Ibrahim Kamara - 2014 Program Participant

Study abroad students at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid, Spain

Ibrahim with his housemate Gabriel at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid, Spain.

Why did you study abroad?

For me, the question wasn’t why should I study abroad, but rather why not? The truth is for a long while I had little interest in studying abroad. Travel has always been something I appreciated—though I have traveled very little—but I genuinely felt that the “study” portion of study abroad would hinder my ability to experience a foreign country. But in the fall of 2013, I had an epiphany of sorts. Simply put, I needed to do something different.

Why did you choose to study in Madrid?

Like most, I had been taking Spanish for a considerable amount of time, so the options were really between Latin America and Spain. I did not think I was ready for the culture shock imminent in the former, so the latter location won by default. It was then between Barcelona and Madrid; the Catalan in Barcelona was the deal breaker.

Why were you drawn to IES Abroad over other organizations?

There was no real reason I was drawn to IES Abroad over any other program. I honestly don’t remember why I chose IES, but it was a good decision in hindsight. 

What were your housing arrangements like in Spain?

I lived in a homestay in probably the most ideal situation for me. It was right in the center of Madrid, in the equivalent of a penthouse, no more than a 20 minute walk from my center. I had a beautiful view from the top floor and was never too far away from anything. I lived with a single, middle-aged women and a housemate from Michigan who quickly became my closest friend. 

Las Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain

During the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain.

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

A typical day started with breakfast in my apartment and then a walk through Moncloa, or the university city, with my housemate to the IES Abroad Center for class. Depending on the day, if I had two or four classes, I would return home for a quick lunch and then back to class. All classes were in Spanish so there were plenty of opportunities to improve throughout the day. After the school, life as student continued, exploring the city. 

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?

That’s a pretty tough question, but it’s either between seeing FC Barcelona play in the Champions League against Atlético de Madrid at the Vicente Calderón, or the immersive experience that I had playing football with local Madrilenians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, and Chileans on the various teams that I joined while in Spain.

What was the biggest challenge you faced studying abroad in Madrid?

My biggest challenge was without a doubt the food. Coming from a West African background, I was used to a very unique type of cuisine. Moreover, coming from the United States, with the sheer magnitude of food at our disposal, I was unprepared for the change in quantity in Europe. And food is a lot more expensive in general. I made it work though.

Gran Via, Madrid, Spain

Amongst the masses in Gran Via, Madrid, Spain.

Why would you travel to Madrid again if you had the chance?

Other than the fact that I love Madrid and improving my Spanish, there are friends that I was fortunate enough make there who I would like to see again, including my host family and my host family’s housekeeper coincidentally.

How would say your life has been impacted by studying abroad?

Over a year after I departed for Spain, I still can’t answer this question, at least not by typing it. It is almost inexplicable at this point. I could never say that my time in Madrid was the best four months of my life, or the most fun I’ve ever had, or a life changing experience or anything like that. I can say, without a doubt, that it was the most important experience of my life, the most eye-opening experience of my life. I’ll leave it at that. 

Why would you recommend IES Abroad to other students?

I would recommend IES Abroad to others simply for the staff. They are what made IES a great program for me. 

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

It wasn’t a flawless program, but still, a year later, I can’t think of anything more I could have asked for. 

What is the most important tip you have for future study abroad students?

Keep an open-mind from start to finish, in everything.

Las Venta Bullfighting Ring in Madrid, Spain

Las Ventas Bullfighting Ring in Madrid, Spain.

If you could study abroad again, where would you go?

As I mentioned before, I didn’t think I was ready for the culture shock of Latin America. That might have been naive and short-sighted of me. I have always wanted to go to Brazil, though I don’t speak any Portuguese, and Argentina.

Did you experience any kind of reverse culture shock when you returned home?

Not at all. I knew Madrid would be an easy transition. So returning was a seamless as arriving.

If you could go on another IES program which one would you choose?

I regretfully never made it to Barcelona or Seville, so likely one of those two programs.