really excited that I have another semester to spend in Madrid to get to know my friends better.  My Spanish will no doubt continue to improve, although every time I use it i literally surprise myself with how good it has gotten.  Anyways, I'm off to Móstoles now to get my shot back and hear a lot of men yell curse words in Spanish.  My favorite part of every week.