Flamenco, paella, temperate sun, and a striking sense of fashion; these are a few things that I had anticipated to see when I embarked on my flight from Kuwait City to Madrid. I was equipped with my previous (and ongoing) study abroad experience in the United States, and I was ready to set off on yet another journey in the beautiful country that gave birth to Goya and Velazquez (Spain; in case you haven’t guessed it yet). I was armed with a set of helpful instructions from IES Abroad, which aided me in detail from landing in Madrid Barajas Airport till I got to the hotel. That night, I met the students with whom I would spend the most amazing times, as well as the instructors who would make this experience as enriching and as fruitful as possible. We set off to get tapas (Spanish hors d’oeuvres) with drinks; the first visit of many to come. Later, I had met with the host family that IES had paired me with.
My family consists of Carmen and Àngel. with their daughter Maria. Carmen and Àngel are both retired teachers, while Maria works as a nurse in the local hospital. We lived in Embajadores, a borough of Madrid which is right off Centro (downtown). I spent my first two weeks just exploring Madrid as a part of orientation, with my family and with IES. From visits to the Prado museum to the long strolls through the Royal Gardens, it was truly dreamlike. Toward the end of those two weeks, I was introduced to the University in which I would resume taking my engineering degree requirements; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (The University of Carlos III of Madrid; or UC3M).
The engineering campus is situated in Leganes, a small city right outside of the City of Madrid, but still within the autonomous community (i.e. “governorate”) of Madrid. It took a daily 20- to 30-minute train ride from Centro to Leganes, but it really flew by every morning considering the beautiful scenic routes that the trains took. My classes had around 30-40 students on average, and the professors were really good. Everyone was bilingual, and the courses were offered in English and Spanish, on demand. Additionally, IES had appointed us with mandatory tutoring, which accounts for 25% of the grade of each course. This really helped adjust the students to the Spanish educational system, especially at the beginning. The Spanish system is a little different from the American one, but it’s not too wildly hard to adjust to. The grades are given on a 1-10 scale. There is hardly any homework, just a lot of lab work and engineering projects. Thus, the midterms hold quite a heavy weight, and so does the final (60%). However, the magical portion of the Spanish system is that you can virtually do nothing throughout the semester, and just take the final to account for your entire grade (a huge risk, but it’s an option for those who previously know the material, and have finished the practical aspects). In Spain, it is not so much about the value of the grade itself, but rather whether or not you passed or failed the class. So you can imagine that the rigor and amount of work expected in Spain tends to be more difficult, when a C is perceived to hold the same weight as an A; roughly speaking.
In addition to my three UC3M courses, I took an intermediate Spanish class at IES, whose campus was situated in Moncloa, in the heart of the City of Madrid. My Spanish instructor, Profesora Buesa, was more than just an instructor. She, as all IES staff, served as a general resource for all the questions and issues that were raised during our time abroad. IES staff were incredibly approachable and helpful, but they did more than just educate us. Every weekend, we had a cultural activity. These activities ranged from meeting up with Spanish peers, going to Flamenco shows (and classes), traveling to other places in Spain (there were so many trips that I lost count), to cooking classes. We truly experienced the beauty and diversity of Spanish culture, and we met some of the most amazing people with whom we made long-lasting friendships.
Overall, I would say that my time in Spain was definitely life-changing (and everyone who studied abroad will tell you same thing, and we’re not exaggerating). Spain is a place that I will be visiting repeatedly throughout my life. My hosts, friends I made, and instructors are people that I will keep in touch with. And to be quite honest, no one does it like IES. The guidance and the supervision are things I’ve lacked when I’ve studied in other countries (and I can say I’ve been to a few). A lot of it was redundant, but it was necessary. With regards to Spain: No es una “adios”, es una “hasta luego.” (It’s not a “goodbye”, it’s a “see you later.”)