Sarah Hopkins - 2015 Program Participant

Castle in Segovia, Spain

Segovia, Spain

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program with the main goal of improving and immersing myself in the Spanish language, that I had studied for so many years. But I also hoped to gain a more worldly perspective and experience totally new cultures through my classes and travel.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s program in Madrid?

I chose the IES Abroad Madrid, Language and Area Studies program because it provided me with wonderful opportunities to learn about and immerse myself in my host culture. The class options allowed me to get a taste of so many different aspects of Spanish culture, art, history, politics, film, and language! In addition to my interest in the classes, IES Abroad offers many weekend and day trips to other cities in Spain as well as activities with Spanish students in Madrid to help students get to know their host city better!

What was your favorite part about Madrid?

Madrid is amazing! There are so many different neighborhoods to explore, each with their own personality, and you will never run out of new places to try or things to see! Living in such a large, vibrant city definitely made my experience more fun! Plus, Madrid is a wonderful place to study because it's right in the middle of everything, literally, which made travelling very easy.

What made your program unique?

The IES Abroad Madrid program is unique because of the awesome trips and activities the staff always have planned! There are a few weekend and day trips to other cities in Spain, which were amazing! But every weekend, there was a new activity with Spanish students in Madrid that you could sign up for, going to the zoo, touring the soccer stadium, going to an art museum, or just hanging out in a park!

Real Madrid flags on a street in Madrid, Spain

¡Hala Madrid!

How did local staff support you throughout your time in Madrid?

The local staff in Madrid are so amazing! They will do anything they can to make your experience the best it can possibly be. They genuinely care, and constantly check up on to see how you are doing (with classes, with your host family, or with anything else that could be going on!), and are always available (even just to practice your Spanish by chatting for a few minutes!)

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Although I spoke Spanish in all of my classes, with professors and staff, and with my host family, I wish I had spoken it more with friends. It's challenging to speak in Spanish when you all speak English much better, but it's important to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible to really get the most of the experience.

What was a typical day like for you as an international student in Madrid?

Most people arrive to the IES Abroad center in the morning, depending on the times of your classes. You normally have around about three classes a day, and when you are not in class there are always people to hang out with in the center to pass the time! I had classes most afternoons, but many people went home for the 2:30 p.m. lunchtime with their host families (lunch is very important to the Spaniards!).

After lunch or after getting home from classes, I often took a siesta for a couple hours. I would then do my homework and eat dinner around 9 p.m., sometimes planning to meet up with friends at our favorite tapas bar or explore the city a little bit at night. The workload was less compared to most university courses in the U.S., so I really had a chance to enjoy the Spanish life and culture during my semester there!

What did you enjoy doing on your free time most?

One of the other great things about IES Abroad Madrid is the opportunities they offer outside of classes and activities. The staff help organize opportunities to interact even more with the everyday life of the Spanish. I participated in an intercambio with a Spanish student, meeting for one to two hours a week, so I could practice Spanish and she could practice English; she is now one of the people I keep up with the most! I also served as a teaching assistant in a Spanish elementary school once a week, helping during the English classes to teach accents and interact with the kids!

Parque Retiro in Madrid, Spain

Parque Retiro, Madrid

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host family during my stay. I absolutely loved my host family. They were so patient with me speaking Spanish to them, and I felt like a part of the family by the end of the semester! It was nice to experience the normal home life for Spanish families, rather than living in a dorm or apartment with other people (mostly Americans) my age!

How would you say studying abroad has impacted your life?

Coming home, I definitely have a greater understanding of the Spanish I hear spoken around me and feel completely confident using the language. I also gained a completely new perspective on world events and politics (especially in my classes Contemporary Spanish History and European Political Movements), and a better appreciation for the beautiful diversity of cultures and languages in the world!