Dani Schugg - 2013 Program Participant

Real Madrid Game in Madrid, Spain

¡Viva Madrid! 

What inspired you to study abroad?

I did a travel study program to Madrid, Salamanca, and Barcelona the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. Ever since then, I looked forward to spending a semester back in Spain during college because I had fallen in love with the country on that trip. Coming to UCLA, I wanted to find a major that suited my passion and interests in international politics and culture and would encourage me to see the world. After settling into my university classes and university life, I realized that I was missing out on something bigger than what was around me. So that's when I decided that I would fulfill my desire to go abroad again.

Why did you choose ISA?

I chose ISA because some friends in my sorority had previously studied abroad with ISA and had so many good things to say about their program. I knew that ISA was an independent program outside of UCLA's study abroad program so I needed to do further research. I discovered that ISA was the most popular outside program to study abroad with and weighed the pros and cons about both UCLA's program and that of ISA.

I decided that ISA would provide me with a better experience, especially since I wasn't going to travel with students just from the UC system, but with students from all over the country. I chose to go to Madrid because I had fallen in love with the city in just the three short days I was there four years prior. I am pursuing a minor in Spanish so I looked forward to bettering my Spanish speaking, writing, and listening skills by being immersed in the Spanish culture.

Student with host mother in Spain

My Wonderful Host Mother and I

What is your favorite part about Madrid?

Madrid is an amazing city. It resembles both old European style and modernity. There was never a dull moment in the city because there was always something to do. Living in the heart of Madrid gave me the opportunity to explore everything it had to offer, and I learned so much about what it meant to live like a madrileña. I always felt safe, as a young female student, on the city streets and felt like I belonged.

What makes ISA’s Madrid program one of a kind?

The ISA staff in the Madrid office were all wonderful people. They were always there to help us when we felt lost or homesick, and they always encouraged us to try our best to speak Spanish and assimilate to the local culture. What also made the program unique was that there were so many opportunities to participate in cultural activities and language exchanges during the week. These activities gave us the chance to learn more about the city, people, and culture that surrounded us.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

As I mentioned above, the ISA Madrid staff were outstanding. I would go plan my weekend trips with my friends in the office but would stay after we booked our tickets to talk to the staff about anything and everything. They were all concerned about our well being and always lent a hand if we needed help with anything.

What do you wish you would have done differently during your time in Madrid?

Honestly, my experience in Madrid was everything I hoped for and more. However, I do wish I engaged more with locals and met more Spanish friends. I became very close to the people in my program so we did everything together. I didn't feel the need to branch out and make other friends, but I wish I had made more connections to madrileños. I think that would have made my experience more meaningful by forming life-long connections with people who live in the host-country.

Templo de Debod in Spain

Templo de Debod

Describe a day in the life of an international student in Madrid.

If I had a late morning class, I would wake up and go on a run at the local park. This was one of my favorite activities because I got to continue doing what I love in another city. This made me feel at home. Then, I would walk to my host-university and be in class for about three or four hours. My classes were all in Spanish so this was the most challenging part of my day; I took classes in Spanish Business, Spanish Film, Spanish Contemporary Society, and Spanish Culture.

After class, I would walk back to my homestay and my host mom would make lunch for my roommate and I. After lunch, my roommate would usually siesta (I'm not much of a napper) and I would go explore the city. We lived about a 30 minute walk from Puerta del Sol (the city center) so this was a great way to see the city without riding the metro which was underground. A few hours later, I would return to the apartment and rest before dinner. After dinner, my friends and I would typically go out to a café to enjoy a glass of sangria and some tapas.

What did you enjoy doing on your freetime?

My friend and I had a list called "101 Things to do in Madrid Before You Die" and we were determined to do as many things as possible before the semester was over. This kept us from staying inside and taking a siesta and taught us so much about the city we called home for four months. Also, we never got bored by doing the same things over and over because we always had something new to see or do. Other than that, I got in the habit of going to the same three cafés before or after class to study and enjoy a cup of café con leche and talk to the baristas in Spanish. When I did this, I really felt like I was a local.

What type of accommodation did you choose? What did you like about it?

I chose to do a homestay with another roommate. I traveled to Madrid not knowing anyone so I was really worried about who I would be paired with for a roommate. My roommate and I ended up becoming best friends abroad. My host mom was a little on the older side, but this made our experience unique because she wasn't quite like a mother who nagged us to get home early or eat our vegetables. She reminded me of my grandma at home so I always felt like I had a little piece of home with me.

Our host mom has been hosting study abroad students from all over the world for more than 30 years so she knew how to take care of us. She would serve us a huge lunch everyday (that threw us into food comas) and understood that we Americans were not used to eating dinner at 10 p.m. like the Spaniards, so she would have dinner ready for us at 8:30 p.m. which was the perfect compromise. We lived in a piso which is like a Spanish house but in an apartment building. Our piso had five rooms so my roommate and I were fortunate enough to have our own rooms.

I really enjoyed living with a host mother because it forced me to speak Spanish (she didn't speak a lick of English). If I had lived with all American roommates, I don't think I would have become fluent at the end of my four months abroad. It was also very rewarding because she always shared her life with us and told us about the history and culture of Spain and Madrid.

Toledo, Spain

ISA Day Trip to Toledo

How much has studying abroad impacted your life?

Studying abroad was probably the most rewarding experience I had while in college. I learned so much about the world and myself that I would have never learned if I had stayed in California all four  years. Even a year and a half later, I miss my friends and experiences from my program and wish I could go back and do it all over.

I loved my experience so much that I came back and became a Global Ambassador for ISA. As a campus representative, I encourage prospective study abroad students to fulfill their dreams of going overseas for a semester, year or summer and help them with any questions or concerns they have.

Overall, my study abroad experience had a remarkable influence on the way I view life, others and the world. It inspired me to pursue a career in international affairs and to set goals to travel abroad to new places as much as I possibly can.