Then & Now: A Month in Madrid

Andie Filler
October 17, 2016
Casa de Campo

My trip to Madrid, despite being over 20 hours, was relatively smooth. I arrived in the Madrid-Barajas airport, picked up my luggage from baggage claim, and stopped at the exchange station to convert my US dollars to Euros (if possible, I would recommend trying to get foreign currency through your bank at home before leaving – you get a better conversion rate and avoid the hassle of exchanging money in a foreign language). I was greeted by IES Abroad personnel who ushered me into a taxi along with another student. I arrived at the hotel a few hours before the time in which the whole group was to convene, so I had some time to relax and gather my thoughts. For the remainder of that day and the next, we were given a number of orientation presentations regarding safety, academics, etc. On the first day we were allowed a good amount of free time in the evening. I would highly recommend using this time to figure out your phone situation abroad.  It took me about a week to get a phone plan because I didn’t know what features I should expect to get. First and foremost, it is pretty much impossible to get a contract plan abroad because you need a bank record of at least three months. This pretty much leaves you with two options – buy a new SIM card with a top-up/pay-as-you-go plan for your existing phone or buy a new, cheap phone with a SIM card included. I personally chose just to get a new SIM card for my existing phone and was able to find a plan that included a fair amount of data nationally (roaming data exists but is difficult to come by) and have no complaints so far.

The view of Madrid from my hotel room

The second, and final, day of orientation concluded with us meeting and returning to our respective homestays with our host families. My name was called first and I was greeted by my host mother, Piedy. She was very kind and welcoming from the start and pointed out places of interest in the neighborhood on our walk from the hotel to her family’s apartment (which felt like it took about 5 hours with the amount of luggage I had!). Upon entering the apartment, I was excitedly greeted by Happy, the family dog. I am the only student in my particular homestay, which actually seems to be a bit of a rarity after talking to other students in the program. Over the course of the next few days I was able to meet the rest of the family – my host dad, Angel, and the two kids, Angel and Javier. Another tip (which I actually gleaned from reading a previous IES Abroad student’s blog) is to bring a small gift from your hometown or home university for your host family. I gave my host family a book with photos of Arizona along with an Arizona Cardinals football for the kids. Not only could I tell that they appreciated the thoughtfulness, it also served as a great icebreaker that first week.

My homestay room


Living in someone else’s home is without a doubt a bit strange. I definitely struggled with finding my place in the family dynamic during my first couple weeks in Madrid and am honestly still navigating it. This is in no way a reflection on my host family – they have been nothing but helpful and supportive. It’s just difficult to glean the degree to which you should extend past your role as a guest and integrate into the family. While this caused me a bit of stress early on, I have since become fairly comfortable with the way things are and have accepted that everyone’s relationship with their host family is different. I do, however, just want to reiterate how much I have enjoyed getting to know my host family and how lucky I am to be in the homestay situation that I am!


Parque Oeste


Happy, my homestay dog!

Now onto academics, the "real" reason we’re here *wink wink*. The first week was a bit overwhelming considering we arrived in Madrid on Monday and had our first day of class on Wednesday (at 9 am no less!). On Wednesday, a local student helped us navigate the metro and find our classrooms. This was incredibly helpful and definitely took away some of the stress of the first day. My first and only class that day was Anatomy and Physiology, and I was lucky enough to have a couple of other IES Abroad students in my class. While certain classes at the university are offered in Spanish, the majority of them (and the only ones IES Abroad will let you take) are in English, which is relieving. After fiddling with my schedule the first week, I ended up with two classes at UC3M, a university a little over an hour away from my homestay and two classes at the IES Abroad Center, a quick fifteen-minute walk from my apartment. My best advice in regard to academics is to be as flexible as possible. When IES Abroad tells you to list twice as many classes as you plan on taking on your course approval list, DO IT! I promise it will make your life a whole lot easier if you have a viable list of options. I, after frantically doing a few hours worth of researching and sending emails, ended up enrolling in a Business Management class that fulfills a requirement for my Sustainability minor – a class I would have never really thought of taking before. After that initial struggle of figuring out my schedule, classes have been relatively manageable so far. The day-to-day is very similar to that of a class in the U.S., however grades here are largely contingent on the final exam, which is slightly terrifying. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to study a variety of topics, however, a luxury that I don't really have at my home university.

IES students at UC3M after class

While there is much, much more to report, to wrap up this reflection: life in Madrid has certainly had its ups and downs; but so far, I have had such an incredible, fulfilling experience, and I truly cannot wait for what else lies in store!





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Andie Filler

<p>Hi! My name is Andrea, but everyone calls me Andie. I go to Santa Clara University for Bioengineering and am dedicated to sustainable living and environmental studies. Besides my research on campus, my passions include playing soccer (or should I say fútbol) and ultimate frisbee. I obsess over chocolate and sweets and my even sweeter dog Stanley back home in Mesa, Arizona. This fall I am going on an adventure in Madrid where I will attempt to communicate with the locals, go on a quest for the best desserts in Spain, and absorb an entirely different culture - follow along during my studies, but mostly fun, as I capture the unique essence of Spain!</p>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Santa Clara University
Engineering - General
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