Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

5 posts from November 2013



By Holly Jordan

University of Colorado at Boulder


I took my first Spanish class when I was 13, and I remember my teacher telling us about the time she had spent in Spain, about the food, the more relaxed way of life, a completely different eating schedule, everything that I know now to be true. When I got home that day I ran up the stairs and began talking my mom’s ear off about how badly I needed to go to Madrid. She has continued to remind me of that day at least a hundred times since I’ve arrived. I can’t believe that I am nearing the end of my program here, it has been everything that I dreamed of and more. However, I think that the biggest thing I have learned from studying abroad is that you never know what to expect, no matter how long you have thought about and dreamed of this moment.


My biggest surprise has been how perfect my living situation has been. I live with my host mom, Patricia, and her two Chihuahuas, Coco and Sofia, who are basically her children. I’ve honestly never seen someone who loves their dogs as much as she does, they go everywhere with her and she always has at least one in her shirt to keep them warm. My first day in Spain, I was incredibly nervous and exhausted. I was the first one to get off the bus to meet my host mom and I remember looking around Plaza de España trying to see if anyone was coming towards us while a million thoughts ran through my head: am I dressed okay? What if I can’t understand her? What if I’m too shy and she thinks I’m weird? What is she going to think of me? Am I going to get to sleep soon? Where is she?! Finally, this woman comes running towards us smiling and talking a million miles an hour in Spanish to Sonia. Apparently she had thought the bus was dropping us off on the other side. She was the first person to greet me in the typical Spanish fashion of one beso on each cheek. A small older man, her father, came walking up behind Patricia and also greeted me then took one of my suitcases. They spoke in Spanish while we walked back to her apartment and I was growing even more nervous because I didn’t understand a word. Her sister and mom were waiting in her apartment. Her mom had a million questions but I could only answer with “Sí”s and “bien”s. I really needed to sleep. Patricia showed me around her small apartment and I was surprised because my room here is actually a lot bigger than mine at home, with a bed, closet, desk, my own bathroom and floral decorations that I recognized from Ikea. My American-ness really showed when she informed me that they didn’t have a dishwasher or clothes dryer. The whole family laughed at the face I made. When Patricia asked if I wanted to rest for a little bit I said yes way too quickly, I’ve never fallen asleep so fast in my life.

The next day, I woke up to her whole family speaking Spanish loudly in the living room. I walked to my bedroom door and stopped, not knowing if it was okay if I just went out in my pajamas or not. Finally I just opened the door to find all four of them also in their pajamas, drinking coffee and watching a game show. They told me buenos días and gestured for to come over to the couch. They offered me coffee and her dad showed me pictures of the pueblo he grew up in and the church there that he had helped build. Sitting in the living room with them, I not only relaxed since the first time I arrived, but I became completely overwhelmed with happiness and excitement that this is where I would live for the next 4 months.


Patricia’s family returned the next day to their home in Burgos, but about a month later Patricia and I packed up the dogs and went for a weekend trip to visit them for the festival of San Miguel in her father’s pueblo. The whole ride up Patricia taught me about the different towns we were passing, this one has a famous church, this one makes really good wine etc. She told me two things about Burgos: that I am going to experience a very authentic Spanish festival, and that I should prepare myself to eat a lot. We met her parents in their bar and her mom made us the most delicious paella I have had in Spain, and they took me to see the gorgeous Burgos Cathedral. Later we drove up to the pueblo where I met Patricia’s 97 year old grandmother and a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. There was a stage set up in the middle of the town where a DJ would later be playing. Patricia’s sister, Bea, is 26 and closer to my age and so I hung out with her and her friends who were incredibly nice and patiently explained things to me when I didn’t understand. The pueblo is tiny, and most people only use their house there as a weekend house so not a lot of people were around. But this did not stop them from going all out for their festival. There was music, dancing, games, food, beer and people of every age. And of course this all went on until 5AM when they served cups of melted chocolate and cookies. This was incredibly satisfying since Burgos has one of the highest elevations in Spain and is therefore very, very cold. During the day there was even more food made by Patricia’s grandmother, including gambas, ensalada de verduras, and jamón íberica, just when you thought the meal was over, she would bring out yet another dish. I also got to walk around the town and see a house that Patricia’s father was in the process of building, a well that used to be the only water supply in the town and the church. And of course I went to the next town over with Bea and her friends to get a café con leche and watch the Real Madrid game at a bar.  There was also a small parade in which a few men carried their representation of San Miguel and a small band played and followed behind them. They stopped in front of the church where everyone met to dance and celebrate. My favorite part was watching Patricia and her mom dance at the parade, they were laughing so hard that they kept messing up the traditional dance of that region. Patricia’s dad introduced to everyone as his otra hija, which was met by everyone else with confused looks but only put the biggest smile on my face. It was a weekend I will never forget and that I am so grateful for having experienced. It was something I never could’ve done had I not been with a host family.


On a typical day, Patricia is either singing in our kitchen, making mermelada or watching Friends. She helps me a lot with my Spanish by always correcting me or teaching me new words and then asking me later. I write down everything she teaches me so that I am prepared for her pop quizzes. In turn I try to help her with her English pronunciations. She told me the other day that if I ever need anything, or if there’s something I don’t understand I can always come to her even when her door is closed. I really couldn’t have asked to live in a better place with a better person. I have loved my homestay and honestly it has been a large part in what has made my abroad experience so amazing. I will always be grateful for everything Patricia has done for me and hopefully I will get to come back and visit her or see her in the US someday. 


By Chloe Ellison

Boston University

1. La Mallorquina

La Mallorquina, located right in Puerto del Sol, is arguably one of the best bakeries in Madrid. Just looking into the windows is a treat—handmade pastries, cakes, and candies are loaded onto silver plates, and the crowd of people looking in is testament to how delicious everything is. I’ve only tried a handful of what they have to offer, but number 1 is definitely the “Napolitana de Chocolate”. It’s sort of a very thin chocolate croissant, and is heavy on the chocolate. My friend Cristina and I have made it sort of a tradition to head to La Mallorqueria after our classes are done, and at 1.20 euros, it’s a worthwhile weekly investment!


2. Retiro

Buen Retiro is a beautiful and sprawling park, situated near the Prado museum. The park itself takes an age to walk around all the way, but there are many beautiful places along the way. There are always people walking around, running, or roller-blading (which seems to be a popular activity here). My favorite is the Estanque, where there is a gigantic pool. A friend and I rented rowboats and spent a good hour paddling around the whole pond, chatting, enjoying the sunshine, and listening to music off of our phones. Our fellow boaters were an interesting bunch too—everything from couples on a romantic date, to friends splashing each other with their paddles, to a group of American frat boys drinking wine in their boat.

3. San Gines

Located about a block away from La Mallorquina, San Gines is absolutely the best place to go for chocolate y churros in the city. Chocolate y churros is a common snack in Spain, but it can be hard to do right—are the churros overcooked? Is the chocolate too sweet? Luckily, at San Gines they serve the perfect balance between sweet churros and thick dark chocolate. Their location is also perfect—about a block away from Puerta del Sol, which is basically a giant meeting spot, and right behind the discoteca “Joy Eslavia”. Luckily, especially if you’re having a night out at Joy, San Gines is open 24 hours—so it’s not hard to follow with the Madrileños tradition and get some warm, sweet treats after a night out (whenever that may end).


4. Palacio Real

 I’ve been to Palacio Real a total of 3 times in the months since I’ve been here, and it’s a very interesting place.  Aside from the sheer size of the building and the beautiful vista over the old hunting grounds, the Palacio houses a number of religious art and artifacts. The exhibit is amazing, especially if you look at the art knowing that it was made years and years and years ago. There are your typical paintings and sculptures, but there are also a number of historic artifacts. This includes a look at old religious clothing used for special ceremonies, as well as old documents and books used during the era. For me, the most impressive are the giant music books on display, painted with careful detail. At the Palacio Real, you can also tour some of the old religious chambers. It was fun and interesting to go through and learn about all of the different uses the rooms had (such as the changing room, the porcelain room, and other rooms that didn’t have any real use aside from looking beautiful).


 5. Malasaña

 Malasaña is a neighborhood that’s described by some as “hipster”, but mostly it has a series of small bars and tapas places. The main plaza, Plaza del Dos de Mayo, is my favorite in the city. There are always little kids around during the day, playing soccer or running around on the playground. At night, the crowd turns a little more rowdy, with people meeting up with friends and kicking back in the square. Around the neighborhood, there are a lot of cool little places to visit—an Argentinian pizza place, a vegan restaurant, a number of small bars with a lot of personality.  Malasana also has a lot of graffiti and street art, a number of which is really beautiful and adds to the artist vibe that the neighborhood gives off.





By Taylor Lindell

Wheaton College

As I enter my final month in Spain (on another note, what happened to the other three months?), I find myself reflecting on the study abroad experience. I take away this: utilize every opportunity. At first I attributed my exciting chances, be it a trip to Paris or Morocco, a Real Madrid game, a hike in the mountains or a performance of El Rey Leon,  to being in a new place, but I recently conceded that a change in attitude was the defining factor.

