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2 posts from February 2016




By Madeline Osborne

University of Colorado-Boulder

To give you an example of the first few days I will walk you through the second day of orientation. Mornings in Madrid (as far I was able to tell for the first few days) consist of waking up to the smell of coffee and pan tostada con mermelada. Orientation typically occurred right after breakfast, so I would take the metro from Lavapiés to Sol. On my second day in Madrid, I arrived at CIEE at 10, and from 10 until 1:00 we all sat through multiple orientations about security in Madrid, the culture, the differences, the language pledge we have all agreed to, etc. We then had a break until 5 where we could do whatever we desired. Initially I was going to return to the apartment as Argentina, one of my host moms, had cooked food for lunch earlier in the morning, but other people from my program were going to search for lunch nearby so I "WhatsApped" Argentina and told her that, so long as it was okay, I'd be eating lunch with kids from the program. 

After lunch, some of us decided to explore the city instead of returning home to relax and have a "siesta". We explored a lot of the area around the Puerta del Sol, including the Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel. Closer to five, we returned to CIEE headquarters (which the Spaniards call "see-eh" instead of C-I-E-E) to meet up with other people from our group and our program director, Paco, for a tour of nearby Madrid destinations and then churros con chocolate. We returned to the Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel while on the tour (invoking a sense of "deja vu" among some of us), but we also visited unseen sights like the Palacio Real, the building where Franco's secret police were housed, etc. We ended up at the Chocolatería de San Ginés for churros and chocolate with our host parents. And that was it. Educational, but also full of new experiences. 

During the first few days, we all discovered that we have free time over the weekends, and many of us in the program have taken advantage of this and have already explored some of the city. By the way, the student train card is very nice! You pay 20 euros and then you can go anywhere in the entire region of Madrid for one month (so 20 euros per month). During the first few days in Spain, I was definitely tired, and my feet were KILLING me, but it is definitely enjoyable, and all of the activity truly helped with jet lag (the key is to STAY AWAKE!). 

TourThere are definitely moments of homesickness in the first few days, and, naturally, there are times when I thought, and continue to think, about how much better certain things are in the USA (breakfast, especially!!!) and how much I miss said things, but, for the most part, all has been, and is, going very well. My Spanish has already improved immensely, and I am learning new vocabulary every day. Part of the ease of the transition to speaking Spanish and living in Spain, especially during the first few days, is due to the RED de estudiantes, or the Spanish students that also attend UC3M in Madrid, that help by showing us the ropes, and by giving advice, etc. 

Overall, while the first few days were certainly an active and, occasionally, difficult time, they were informative, helpful, and, most of all, fun! One of the best things about the CIEE program is that most students are from different schools, so you truly learn about and get to know each person. Getting to know the people in CIEE in the first few days, from our scavenger hunts on the metro to our excursions around Madrid, was incredible. The first few days in Madrid, without school and with plenty of free time, gave us all the opportunity to get to know the other students, the city, and to get a glimpse of the amazing life we will all lead in the next four months. 






The Liberal Arts group arrived on January 13th and were welcomed at the airport by CIEE staff who accompanied them to their homestays. Nervous and excited, they participated that evening in an initial activity to meet other CIEE staff, the Spanish Student Network and the rest of the Liberal  Arts Program students. This was the starting poing to the Spring 2016 Orientation that offered them many sessions and actitivities to ease their adaptation to Spain. 

20160113_194831Every morning students attended sessions at the Study Center where they were introduced to new approaches to topics such as safety in Madrid, the Spanish academic system, socializing in the big city, challenges for the semester, etc. Through a series of games and interative activities students were able to express their concerns about the coming months and fostered the discussion about how to make the best of the study abroad experience.


Orientation included a welcome event at the host institution, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, attended by Mr. Sergio Moreno and Mrs. Jane Strai from the American Embassy in Madrid, who provided very useful tips regarding staying safe while being abroad, as well as ennumerated a list of services the American Consulate offers to American citizens. Students toured the campus, got familiar with some of the university facilities and learned to use the commuter train that will take them to the campus every day.


But Orientation was also a time to mingle with Spanish students and get to know better everyone else better, so we organized a daily activity where they could learn more about Spanish customs, such as tours of the city, tapas night, a treasure hunt to help them learn the metro system, or a taste of churros and chocolate in one of the oldest cafeterias in Madrid. 






