From a young age I was fascinated by the idea of traveling to a foreign country. However, it was something that I didn't think was attainable until I went to college and learned about the resources available to me!
For my particular program, I was given the choice to live in an apartment or in a homestay. I picked an apartment because I wanted the independence that came with living without a family. When I chose that option I also promised myself that I would find ways to interact with Spainards to practice Spanish and get a true taste of the culture. From there, I decided whether I wanted to be closer to campus or the city center, my price range, and how many roommates I wanted. USAC then took all of that information and gave me a housing placement!
I lived in an apartment with a female student from my program. It was really cool because she was a foreign exchange student studying in Chicago, but originally was from Beijing, China. We lived in a neighborhood about ten minutes from the center of the city and thirty-five minutes (by train) from the university we attended.
I didn't live in homestay, but I was still able to practice my Spanish and interact with a Spanish family. I was really close with the family that lived above me! I would come over, about twice a week, to tutor the young kids, and then the parents would give me mini cultural lessons and cook for me sometimes. I was also able to practice my Spanish with local students that I befriended.
ACADEMICS: I took classes at a Spanish university, but took classes with other USAC students and was taught by professors who were hired by USAC. There was one American professor and the rest were Spanish. All of the Spanish professors spoke English fluently and had spent at least one year studying or living in the United States. Because of this, they were able to help us bridge the gap between American and Spanish culture.
EXCURSIONS: There were two day trips to Segovia and Toledo. There was also an optional one-credit field study where they took us to Cordoba, Granada, and Sevilla.
MISC: The program also set up opportunities for us to volunteer, intern, and/or tutor children in English (paid). I decided to volunteer and tutor! Oh! We were also set up with "intercambios" which were Spanish students who we would meet up with and practice speaking Spanish English.
I chose a program where I use my entire financial aid package from my home institution towards the price of my study abroad program. That was very, very helpful. I also looked for a program that was comparable to what I paid at my home institution. Lastly, I also applied for any study abroad-related scholarships offered by my university and USAC.
I wish I hadn't overpacked! I did a better job packing than I usually did, but I STILL packed too much. Also, I wish I had known where to find hair products for afro-textured hair in Madrid before I left.
Hmmm. Not really. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable with the unwanted attention and insensitive/ignorant questions that I got because I was an American/black/a foreigner, but for the most part I felt safe and welcome in Madrid.Which is surprising in a country where immigration is relatively new... I had a few friends who had a not so pleasant experience with a vendor in Barcelona, but that's about it.
Studying abroad reaffirmed the kind of career that I thought I wanted. Because of that, everything I did thereafter felt more purposeful. Knowing that I was on the right track gave me a lot of confidence.
Going to Sevilla! I absolutely fell in love with that city! It was unreal!
Madrileños... PARTY LIKE NO OTHER. There is a scene for EVERYONE and the bars and clubs stay open until 7am. Madrid is a great city to be young and the nightlife is one of the reasons why... The metro stays open pretty late, so it's easy to get places at night. Also, the metro is pretty safe, so I never felt uncomfortable riding it by myself at night.
- Flexibility: My roommate and I were stranded in Lisbon (long story haha) once and had 16 hours to get back to Madrid to make it back in time for class. We found a way!
- Striving in a foreign environment: When I arrived in Madrid I had never traveled outside of the country and had lived in the same area (pretty much) for my whole live. Over a semester I learned how to navigate Spanish customs and culture and make a space for myself. I didn't just STUDY in Madrid. I made friends, went out, shopped, volunteered, worked, travelled, and much more.
- Adaptability: There were some things that I bought often in the US, that I couldn't find in Madrid. Sometimes, the product WAS sold in Madrid, but was different from what I was used to.
I learned how to adapt to the new smells and sights in Madrid and enjoy that different-ness, for lack of a better word. While I was abroad my motto was " 'Different' isn't bad or good. It's just... different! Something new!"
-Language acquisition: My Spanish improved a lot while I was abroad!
Yes, yes, yes! USAC has amazing prices and high quality programs. After our orientation, I felt like I was given all of the tools that I needed to have a wonderful, and safe, experience in Madrid. Anytime I had a question, I had multiple people that I could go to for help.
In the words of Shia Labeouf... JUST DO IT! Seriously. Deciding to study abroad was one of the best decisions that I ever made, hands down! I don't know of anyone who has gone abroad and regretted it! Oh! And don't worry about missing out on things while you're gone. You'll be surprised to find that very little will have changed when you come back.
When I studied abroad I volunteered at a school and also gaven English tutoring lessons. I highly recommend that people who study abroad find an activity that anchors them to the community.