Study Abroad in
By Ellis Andrews/ Tufts University
My flight landed in Madrid around 8:00am local time as the sun was just starting to peek over the horizon. I had hardly slept on the flight from Chicago, meaning that to me it felt like it was 1:00am and I should have been heading to bed for the night. However, the excitement of finally having made it to Madrid kicked in and I went to find other students on my program in the airport. It felt a little bit like freshman year of college when I finally found the others, as I had a lot of new faces around me and everyone was asking the standard “where are you from?” and “what are you studying?” icebreaker questions. In general, I think everyone was a little delirious from the flight and were just doing their best to make small talk.
Once everyone had arrived we got on a bus that took us to our homestays. I was greeted on a corner by my host brother Jorge, as my host mom Isabel was at work. He showed me to their apartment, and I almost immediately passed out for a two hour nap. When my alarm went off, I showered and met my host mom and her daughter Inez, who is about my age but doesn’t live with us. Isabel then took me to the CIEE center near Puerta del Sol, and showed me some important landmarks on the way. At this point my brain was barely functioning in English, let alone Spanish, and all I could muster was “sí” over and over again as Isabel told me things about Madrid. She must have thought I was illiterate, but she was very patient and repeated things many times.
At the CIEE center, all of the students presented their pre-prepared PowerPoint slides about themselves, which was entertaining as we were all clearly tired and out of practice with Spanish. Afterwards, we all walked to get chocolate and churros at a place nearby. Lastly, Isabel picked me up from the churro place and took me to get a mobile phone. At this point I was literally falling asleep standing up, and so I just got the cheapest phone in there and got out. Needless to say I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow that night, but I could already tell that I was going to have a great semester in Madrid.
The Spring 2015 group has finally arrived and for more than a week has been involved in all the Orientation activities. Welcomed by CIEE staff at the airport, the students met each other in the evening in a fun activity where they introduced themselves and found common interests before joining their homestays to try “chocolate con churros”. Orientation began the following day with a mix of presentations and leisure activities. The aim was to make them feel comfortable in Madrid as soon as possible while receiving some important tips and advice on safety and emergencies, housing, bystander intervention, cultural agenda, etc. During this week they took their language placement exam at the university to place them in the right group, met individually with the Liberal Arts RD to choose their classes while receiving academic guidance and toured the campus visiting the most important facilities such as the libraries and the gym.
During Orientation, students were also offered a walking tour of Madrid where they saw some sights such as the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor or Plaza de la Villa for the first time; admired Picasso's Guernica at Reina Sofia Museum; together with the Spanish Student Network they visited the Retiro Park or the Sundays' flea market (the Rastro) and had lunch with the staff in one of the trendiest restaurants in the city. At the end of Orientation, students were ready to start their semester with excitement and determined to speak Spanish at all times!
As part of the Orientation activities, the Liberal Arts students had the opportunity to attend a talk given by a representative of the US Embassy in Madrid. The aim of the meeting was to learn about the services the Embassy provides to its citizens abroad, and also to offer some tips about safety to ensure a good experience in Spain. With an engaging style, students were told some situations they may face while being outside of the United States and how to face them and were informed what the role of the Embassy will be in those.
After the talk, students were invited to join him informally and discuss, in person, subjects that concerned them. The US representative recommended that students register at the Embassy to get full access to the Embassy services but also praised the students for coming to Madrid to study, reinforcing the idea of the rewards they will get from the experience.
When students were told we were going to a Flamenco show they were happy to experience such a Spanish tradition but they did not know that we had prepared a surprise for them: a flamenco workshop. When we arrived at the “tablao”, the group was invited to join the flamenco dancer and follow her step by step with the basics of flamenco dance. Timidly, students started to follow the rhythm with their clapping while stomping their feet and soon they were using colorful shawls and playing the cajón (a percussion instrument) as proof of their enjoyment. The whole group dared to do a basic choreography and enjoyed it so much that they wanted to continue practicing flamenco after the show.
Visiting Spanish pueblos is a unique opportunity for our students. As soon as they bond during Orientation, their agendas quickly fill with plans for the weekends traveling all around Spain and Europe. However, they rarely include a visit to rural areas were Spanish traditions and historical wonders are awaiting them. Therefore, we took the group to visit four different pueblos in the area of Castilla-La Mancha which belong to two different provinces. There, they discovered the windmills of Campo de Criptana, that became worldwide famous in Cervantes' Don Quixote; they tried the rich gastronomy of the area falling unanimously in love with “pisto”, a local specialty made of vegetables whose recipe was highly demanded. The LA group also visited the Plaza Mayor of Tembleque, a 17th century construction where traditions linked to local fairs, markets and bullfighting used to take place. Finally, as a highlight, the group visited the beautifully preserved “corral de comedias” in Almagro, one of the oldest theaters in the world, where Golden Age playwrights’ works were represented. This was also a unique opportunity to learn about social customs, the way people experienced theater back in the 17th century and know what Spanish society was like then.
Studying abroad is an investment. It is not only the opportunity to improve your language skills but also a good occasion to think about your future and make the most of the experience. This semester four of the Liberal Arts students have decided to enroll in the CIEE Internship course, not only to fulfill some academic credits but also to expand their knowledge in a professional field.
Two of these students have chosen to intern in a hospital. This is not an easy internship since students have to struggle with medical vocabulary and shadow doctors in a practice that is completely new and unknown to them. However, it is very a rewarding one. Experience tells us that after the first two weeks, students begin to feel at ease in the hospital, becoming part of the doctor’s team and significantly improving their medical knowledge. Students taking an internship at a hospital not only increase their chances of being accepted into medical school and becoming doctors, but also help them define their future career, seeing the medical profession from inside which helps them decide what they want to become, or not, when they graduate.
When studying abroad in Madrid, visiting Toledo is a must. The closeness of this beautiful city is worth a visit to learn about its importance in History and also its key role as a model for the coexistence of the three cultures that inhabited the Peninsula in the middle ages. Traces of the Muslim culture can be found at the 10th century Mosque that was later transformed into a little Catholic church. The Jewish heritage is present in the Sephardic Museum, housed in an ancient synagogue that displays the symbols of Judaism in Spain. The old city wall, the Monastery commissioned by Queen Isabella in the 15th century, and the magnificent Cathedral (site of the Spanish Catholic Church) are the proof of the final Catholic domination.
Walking around the old town's narrow streets, the group was able to see the rich legacy of a tumultuous past standing in front of one of the oldest minarets in the world, crossing a roman bridge, admiring El Greco's finest works, visiting a Visigoth Museum, seeing how craftsmen work with gold threads, and tasting the rich marzipan, a local delicacy.