The group of students enrolled in the CIEE course "Spanish Cultural Studies - Seminar on Living and Learning", an intercultural course which offers an innovative approach to the study abroad experience, enjoyed a trip to the old city of Salamanca. Through self-reflection, guided activities and volunteer work, students can develop skills which help them grow as a person but also to be able to approach the local culture with a different mindset, practicing frame-shifting and gain a better understanding of any cultural incidents they may encounter.
The trip to Salamanca was used as an exercise to explore a city from a new perspective, avoiding a typical touristic visit and trying to find the particularities, the inner values and idiosyncrasies which give a deeper insight into a city. This is an innovative approach to cultural activities and added a new and enriching element or our students´ experience.
Some students placed volunteer work as one of their study abroad goals. This is a good way to approach local culture, meet Spaniards and acquire experience in a foreign working environment. This semester our students volunteered in a variety of organizations. One of them, a Yale University student, chose T-Oigo, an organization which works with hearing impaired children in Madrid. This student helped children to improve their English skills through games and fun activities. Her dedication and efforts were featured recently on Spanish national TV highlighting her altruistic work and showing the positive impact that the work of young students like her can have on children.
The non-touristy area of "Madrid Rio" is one of the newest green spaces in the city, the perfect place for people to enjoy the outdoors and practice sports like roller blading, jogging or skate boarding. In order to show our students a different area of Madrid, we invited them to a bike tour along the Manzanares river, crossing the new and modern bridges and stopping to learn about this renovated area where there used to be a very busy highway that has now been placed underground. The weather was not the best and bike with some rain, but the beauty of the park, the fresh air and the physical exercise made this activity totally worth it for our students.
Preparing students to return home is a rigorous task that the program staff carefully organizes each semester. Participants learn how to cope with emotions derived from reverse culture shock and we prepare them for the contradictory feelings they may experience once they are back to the U.S. We work on verbalizing the study abroad experience in a clear language. Staff also helps them to express the main aspects of their experience in preparation for job interviews. The group of students who participated were very appreciative of the useful tips we shared with them; especially when they realized through the exercises that they had achieved incredible and valuable experiences over the past four months.
Those students volunteering in different sites during the semester were awarded with a diploma which recognized their work, effort and commitment. Specifically, we want to make sure the students are certified for their professional and human skills.
When students chose Madrid as their study abroad destination, most of them did not know the capital city of Spain is surrounded by beautiful mountains and great places to practice outdoor activities in nature. A day trip to the Madrid mountain range was organized so that our students could trek for a day. It was a wonderful way to escape from the city beat and to enjoy some fresh air while discovering the hidden beauty of the Madrid sierra.
The end of the semester provided another opportunity to meet the University Vice-rector in person, who offered a warm farewell to all foreign students. During his speech, he highlighted how important the presence of foreign students on campus is, contributing to enrich the university's diversity and bringing new perspectives to the student community. According to him, the internationalization of Carlos III University brings a full range of opportunities to all students, facilitating the cultural exchanges that not only make students learn but also grow as inhabitants of a global world.
Saying goodbye is not an easy thing to do. Therefore, meeting for the last time as a group for that purpose needed to be the occasion to celebrate the ending of a great semester. We are leaving behind four months full of stories, activities, learning, fun, achievements and many more. In a bittersweet event, the group enjoyed their favorite Spanish dishes for a last time and participated in a secret santa organized by staff. The CIEE staff also toasted the student cohort as one the great groups they had.
We will dearly miss our Fall 2013 group.
And when the semester comes to an end, we can only wish you all: