Nina Hadzibabic - 2014 Program Participant

Sunset view of a neighborhood in Madrid

A sunset view of a typical Madrid neighborhood. 

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I chose to study abroad because I wanted to strengthen my Spanish language skills and fully immerse myself into a new culture for a semester. I wanted to think outside the box and see things from a different perspective, take classes in different fields than I am used to, and become a more cultured individual. I yearned to meet new people, to call another place home, and to learn about the history of another country. Moreover, I wanted to adapt to a new style of life and to learn more about myself by putting myself in a foreign and unconditional surrounding.

Can you describe your housing in Madrid?

I chose to live in a homestay because I wanted to have a family away from home while abroad. I also wanted to be fully immersed into the native culture and adjust myself to living at home with extraneous traditions from what I am used to. I had a roommate from America, but we each had our own bedrooms. My roommate happened to be of Hispanic descent, which strongly encouraged me to strengthen my Spanish-speaking skills while at home, not to mention my host mom only allowed us to speak in Spanish while in the house.

Templo de Debod in Madrid, Spain

The famous Templo de Debod, Egyptian temple relocated to Madrid, Spain

My host mom welcomed me into her home with arms wide open and always had a smile on her face. She was amused and excited to learn about my culture and my background, and to try and teach me about her way of life and her traditions. Some memories will always include days she came home screaming about something new she found in the city—a new store, new café, or a new viewpoint of the city that she couldn’t wait to share with me. I loved weekends where her extended family would come over and include me as if I were another cousin in the bunch. Family conversations would escalate for hours upon hours aside a deliciously home cooked traditional meal.

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

One of the most memorable experiences I had while abroad was volunteering at a local elementary/middle school teaching English. I was lucky to have the opportunity to come into a class each week and teach younger native Spanish students English. This provided me with a chance to both practice by Spanish and help them learn English. I was supervised by the teacher of the class, but had the chance to both work one-on-one with students, as well as in groups, and in a lecture style classroom setting. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to make an impact and build relationships and share culture and stories with younger students in the community.

How has your experience studying abroad in Madrid impacted your life?

Studying abroad has expanded my cultural horizons vastly and made me an easily adaptable person. Living in a foreign country for a semester made me more independent and taught me how to acclimate to new surroundings, cultures, and a new language. Having a solid background of the Spanish language prior to my arrival definitely helped, but visiting restaurants, stores, cafes, and just walking down the street day to day greatly increased both my vocabulary and fluency.

View of Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid, Spain

Rooftop view of Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid, Spain.

As a pre-med student, I have always been glued to textbooks and constantly trying to understand things in a conceptual sense. Studying abroad has enlarged my thinking sphere in a more cultural and creative sense, and has allowed me to appreciate the architecture and art that constantly surround me while away. Traveling on the weekends especially strengthened my appreciation for foreign beauty, and turned my focus towards the differences that surround us each day and contribute to diversity in the world.

What important tips can you give to future participants of IES’ Madrid Language and Area Studies program?

After my experience this past semester in Madrid, I would definitely suggest future participants of the program step outside of their comfort zone while abroad and really put themselves out there to experience new things. This not only applies to meeting new people and trying new foods, but also the way they apply themselves in the classroom.

Learning in the classroom in Madrid allowed me to experience a whole new field of education. Completely opposite of the pre-med classes I am used to taking, the classes I took while abroad introduced me to a new sphere of thinking. Literature, architecture, and art history classes completely changed my way of thinking from a conceptual sense to a greater, more culturally aware manner. Watching movies, reading stories, and looking at art work from historic Spain taught me a lot about the cultural movements of the country, as well as allowed me to better value architecture and art as I walked through the city daily.

View of Madrid from Terraza del Circulo de Bellas Artes

An immaculate view of the beautiful city of Madrid from Terraza del Circulo de Bellas Artes.

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

If I could study abroad again, I would choose to study in Granada, Spain. After spending a semester in Madrid, I have learned and become accustomed to the style of life in a big Spanish city. Madrid is an endless city, full of adventure, tons of new places, and one semester simply does not provide enough time to learn everything about it. I would embrace staying in a smaller city like Granada, and getting the chance to fully learn it like the back of my hand. After visiting Granada, I embraced how full of history and art it is, especially through admiration of the Alhambra. The mountainous views and Arabic history that come along with the palace really provide breathtaking views and a sense of being in a place that feels almost surreal.