3 peine viento chillida
Vogue's Fashion Night Out

 Choosing to study abroad might be the most exciting and the scariest thing I, as a student, have thus far decided to do. After almost three months, I might add also one of the best things. I go to a private Christian college in the Illinois suburbs with 2400 undergraduate students. I chose a study abroad program in Madrid city center, attending classes at a public university because I sought a change, and as cliché as it sounds, I knew I would learn more about the world and about myself. Trite as it is, I was exactly correct.

  3 peine viento chillida
Day trip to Segovia

First opportunity accepted: study in Madrid. Of course, in a new city, other CIEE students and I wished to explore. The first couple weeks, I used silly excuses such as “I’m tired” or “I should wait to see this”. Before long, I resolved to be more active in Madrid, and since then, options appear everywhere. I may never again live in Madrid, so I have to make this semester worthwhile. Writing this post having just returned from Brussels, I succeeded.

  3 peine viento chillida
Camel ride in Morocco

The question remains: What happens when I return to school? The truth is I’m not sure. However, I do know I will go back with a renewed sense of flexibility, adventure and global awareness. I won’t get ahead of myself; that’s still a month away. For now, I still look forward to a visit from my family, Paris again, London, Valencia, more time with my host family and more time to work on Spanish.

Overlooking El Escorial

Tour of a chocolate factory in Belgium



by Erin Delaney

University of Illinois at Chicago

Sister, what´s your name?¨

Most people would consider that an odd question. To me, however, it´s not weird at all. I´ve been asked and have asked this many times. Why? Well, according to John 1:12, believing into one name, Jesus, the believers in Christ Jesus are begotten of one Father. We may not yet know one another´s name or much anything else about one another, but we do know that, by believing, we are sisters. In my time with the brothers and sisters in Spain, I´ve really had an opportunity to experience this wonderful Biblical fact being lived out in very practical, visible ways: From meeting me at the airport, giving me a tour around Madrid, and inviting me into their homes for dinner my first day in Madrid to driving me back to Renfe after late meetings to making lots of food because they know I eat a lot.

Aviva adorable

The church-life here in Madrid is a family life. It´s a life of open homes and mutual care and shepherding. For instance, I meet with christians in the house of a couple with two adorable little girls on Friday nights. At these meetings we sing some songs and read something from the Bible and later eat! It´s great to fellowship in an environment as warm and welcoming as a home. I can play with the kids or seek guidance from an older more experienced christian, finding strength and encouragement to live out the christian life.

 I feel right at home amongst other believers in Spain. I think it was my third week-end here in Spain that I got to go to a young people´s conference in Cerro Muriano, Córdoba. I was really nervous that I wouldn´t be able to connect with some of the younger believers because of language barriers, but I actually had a really wonderful experience with some of them. They were so patient with me when I´d try explain my experiences and realizations or when my face began to express very quickly that once again I didn´t understand something and even to laugh with me when I would say something incorrect or tell a silly - yet very true - story. They quickly began to grow on my heart.

  Cerro muriano yp conf2

This past week-end, I was blessed to attend a christian conferene in Málaga with brothers and sisters from all over the Iberian Peninsula. Once again, I found myself right at home, just in another place. Just fifteen minutes maybe after entering the hotel, I met my roommate, a Brazilian sister from Córdoba. She was very happy to be joined to me for the week-end. The liveliness of her character filled her speaking and movements. When she spoke, she spoke in a very sing-songy way, which, from time to time, when teamed with her exagerated hand-motions, could almost resemble a musical performance. Although she greeted me in English, much to my suprise, we immediately transferred back to Spanish. I did my best to understand, my best to communicate, but I can’t imagine it was ever easy talking with me. Yet, she never seemed to be even the slightest bit frustrated. Her enthusiasm to be with me went on completely unaffected (all three days). She joined herself to me right away. We went up to our room together to set our stuff down, ate dinner together, and sat in the meetings together.

After the first meeting, I asked her if she´d like to get a group of women together to pray in the mornings before breakfast. She responded very enthusiastically, and the next morning we had a group of six in our bedroom to pray. It was a very precious and strengthening time. It was so sweet to start off the morning with my sisters praying: "Señor Jesús, esta mañana, ¡te amamos! ¡Te amamos! ¡Te amamos, nuestro Señor!"

  Home in Malaga

During one of our breaks on Saturday, I went out with a couple of the other women to visit the beach, explore a beautiful nearby park, and merienda in the home of a couple who live in Malaga. We ate candy, this bread/cake thing with pasta and orange, lots of chocolate (or at least I ate lots of chocolate), and an ice-cream cake. As we ate, we listened as two of the women told us their testimony, how they came to believe into Jesus, and how they met each other.

