Gregg Miller - 2012 Program Participant

Palacio Real in Madrid, Spain.

Palacio Real in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Gregg Miller

Why did you choose to study abroad? Why Madrid?

Before even entering college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I also knew I wanted to pursue a pre-medical track and study neuroscience. It can be hard for science majors or pre-medical students to study abroad while in college, but when I learned that Boston University had a variety of excellent programs designed for these students, I knew which school to choose. Of the numerous programs in dozens of countries, a large fraction attract science majors—as they are either science programs themselves, or include science-related internships that provide an even more hands-on, enriched experience.

As a pre-medical student with these vast opportunities, I had many options. With a strong language background from high school Spanish classes, a love for Europe, and ecstatic stories from friends who had studied in Spain, I chose Madrid to be my new home. To take advantage of both the science program and the health-related internship program in Madrid, I studied abroad in Madrid on two separate occasions. I never would have thought that I would be able to study abroad twice as a science major (including an internship in a hospital) before even starting my junior year in college.

What was your living situation like in Madrid? 

Bull fight at Plaza de Toros in Madrid, Spain.

Bull fight at Plaza de Toros in Madrid, Spain. Photo Credit: Gregg Miller

I lived in a beautiful apartment right by the bullfighting stadium with an older, widowed host mom. I had my own bedroom, my own bathroom, and my host mom would even wash, iron, and fold my clothes each week. My host mom also used to be a cook when she was younger, so her food was outstanding. She taught me how to make paella and tortilla española—typical Spanish plates—and I taught her my grandmother’s secret brownie recipe.

My host mom was very sweet, knowledgeable, helpful, and probably my best resource in Madrid. Whenever I had questions about transportation, where to get a haircut, traveling, places to eat or check out in Madrid, or if I needed any sort of advice, she would always have an answer. She has been taking in students for over 36 years, so this routine was by all means nothing new to her. She would always be up to date with news and politics and would make sure I was in the loop with current events when we would sit down for dinner. She also did not speak any English, so living with her was an amazing opportunity to improve my Spanish on a daily basis.

Since I had such a positive experience living with my host mom, I even chose to live with her again when I returned to Madrid for the second time, and it felt like I was just returning home.

What advice would you give to other students interested in studying with BU in Madrid?

Gregg with two of his Spanish friends from the university downtown in Puerta del Sol.

Gregg with two of his Spanish friends from the university downtown in Puerta del Sol.

If I could give any advice to students studying in Madrid, Spain, I would tell them to abandon their American tendencies. Studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime. Not everyone has the opportunity to call a foreign country their home and spend an extended period of time there. Given the value of such an opportunity, it is essential to take advantage of adopting the lifestyle of a foreign society while freeing oneself from the tempting constraints of American culture. This includes speaking English, maintaining an American diet, declining opportunities to befriend Spaniards, and attending only touristy establishments. Being a tourist and visiting Madrid for a week or two is one thing, but actually living there for months is a whole other story.

With this said, living in Madrid is the perfect opportunity to master Spanish, try new foods you never would have thought you liked, meet Spaniards who become lifelong friends, and discover incredible and hidden restaurants, shops, streets, and nightlife that you never would have found as an American tourist. Not everyone has the chance to live in one of the most amazing cities of Europe: Madrid. Cherish it, explore, and discover. 

How has your experience studying in Madrid impacted your life? 

The airing of the premiere of season 3 of Travel Channels Insane Coaster Wars. Gregg was casted in interviews and on-ride roller coaster footage at Parque Warner in Madrid, Spain. 

The airing of the premiere of season 3 of Travel Channel’s Insane Coaster Wars. Gregg was casted in interviews and on-ride roller coaster footage at Parque Warner in Madrid, Spain. 

Studying abroad in Madrid has changed my life without a doubt. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone abroad. Adopting the Spanish culture truly opened my eyes to the world and broadened my understanding of life. Before breaking free from my customs as a typical American, I was unaware of the unlimited boundaries that other cultures collectively offer. I used to be trapped within a fast-paced society where interpersonal relationships tend to be more conditioned and superficial, where people are distrustful of each other, where stress predominates and relaxation lacks, where everything revolves around competition. I had a new outlook on life after returning from Madrid. The Spaniards I had befriended opened my eyes to a new culture where people cherish friendships and seek them rather than mock or judge others.

I returned with warmth and an appreciation for others. Although I am aware that American society is powered by competition, I do not let this discourage me; I now view everyone as unique individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses. Surpassing everyone else is not what matters; being who you are and cherishing your own strengths and uniqueness is what matters. 

Would you recommend your BU Madrid programs to others? 

I would most definitely recommend my BU programs to others because they provided me with so many opportunities that I never would have experienced if I had stayed in Boston. For the Madrid Science Program, my classes were held at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, a Spanish University where several Spanish students attended classes with us. The other students on the program and I got to know the Spanish students and we all became very close. We would all go out on the weekends and our Spanish friends would bring us to restaurants, bars, and plazas in the city that we never would have found as Americans.

By taking classes at a Spanish university, I was able to form amazing friendships, integrate myself into the culture, and truly achieve the Madrid experience. The courses at the university also kept us all up to speed with what my friends back in Boston were learning in the same courses, so I felt entirely prepared upon returning to Boston and diving into the follow-up spring courses.

My BU programs encouraged cultural integration by providing the students with money to go out for dinner on the weekends and reimbursement for museums, tours, flamenco, or other cultural activities. All this reimbursement provided even more incentive for exploring the city. My BU programs also offered organized excursions outside of Madrid to Toledo, Segovia, Cordoba, Sevilla, and El Escorial, all of which provided additional unforgettable experiences beyond what we already had in Madrid. 

Summer day at Parque del Retiro. People are renting rowboats and relaxing in front of the famous monument of Alfonso XII.

Summer day at Parque del Retiro. People are renting rowboats and relaxing in front of the famous monument of Alfonso XII.

Did you experience reverse culture shock when you got back to Boston? 

Most students usually experience some form of culture shock upon arriving to their new home in a foreign country on a study abroad program. I, on the other hand, experienced more culture shock upon returning home than arriving to my new home in Madrid, Spain. The flight home was full of tears, and my home town welcomed me with gray skies, brown slushy snow, and nothing but English—a language that seemed foreign to me. Despite the fact that my parents would call me for dinner at 6:00 p.m., I would refuse to eat any earlier than 10:00 p.m. I began to drink coffee every morning, put olive oil on my toast, and cook paella and tortilla española— the recipes of which were given to me by my host mom. After just five days of being back in the United States, I had already reapplied to study abroad in Madrid again. I had to return home.