Alumni Spotlight: Jeremy Griel

Jeremy is a current senior studying Business and Spanish at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While studying Spanish for 8 years, he never had the opportunity to practice his learnt skills in a real setting until the spring of 2019, when he was able to go to Madrid and have a full-immersion Spanish experience.

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Why did you choose this program?

I started my search for a program by knowing that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country and preferred Spain over most of Latin America because of the history and the ability to travel to other European cities. I also wanted to visit a big city and my college did not count classes taken in Barcelona for my major, so I chose a language intensive program in Madrid so I could maximize the number of credits I would receive while still satisfying my biggest priorities for a program.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider helped tremendously in preparation for my semester abroad. They laid out the options for numerous things, such as housing, transportation, extracurricular events, and academic courses, but ultimately let me decide how I wanted my experience to unfold. Those were most of the items that worried me most going into the program so having that structure to figure out which option best suited me was very beneficial.

The only things I had to organize on my own were meeting people and travel plans, but talking to other students there and who had previously studied abroad made those two tasks very easy.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The biggest piece of advice I'd give to anybody potentially wanting to study abroad anywhere is to go into the experience very open-minded. It's a new opportunity to re-brand yourself, learn about yourself, and discover new interests all while being fully immersed in a different language and culture. Trying your hardest to engage with locals and in the classroom makes the language transition much smoother and easier.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

In all honesty, every student's average week looked different.

Usually, my day would be waking up early, getting ready for school, having breakfast with my host mom, and catching the metro to go to class from 9 to 11. Some days I would then get a break from 12 to 3 where I would often work out or go to lunch with friends, but some days I worked at my internship with a Spanish company and I would work there for 8 hours.

When I got home, around 5:30 or 6, I would usually talk to my host mom about my day, maybe watch some TV with her, or take a small siesta and do homework.

Around 9 or 10, I would sit down and have dinner with my host mom and then, depending on the day of the week, would usually go out to grab drinks and hang out with friends from 12 until 3 or 4 and on the weekends as late as 6 am. Madrid is a very busy city and they like to party all night, so there's always something to do.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear while going abroad was surviving on my own in a foreign country.

My whole life, I had never been outside of the United States or even on a plane before my trip abroad. I've been away from my family for camps and such before, but those only lasted a week or so and I commuted to college so that feeling of independence was very new to me when I got on the plane to go to Madrid.

I knew nobody else from my school going on the trip, so I was going completely by myself but was excited about the challenge. I overcame this fear by trying to be prepared and open-minded. I wanted to know what to expect, but also be ready for anything that came my way and ended up adapting to the new culture, language, and people that I met and learned about during my stay. I even traveled by myself to Valencia for a weekend trip at the last second, not knowing anything about the city or what to do there and it ended up being my favorite visit during my semester.

What were your favorite experiences while abroad?

My semester in Madrid was by far my favorite of my college career to date. I learned more, grew more, and had more fun for my four months than I had previously for a similar stretch of time. With that being said, not everything was fun and games, but there were a few activities I enjoyed more than others.

I'm a big sports guy and have played basketball my whole life, so most of my favorite things involve athletics. I would go down to a local park often and play basketball with other local Spaniards and it helped me practice speaking in real-life situations and get to know more people. Through our requests, the IES staff also set up some "official" basketball games against local college teams for us American students to play against.

My other favorite experience was being able to go to a Real Madrid soccer game and being around locals during other matches. Soccer is like religion in Spain. The people take it very seriously and it was a lot of fun to be around people with that type of energy and intensity. In the US, soccer isn't a popular sport at the professional level, so being able to watch a top tier soccer team in a country that cares about it was a lot of fun.