That night, before the final meeting before going to bed, I saw that some of the younger sisters (high school age) were going to do their hair and, for whatever reason, I asked, “Quieres ponerme guapa?” The response was almost too enthusiastic. They did not let me down. They braided my hair and did my make-up. By the time they got to my clothes, my roommate had joined in. I looked so different. I must say, they did a good job ponerme guapa. When they brought me to the mirror, I was definitely startled by the contrast. But there was no turning back. We were out of time. I must say, it really feels like family when a young boy (who thinks you’re awesome because you can do back-flips) grabs your hand to tell you something, looks up, and, mid-sentence, upon looking at your face, bursts out in laughter, as if to say, “Who got a hold of you??” But many of the young sisters complimented my new look. That night, my roommate gave me a new nickname, muñeca. After the meeting, she and another sister thought it’d be fun to have a photo-shoot with the “muñeca”. Meanwhile, another sister is cracking up just watching us. And that’s how I learned the expression “la leche”.

But, in all seriousness, my time getting to know the brothers and sisters in Spain both spiritually and humanly has been priceless. As brothers and sisters through the same Father, it matters very little what we call ourselves - española, americana, giptana, dominicana, portuguesa, boliviana, rusa, inglesa, etc. Day by day, meeting by meeting, we’re seeing more and more that we really are all just one, big family, one kind of people, with one great Father. In this I´ve seen that the churches in Spain are just as they are in the U.S. They have the same life, substance, center, and joy that proceed from the same one spirit of sonship we enjoy. It´s the same one family, just in a different place.






By Alyssa Kurtz

Ursinus College

My usual weekend in Madrid consists of normal city things like running in the park Retiro or grabbing some café con leche and people watching on the street or going out to one of the many discotecas.

This weekend I decided to go somewhere different. Two other girls from the program and I decided to go on an adventure to Andalucía. We planned to stay in Granada for a day then travel to Sevilla for another and make it home by Sunday night.

We knew we wanted to visit all of the major sites, the Alhambra in Granada and Plaza de España, the Alcazar and Cathedral in Sevilla. So we set off to catch a 7:00 bus nice and early. Unfortunately, we did not realize it was November 1st so our metro tickets were not working and also all of the trains were running very slowly. We ended up missing our bus and had to wait three hours until the
next one. We did make it to Granada and found our hostel which was located right alongside a river. The cobblestone road leading to the hostel was lined with street performers, singing, dancing and even writing poetry. It was all very beautiful. We even noticed an enormous castle on the cliffs on the other side of the river. I am ashamed to say that we did not realize that this castle was the Alhambra until we went up to a mirador to get a view of the city. The view was amazing though and we decided that we needed to figure out a way to tour the Alhambra. Of course we did not book tickets in advance so the only way was be in line by 6:00 and wait for the ticket window to open, hoping that you would be able to grab one of the few tickets they gave away in the morning. So at 5:00 we woke up and hiked up to the Alhambra. We waited two hours in the freezing cold for tickets with this guy from Iceland that kept singing and dancing to stay warm. I just tried to sleep on the ground in the fetal position. But when 8:00 came we were fifth in line for tickets and managed to gain our entrance. And it was really worth it! The whole grounds were so elaborate, every wall covered in beautiful mosaic tiles, every pathway lined with fruit trees and flowers. There is nothing like the Alhambra in the United States. After waking up early and walking through the Alhambra for hours, we were very tired. I napped for the whole bus ride to Sevilla.

Once there, we found our hostel and learned about all of the activities they offered. The people at the main desk  sounded so enthusiastic about walking tours, dinner and a show and a pub crawl. We were so tired though! We did decide to see the flamenco show and I am really glad we did. The dancing was different than the show I had seen in Madrid; there was a guy and a girl this time. The whole performance was authentic and amazing and I have no regrets about going to sleep right after. We managed to get up early the next day in time for an English style breakfast at the hostel because scrambled eggs are always worth it. We set out for the day after breakfast to see the major sites of Sevilla and of course to eat tapas. We saw the grave of Cristóbal Colón in the cathedral and then the Real Alcazar, which was beautiful but definitely not up to par with the Alhambra. We ended the sightseeing after visiting the Plaza de España. It was so beautiful and filled with people because of an antique car show. I really wanted to go boating around the perimeter but the line was sadly too long. I definitely felt like a nerd because I had the Star Wars opening song suck in my head the whole time as we were walking around the plaza because scenes from Naboo were filmed there. It really did look like it would fit in on a different planet. After the plaza, we went to get delicious tapas. We ended up eating so many because the walk was 45 minutes but they were cheap.


We had to get to the bus station after food because the bus ride was supposed to take six hours. It ended up being eight due to traffic but I was able to get all of the rest I needed. It was so nice to see a different part of Spain for a weekend. Everything was slower and quieter compared to Madrid. But when I finally got off my metro station after being gone for the weekend, I felt relieved to be back. Madrid feels like my second home and I wouldn’t have chosen any other city for a study abroad experience.