IES abroad was one of the most formative experiences I have had as a young adult. The program itself is well organized and reputable. The staff has been with the program for many years and nothing comes to them as a surprise. They know how to make the program worthwhile and they are very sweet and helpful. Additionally, IES is very well connected within Madrid. For example, one of my classes was held at the Prado museum two days a week and taught by the coordinator of the Goya wing at the museum. Not only was he an amazing teacher, he was very well intentioned and cared about his students.
I was hesitant to choose homestay before I left for Madrid, but I am SO happy I did. I lived with a wonderful older woman and a roommate (we had separate rooms) and she ended up being like family to me. She had been in the program for many years and she was well acquainted with the social and travel life of study abroad students. Additionally, she lived in a very great part of Madrid that was residential, close to the school, and highly accessible to the rest of the city.
Just to give a day to day perspective of my experience, I would begin with my mandatory Spanish intensive course at 9am, which was surprisingly a blast and very helpful. I would have a break between classes and either go home or to the gym. I would go back to IES take my other courses and then return back to my homestay for comida. After comida, depending on my schedule I would either go to class at the Prado Museum or do odds and ends around the city. I would return home fairly late at about 7-8, and make myself a small dinner. (The midday meal is HUGE). Then I would either do homework or meet friends for food and drinks.
Another aspect I loved about IES was that it made travel very easy. I visited 22 towns and cities while I was abroad and I never felt overwhelmed. Additionally, the staff makes school fun. They are very Spanish in the way they approach schoolwork and social life and I wish Americans would be the same way.
I truly loved IES and my only complaint is that I wish I did it for a year. Finally! I think it's important to mention that IES was not the sponsored program at my college. I willingly declined the other program and had to petition in order to go on IES. I couldn't have been happier with my decision.