Lauren Mattera - 2013 Program Participant

Student with a thank you sign in front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Lauren sharing her thanks to her parents in front of the Colosseum in Rome during a side trip from Spain.

Why did you choose to study abroad with BU’s Madrid Language and Liberal Arts program?

I had known since middle school that I wanted to study abroad in the future. I have always loved the Spanish language, so I knew it would be somewhere with Spanish-speakers. I visited Madrid and Barcelona in 2009, and I instantly fell in love with Madrid and its charm. Being a Hispanic Language and Literature major, it was important for me to study in a place where I could relate all of my course material. As soon as I came to BU and found out there was a program in Madrid, I knew I would definitely go! I chose the Level 3 Language and Liberal Arts program because I wanted to challenge myself at a Spanish university and make the most out of my international education.

Study abroad student with her family and host family in Madrid, Spain.

Lauren having dinner with her host family and her real family during their visit to Madrid.

What was your housing situation in Madrid?

I lived with a host family in a gorgeous apartment building very close to Santiago Bernabeu stadium (Real Madrid’s stadium). I lived with my host mother, Elena, my host father, Jesús, and their daughter, Marta. I had my own bedroom and I shared a bathroom with Marta. We ate dinner together every night over delicious food and great conversation. We spoke about our days, and Jesús usually told jokes. I only spoke Spanish while at home, which helped me become more comfortable with the language. Although I was very nervous about my living situation before I went to Madrid, my host family welcomed me with open arms, which helped me to feel less homesick since I could go home to a family every day. I still talk to them and I miss them terribly. Overall, I had an incredible experience in terms of housing!

What are some reasons why you would return to Madrid again?

If I had time during the remainder of my collegiate career, I would go back to Madrid in a heartbeat. First off, I loved my classes and my peers. I attended Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and I took Multilingualism, Translation, Linguistics, and the required BU Seminar that focused on the history, economy, and literature of Spain. In some of my classes, I was the only American student. The Spanish students were so welcoming and went out of their way to be friendly. I became very close to some of my friends from school, including my friend Clara who came to visit me in Boston last year.

Churros con chocolate at Maestro Churrero in Madrid Spain.

Enjoying some churros con chocolate at Maestro Churrero in Madrid.

Another reason I would return would be to experience the culture all over again. Madrid is full of museums, restaurants, historical sites, and outstanding shopping. During my time there, I found my favorite places that became like home to me. I still dream of eating torteles from my favorite bakery, Mallorca, and munching on croquetas from my favorite restaurant, Lateral. The best days of my semester were the ones where I wandered aimlessly around the city exploring and discovering new places.

How has studying abroad in Spain impacted you since returning?

My time in Madrid helped me to understand a culture so different from my own. My semester abroad was the first time I was very far away from home and entirely on my own. I successfully navigated through Europe during my time traveling and I made a new home for myself, complete with friends and experiences that I created all by myself. I am now much more independent and courageous because of my time abroad. I learned what it was like to be the foreign student at school, and because the Spanish students were so friendly toward me, I now make sure to speak to any exchange students that may be in my classes. I was able to practice my Spanish skills in an environment outside of the classroom, which helped me in all of my Spanish classes when I returned to BU. I am a lot more open to living new and unfamiliar changes, all thanks to my time abroad. 

Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid, Spain.

A visit to the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid.

What advice can you give to students who will study abroad in Madrid in the future?

Pay attention to your classes! While it is fun to travel, remember that the purpose of your experience is to study. Most of the time the classes will revolve around the cultural aspect of the city, and doing well in your classes will ultimately transfer to you better understanding where you are.

On that note, do not travel every weekend to a different country or city. Get to know your city because you may never be there for as long again. Take time to wander aimlessly and go off the typical tourist path. Find your favorite restaurants, stores, and museums and spend time there instead of at home. Don’t worry about eating healthy—you are only abroad once and you can lose the weight at home! Try to become friends with natives. Hanging out with the other Americans will not improve your language skills or your understanding of the culture. Meet Spanish people and ask them to show you some of their favorite places. You can spend time with your American friends at home, but you may never have the opportunity to become friends with a Spaniard again. 

A view of Madrid from the rooftop of Circulo de Bellas Artes.

View from the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

Did you experience any reverse culture shock when you came back to the States?

I experienced horrible culture shock when I came back to the United States. I continued to pronounce wifi as “weefee” for months. I hated eating dinner at the ungodly hour of 7:30 p.m. I despised how horribly Americans dressed compared to Europeans. I responded to any question or comment with “vale”. I was so irritated that I could not find a good café con leche anywhere. I was so confused when an event would start on time and not fifteen to thirty minutes late. I had a very difficult time re-adjusting to American life, but I eventually became accustomed to it. There are still days when I just want a good tortilla española and a walk around Madrid, but I hold my memories close because I know that I will go back to my favorite city for a visit very soon.