Katherine Bollag - 2014 Program Participant

Study abroad students in Cordoba, Spain

A picture from Cordoba, a trip organized by IES Abroad.

How did you decide to study abroad?

Before I even matriculated into my university, I knew that I wanted to study abroad at some point during my college career. For me, it was a chance to experience a different kind of schooling and to explore a new place. I learned a lot from classes, but I feel like I gained even more from being able to interact with natives and visit various places around Madrid and around Spain. I choose to study abroad in Spain so that I could have a chance to use the Spanish that I’ve been learning over the years. 

What were your housing arrangements in Madrid like?

I lived in a homestay with the nicest people possible. My host mom was a 70-year old lady who cooked the most amazing food. She had two daughters around their 50s who lived at home with her. They all went out of their way to speak Spanish with me. In the apartment, I had a room and a bathroom to myself. My house was very close to both the IES Abroad center (about a 20-minute walk) and to a metro stop (a five minute walk).

Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain

A Sunday afternoon in Parque del Retiro.

What was a normal day like as a student in Madrid?

We had class Monday through Thursday, 12 hours a week. The first class of the day (9:30 to 11 a.m.) was a grammar class. We took a placement test at the very beginning so that they knew where to put us. The second class of the day (11:10 a.m. to 1:10 p.m., though only Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) was an elective. I took "Madrid la ciudad" and we learned about the history of Madrid on Monday in class, and then Tuesday and Wednesday we'd go out into the city for guided tours by the teacher to see what we'd just learned about.

The rest of the afternoon we'd have free, although IES organized multiple optional events (like cooking classes, historical tours, Spanish debates, and flamenco classes). We would have trips, organized by IES Abroad, on Friday (and sometimes including the weekend) to places like Valencia and Segovia. Otherwise, the weekends were relatively free for us to travel around Spain, visit attractions around Madrid, or simply hang out with our friends in the program.

What was the most memorable experience you had in Spain?

The European Cup, the top Europe soccer competition, occurred while I was in Madrid. The incredibly fortunate aspect of it was that it was Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid – both home teams out of all the possible winners from across Europe. On the night of the game, it seemed like everyone was watching. I personally went to a bar to watch it with friends, and it was insane how packed it was. There were proponents of both teams there, and fans of both sides got really into the game. When Real Madrid came out victorious, those fans went insane, but I saw some Atletico fans literally crying.

In front of Botin restaurant in Spain

Katherine with some friends standing in front of Botin, the world's oldest restaurant in the world.

Right after the game, there was a rally/party in the center of Madrid for Real Madrid to await the arrival of the winning team. I spent a couple hours amidst the craziness and it was absolutely insane – I’d never seen so many people in one place in my life. There was just so much excitement amidst the crowd, which caused much revelry and rowdiness. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I know, and I’m so glad I now have this experience amongst my memories of Madrid. 

Would you recommend IES Abroad’s program in Madrid to other students?

I would highly recommend this program to others. I think a chance to study abroad is an essential part of a college education. IES Abroad makes the whole process straightforward and understandable. Applying is simple, and they provide so much advice for preparing to arrive. Once I was in Madrid, I also felt like the administrators were really looking out for us and cared about us. It was the right balance of class, program-directed activities, and free time. Also, Madrid is an incredible place! 

Spanish cooking class in Spain

Taking a Spanish cooking class - you can see paella on the stove and arroz con leche being mixed.

What advice would you give to future participants of the IES Madrid program?

I truly believe that you get out of your study abroad experience what you put in. You have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone and work hard in order to experience all that the program and Madrid has to offer. For example, I did research online to determine all of the recommended places around Madrid, both well-known and slightly more obscure, and I made a list. Every day I made a trip to one of the locations on my list, sometimes with the IES program, sometimes in the company of friends, and sometimes even by myself. I feel like I now know Madrid very well as a result of my excursions!