It is not always easy to know what to do in certain situations. It is not always easy to understand what other people's intentions could be. It could be confusing when cultural differences are present in ambiguos situations. Therefore, we host an interactive workshop on bystander intervention to examine what this is, as well as provide some tips on how to intervene in potentially risky situations.  Using real cases scenarios, very illuminating videos and some activities that invite participants to reflect, students participated in a two-hour worshop that gave them a culturally specific approach to intervention in situations that could be very common during their stay here. With the collaboration of CIEE Spanish Student Network, the workshop offered different perspectives and respected all points of views, but created a sense of group that will work collectively to preserve the safety of each other while being far from home. 




When students arrived to Madrid they are impatient to meet people their age and learn the ropes about young life. CIEE Madrid counts with the help of a group of Spanish students from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid who collaborates with the program from the start of the semester. This great group of students provides tips to American students about academic life,  what young people do, where to go, Spanish customs, colloquial Spanish, popular social apps, etc. Thus, from the very beginning, our students count with accesible youngsters who soon become their friends and an useful resource, not only in campus, but in the city as well. Our Spanish Student Network is very enthusiastic when it comes to participate in Orientation and activities. All its members have studied abroad either in the United States or Europe and they are familiar with the challenges that this experience presents to our students, so they enjoy helping them and organizing social events to take them like visiting the flea market or showing them around the most popular areas of the city.



When we proposed  participation in a Flamenco workshop to the students, the response was enthusiastic. They were excited and looking forward to the time they would meet Melody, the flamenco teacher. The day we took them to the flamenco school, no one hesitated to tap their feet onthe floor, raise their arms up gracefully, or clap their hands rhthmically. Students felt priviledged to be part in such a Spanish tradition that did not  mind the difficulties that this ancient dance entails. 


Accompanied by a singer (cantaor) and a guitarrist, Melody asked them to follow her step by step to get them to feel at ease to enjoy the choreography. They laughed out of excitement and helped each other when they were stuck in a difficult part. Melody taught them not only to dance, but also provided them with cultural background and reviewed the different rythms that make Flamenco such an unique music. When the workshop ended, the students turned to CIEE staff and asked unanimously "when are we doing this again?"



Although the students have been here for less than a month, they have already been busy participating in lots of cultural activities. Every semester, CIEE Madrid organizes a complete cultural agenda that offers a variety of activities to respond to the group participants' different interests. Activities are optional but included in the program; they are always led by a CIEE member and provide a fun but rigurous approach to culture.  


One of the first activities this semester was an exhibit about Jules Verne. The exhibit not only reviewed the life and works of the popular French writer, but also showed his visionary world of inventions and developments and his influence in the society of 19th century. Students loved to explore the exhibition discovering, in some cases, that the seed for modern inventions was in the mind of Jules Verne. 

They also participated eagerly in a cooking class. The idea of learning how to cook Spanish dishes was happily received. They all put on an apron and got ready to make easy Spanish recipes that they can practice at home and offer to their families once they return to the US. The group listened and followed instructions carefully, they worked diligently with ingredients that were  new to them and were surprised at how easy these tasty dishes were to prepare.


Part of idea of the Cultural Agenda is to bring students closer to Spain's rich artistic legacy, thus a visit to the Prado Museum was a must. With paintings by Velazquez, Goya or El Greco and masterpieces by Bosch, Titian, Rubens or Rembrandt, a tour of this amazing museum is also a history lesson. Some of the students are taking Art History classes and this visit is their first approach in situ to the paintings they will study in class. For other students, art might not be among their academic interests but they join us to visit the Prado to learn more about the royalty patronage, the influence of the Catholic Church in art, and the different languages and symbols artists used to express their souls.  20160205_155735

The month of January ended with a daytrip to El Escorial. The 16th century monastery was also the royal residence for Phillip II, the most powerful man of his time. Created to pay tribute to his Hapsburg family and his religious beliefs, San Lorenzo de El Escorial is today a good way to approach to an era where buuildings were a monuments filled with symbols that provide us with a better understanding in the way people lived (and thought) several centuries ago.


Not far from El Escorial el  Valle de los Caídos is located, the most significant monument of the Franco dictatorship. A basiclica carved-in-stone, crowned with a humungous cross is today an almost abandoned monument, still a very sensitive place for lots of Spaniards. However, it is a great scenario to teach students about the Spanish  Civil War and the Franco Dictatorship since it helps them understand what it meant for 20th century Spain and the impact of it today. The monument is located in a beautiful area in the mountains of Madrid, surrounded by trees and water, which would have been a great place for what the monument was supposed to be: the eternal resting place and tribute to the casualties of the Civil War, one of the saddest episodes in recent Spanish History.