I had been recommended this program by my sister, who did an ACCENT program in Florence probably 12 years ago. She had an amazing time and met a really diverse, interesting group of people, so I followed in her footsteps and signed up for the Madrid program. Even before it began, Jill Heffron was really communicative with me via phone & email in the process of planning/enrolling, and eased any nerves I may have had about enrolling into an external study abroad program (I attended USF, and they didn't have a Madrid program that met what I was looking for). The semester before, I attended a USF program in Oxford, England, and didn't have a great experience, due to the people in my program, the lack of immersion I felt in the city, and the classes. Therefore, I was hoping for a better experience in Madrid, and knew it would certainly be much different.
Fortunately, I had a really great & memorable experience-- I was housed in an amazing modern & clean apartment in the Embajadores neighborhood near Madrid's city center, Sol. I saw other participants' living situations and all the apartments were very different and impressive. From the start, my roommates were easygoing people who came from different school backgrounds.
My classes were a mix of Spanish classes at Universidad Complutense and other Spanish culture courses at a building (conducted in English) which held classes for our program & other study abroad programs. I took a test to be placed into the correct level of Spanish classes, and I thought it was the right amount of challenge for me. The teachers were great at Complutense too-- engaging and had big personalities. What I loved the most was the chance to take classes with other international students outside of my program. I was in classes with people from Brazil, China, and Morocco, among others. I enjoyed having another way to socialize and find my own way outside of the program. Additionally, the experience of being at a Spanish university was great! So fun to see how Spaniards socialize, and I still think about the tortilla de patatas bocadillos that I'd order from vending machines at lunch.
The classes conducted in English were a bit challenging to succeed in, I thought, since the tests on the material didn't always match up to what we had learned, and a lot of weight was put into the final essays and test. Of course, I'm sure the professors and course formats have changed over time. I took an art course (taught by a Spaniard, as well) and a Spanish history course, both of which were amazing for the chance to visit El Prado.
As for the socializing and the trips, I really enjoyed the age range of the program participants. Everyone seemed to be at different stages of life, yet we became very close and I continued to meet up with friends from the program in San Francisco after it ended. Just recently, a photo from a trip during the program I had posted to Facebook resurfaced as someone had commented, reminiscing on how fun it was. I think in a lot of ways I didn't know what to expect, but my overall experience exceeded my expectations and today I think fondly of those 3 months.
Throughout the program, I felt safe and supported by the ACCENT staff if there was ever an issue. They planned optional weekend trips, a few of which I attended and had a great time. For me, the best part was the new friendships I made and the side trips we planned and made on our own (memorably: Lisbon, Portugal; Grenada, Spain; Germany; Barcelona, Spain).
Spain is amazing! :) I recommend 150%.