Lauren Villanueva - 2014 Program Participant

Sunset in Llanes, Spain

Watching the sunset in Llanes, Spain, on Lauren’s first weekend excursion with IES Madrid. Photo by Lauren Villanueva

What inspired you to study abroad?

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to immerse myself in another culture. I took Spanish throughout high school, but never got beyond a basic level. By choosing Spain, my language skills improved tremendously because I was able to apply what I learned inside the classroom to everyday life. Before studying abroad, I had never been outside of the U.S., and now I have a global perspective and have become more independent. 

Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid as opposed to other cities in Spain?

I did a lot of research about where I wanted to study and came to the conclusion of Madrid. I wanted to take the risk of living in the center of a metropolitan city and there's no better place to do it than Spain's capital. Public transportation is so easy to use and it is not as touristy as other cities, like Barcelona, so I was able to really apply my language skills. 

Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain

Lauren finding her own building at the Prado Museum, Madrid.

Where did you live during your program?

I lived with a host mom and her cat. I never had a pet before, so living with an animal made my living situation more exciting! I had my own room and bathroom, and my host mom cooked delicious meals for me. I was about a 20 minute walk from the IES Abroad Center in Madrid, and I lived nearby other students in the program as well. 

What was a normal weekday like for you in Spain?

A normal weekday consisted of attending grammar class in the morning and then elective classes. In addition to grammar, I took economics, business, and history classes. After classes, I would go home and eat lunch with my host mom, her daughter and son-in-law, and her grandchildren. After finishing homework, I would either go for a run, play tennis, or meet up with friends to explore a new part of the city or a museum we hadn't been to yet. During finals week, we would pick a new cafe and study there. This was great because we never went to the same place twice.

What tips do you have for future study abroad students in Madrid?

I would suggest practicing Spanish before leaving, and looking at packing list guides to try to not over pack. As long as you have an open mind and really try to be part of the culture, you will make the most of your time abroad. 

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

The biggest challenge for me in the beginning was finding a balance between academic work and traveling. At my university, the grades are not pass or fail, they directly transfer over, so there was a lot of internal pressure from myself to do well. My level of Spanish was at a beginner's level in the beginning, so I really made the time to study and revise my work. During the week and the weekends there were plenty of opportunities to explore new parts of Madrid, travel to different parts of Spain and Europe. I had to manage my time, but in the end I did well academically and was able to travel to all the places I wanted to go to. 

Real Madrid futbol game in Madrid, Spain

Lauren and friends celebrating a win at their first Real Madrid soccer game.