I had a great experience with CIEE Madrid. My courses and academic situation were manageable and interesting, my host family was incredibly warm and welcoming, there were many opportunities to... Anonymous
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Fantastic semester abroad
Submitted by Anonymous - Boston United States Harvard | December 22, 2016
I had a great experience with CIEE Madrid. My courses and academic situation were manageable and interesting, my host family was incredibly warm and welcoming, there were many opportunities to travel both within and outside of Spain, CIEE advertised numerous activities and trips and events to us, and the staff at CIEE was wonderfully helpful. I would recommend this program to anyone.
I had a great time with CIEE Madrid. I'm pursuing an engineering degree, so the most important thing that allowed me to study abroad in the first place was that this program allows you to study at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, an impressive engineering school with a significant portion of classes offered in both Spanish and English. They actually had a wider range of engineering courses than my school offers, which was exciting. My teachers spoke excellent English (many courses were offered in English - I'll get to this later), were very knowledgeable, and were always happy to meet with me if I had questions about the material. I heard of one negative experience while I was there, which was that one of my friend's teachers was supposed to teach a class in English but gave all homework and readings in Spanish. This only happened to the one person though, and it seemed that all of my other friends from CIEE had a fine experience with teachers.
The staff at CIEE were wonderful from beginning to end. I dealt most frequently with Eero, Sonia, and Patricia, and all three of them were consistently enthusiastic to help with any question I may have had. They arrange a good number of trips for students to take, both within Madrid and out to various parts of Spain (Toledo, Segovia, Barcelona, Valle de los Caídos, for instance) and one to Morocco. They have information on places to travel internationally and websites to use for booking flights. They also post to Facebook many fun activities and events going on within Madrid throughout the semester. I studied abroad in the fall and CIEE had a Thanksgiving dinner in their office for all of us. They try to give a lot of options for entertainment and activities with them. They also advise each student on classes before the start of the semester to make sure we aren't taking classes that are too difficult (since we have no knowledge of the rigor of classes at UC3M) and to make sure we are meeting all of the requirements of our home institutions.
I won't speak to host families much as this seemed to vary somewhat by participant. I know of only one person who had a negative experience with his family, but my host family experience was fantastic and all of my friends' were positive. If any of them had significant problems, I feel very confident that the CIEE staff would try hard to address any issue that comes up regarding host families. Again, the staff are very accommodating and eager to help. So overall, the host families with CIEE are great.
One element that I thought could be improved is that there wasn't much help in terms of making Spanish friends. There were a few opportunities for language exchange meetings, but that was typically the only avenue through which we could seek exposure to Spanish students through CIEE. In general, Spanish students (at UC3M, at least) seemed rather cliquey and it was not very easy to make your way into a friend group of Spanish students. I was lucky enough to meet a very outgoing Spaniard in one class who brought me into his group, but few of my American friends had such an opportunity. This qualm is definitely the closest to outright complaining that I will do in this review and I feel a little bit silly for even bringing it up, but I feel that if another program specifically states it has many opportunities to meet locals that it could be an important factor to some people. Regardless of all of this, however, it was very common for CIEE students to meet up daily to hang out, so I (and most people in the program) still had a plenty active social life.
One of the coolest things (that also contributed to my social life) was the number of friends I made who were neither American nor Spanish. You quickly find out who the foreign students in your classes are and you tend to stick with them. One of my favorite groups to hang out with consisted of students from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, England, Australia, and Taiwan whom I met in my Spanish class. This class was through the Centro de Idiomas of UC3M at their Getafe campus, and was somehow different than the classes that people in other CIEE Madrid programs used (they had Spanish courses but not through the Centro de Idiomas. I'm not sure why this was). If you have the option, I recommend taking a Spanish course in the Centro de Idiomas because it sounded as though the other CIEE students were in Spanish classes of mostly Americans, while I was the only American in my entire class. This allowed for me to meet a lot of other study abroad students from all over who were looking for social groups and activities just like I was. I also became friends with foreign students in my regular classes (my non-Spanish classes) but I just wasn't as close to them as I was to the group from my Spanish class.
Regarding speaking Spanish, if you do the Engineering program then your only Spanish language requirement is an intensive course at the beginning of the semester (at least it was for me). I was keen on learning as much Spanish as possible while there but was not confident enough to take my courses in Spanish, so I took three English courses, my Spanish class, and then intentionally spoke Spanish whenever possible outside of class (in restaurants, to my host family, in stores, everywhere, even if they spoke English to me). Speaking Spanish outside of class is what really allowed my Spanish to blossom while I was there. My engineering friends were less keen on Spanish and neither took a class nor practiced much in public, and they didn't improve nearly as much as I was able to. My metric for seeing how much I improved is the fact that I couldn't understand the customs officer at the airport when I arrived in August (despite having taken Spanish in high school and college) but that I could joke with my waiter when I left in December (to be honest it was probably a pretty lousy joke but hey - it counts). It was incredibly rewarding seeing the improvement.
Overall I had a great experience with CIEE Madrid. My courses and academic situation were manageable and interesting, my host family was incredibly warm and welcoming, there were many opportunities to travel both within and outside of Spain, CIEE advertised numerous activities and trips and events to us, and the staff at CIEE was wonderfully helpful. I would recommend this program to anyone.