My experience abroad was extremely worthwhile. Not only did I greatly improve my Spanish speaking abilities, make new American and foreign friends, and explore all over Spain and Europe, but I also grew a lot as a person. Mainly, I experienced a new level of independence traveling in foreign countries by myself, and gained a fresh perspective on the US and also found a love for Spanish art!
I lived with a wonderful host mom and another American student. This experience, I think, is the best way to get immersed in the Spanish culture. She spoke to my roommate and I exclusively in Spanish and helped our language capabilities immensely. I learned a lot about Spain and the culture through our conversations, and got to know a network of other Spaniards through meeting her neighbors and extended family. My roommate and I each had our own bedrooms and had a separate bathroom, and the apartment was always extremely clean. I was in a safe neighborhood, very close to a lot of restaurants and shops and walking distance to school.
I will admit, I was a little nervous about having my food needs met in Spain as a vegetarian. However, my host mom was very accommodating to my food restrictions and still made me traditional Spanish dishes, just often substituting meat or fish with eggs or beans. She also let us use her kitchen to make dinners at night, and often let us eat leftovers from lunch for dinner.
As for the classes,they are fairly easy in comparison to the coursework I am accustomed to at my home university. That being said, the professors are knowledgeable in their subjects and very understanding about speaking clearly (and repeating things) in Spanish and about accommodating students. The art classes in particular are fantastic, as they take place in the Prado and Reina Sofia museums and you learn about the art as you look at it!
One thing that really stood out to me about this particular program is that the staff at IES Madrid is incredible. They are all extremely friendly and eager to get to know each student as a person- they had all of our names memorized day 1! They work very hard to get everyone matched into classes they want. I was on the waitlist for 4 out of the 5 classes I ended up taking- they got me into every class I wanted. They also put a lot of effort into extracurricular activities and program-lead trips to places that a typical abroad student might not know to visit. Overall, I cannot recommend IES Abroad Madrid- Language and Area Studies program enough.