Sofia Villarreal - 2015 Program Participant

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Don't limit yourself to discovering the city you study in, I encourage you to travel to different cities and countries during your time abroad.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

After having a small taste of study abroad from a previous summer, I knew I wanted to live abroad during college and really get to know a new major city in Europe.

Why did you choose your IES Abroad program?

I chose the IES Abroad Madrid language and area studies program because it fit all of my personal requirements for the specific study abroad experience I wished to have. For example, it was one of the few programs that presented the challenge of giving class in the country's native language, not English, as well as having other options for housing outside of homestays, which was a huge plus for me. With IES Abroad Madrid I had the option of staying in a Spanish residence hall, and it made for a wonderful and unique experience during my time in Spain.

What was your favorite part about Madrid?

I had visited Madrid a couple of years ago, so it was high on my list of places to study abroad, mainly because I fell in love with the city because of its metropolitan feel and exciting culture. My favorite things about Madrid are the wonderfully accessible and safe public transportation, such as the metro, which was the most inexpensive and effective way of getting around the city, and the feel of the relaxed and uniquely Spanish culture that is shown in the city, such as in Parque del Retiro and in areas like Chueca and La Latina.

What made your program stand out to you among all the other study abroad program options?

One of the major things that drew me to IES Abroad Madrid is that you have a variety of options for housing, you aren't limited to a homestay, and that was something hard to find in some of the other programs. Another small detail that made a huge difference in my program is that IES Abroad Madrid offered optional monthly activities, at no extra cost, that truly helped me take advantage of everything in Madrid and the culture surrounding me. For example, I was able to take flamenco classes, under a classically trained instructor for a month, and then perform the dance at the end of the year. Other activities included cooking classes and guided tours by local students.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff's top priority was making sure we enjoyed ourselves and took advantage of everything the city and the program had to offer us, but above all that we were safe at all times. They made sure to inform us of protests, potential unsafe areas of the city, and anything else that might affect us. I felt very safe knowing that someone was just a phone call away from helping me if I needed it.

The local staff was great about making us feel like we could reach out to them for anything, while also allowing us more than enough freedom to enjoy and discover the city on our own.

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

I do wish that I researched my housing options a little more than I had initially. I chose to live in a Spanish residence hall and it was absolutely great; however, the food options are extremely limited and this was sometimes frustrating, but it was my only complaint about this option. Everything else about living in the Spanish residence hall was fun and enjoyable; I got to meet locals and interact with Spanish students my own age. I just didn't get to experience as much good local cuisine as I wish I had.

What did you like best about your accommodation in Madrid?

I chose to stay in a residence hall with other local and international students staying in Madrid who attended various local universities. I absolutely loved the dorm because I had a single room, and I was surrounded by locals who showed me a little bit of everything that I would not have found without help from the locals. The locals showed me everything from the best places to enjoy a night out in Madrid to where to find the spiciest food in Madrid and how to manage the Metro.

Flamenco dance performance in Madrid, Spain

Here's a pic from the flamenco class I took with IES Abroad Madrid

What was a normal day like for you in Madrid?

A normal day in the life of my program typically looked like: waking up to breakfast at the cafetería (in my case, since I was in the dorm), which was typically cafe con leche and cereal, then getting ready for class. I lived near a park, just minutes from the class building, so I usually took advantage of this and studied outside before class if I could, because spring in Madrid is divine.

After class, lunch at the cafeteria happened before I made my usual trek to any of my favorite local cafes where I would drink more cafe con leche and get my Spanish pastry fix. If it were a weekend, my friends and I would usually get ready to have dinner and visit some of the unique tapas places that sprinkle the different districts of Madrid.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

My favorite activities were reading, doing homework, or just people watching in one of my favorite cafes. This was something I did pretty frequently; the atmosphere and the food in these cafes were so unique to Madrid that I couldn't stay away for longer than a couple of days. One of my favorite local cafes was called Federal, and it had the greatest sandwiches and brunch plates on the weekend, and also the best mimosas I've ever had.

Now that you're home, how would you say your time abroad has impacted your life?

My time abroad has stayed with me and taught me that I belong somewhere in Europe. After studying abroad in Madrid and visiting other places while I was there, I now know that my future is not limited to working in the United States. Studying abroad has given me the confidence to conquer future endeavours, now that I know I can do something as simple as learning to successfully maneuver a public transportation system that was completely (pun intended) foreign to me. I hope to live in Madrid or London in the future, and I would not have thought this was possible without moving across the world and finding out for myself that I am more than capable of living and thriving in a new culture.