Unique challenges of life in a foreign country leads to unexpected growth August 09, 2022

By (Philosophy, Middlebury College) - abroad from 01/12/2022 to 06/01/2022 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Madrid

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I made strides in my self-discovery and independence, first and foremost. I also radically improved my proficiency in Spanish. I learned to accept vulnerability in speaking a language imperfectly among locals, I learned how to navigate life in a big city, and how to organize my time in a way that made me happy when I had no supervision over the structure of my days. I also gained new knowledge about Spanish culture and how to inquire about a foreigner's perspective on a variety of topics (family, religion, politics) in an unassuming way.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Personally, I found the academic rules and resources that Middlebury Schools Abroad in Spain offered its students made the program more stressful rather than helpful. The coursework itself was challenging and worthwhile but the program overall could have been directed in a more supportive way of students' experience in a foreign country.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administration of the Middlebury office in Spain prioritized making the program as difficult and inflexible as it could be for students so that students wouldn't "slack off" abroad. This was frustrating because the administration created rules that do not even apply on campus in Vermont. For example, students could not have a single unexcused absence throughout the semester, and the standards for an excused absence were unreasonable. If you were sick, you had to get a doctor's note to justify missing class. Living in Madrid, the process of reaching a doctor to receive a note (which had to be sent before class) was not easily accessible, particularly with early morning classes. At Middlebury, almost all classes employ a policy that allows 1-2 unexcused absences in a semester. Thus, the administration in Spain was not trying to maintain the standards of Middlebury College in VT, but was going beyond those standards to enforce even more inflexibility. Given that studying in a foreign country naturally creates new challenges for students, I found the added and unnecessary difficulties created by the administration to be not only unreasonable but insensitive to the nature of a study around experience.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived with a host-family, which was my favorite part of my whole experience abroad. Living with locals exposed me to what life is really like for Spanish citizens, and I learned a great deal about their culture. Additionally, living with a host-family was the biggest cause of improvement in my Spanish, as my family didn't speak any English.

* Food:

I am not a picky eater, so I had no problems with the food I was served at my host-family's house. The only issue that arose with my host-family was miscommunication regarding how many meals my rent entitled me to and when those meals would be provided. I suggest students have an open conversation with their host-family at the start of their time abroad so that a system can be made with everyone onboard, particularly if you are planning to travel and thus not be home consistently.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

My experience at the local Spanish university (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and living with a host-family made me feel as integrated into the culture as I think I could have been. Naturally, there were social barriers, particularly between myself and local university students who all knew each other already, but I think those barriers are inevitable to some extent.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The Middlebury administration in Madrid referred us to a few hospitals and doctor's office, and the one I used throughout the semester was helpful and accessible when you called in advance to make an appointment.

* Safety:

I felt very well-prepared by the Middlebury administration in Spain to navigate Madrid in a safe manner. Spain has high rates of petty theft, but if you are alert and cautious, students can enjoy the city to its fullest in a safe manner.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I absolutely loved Spain and Madrid, I had a wonderful relationship with my host-family, and I made great friends. I also appreciated how much this program emphasized cultural integration, rather than creating a program which just felt like American students traveling throughout Europe without experiencing the culture, as I've heard other American abroad programs do.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • My experience with my host-family
  • The amount of independence I was granted
  • All the opportunities and experiences offered in Madrid
* What could be improved?
  • The academic expectations of the Middlebury School in Madrid
  • The support for students living with host-families, both regarding meal plan expectations and the room & board payment process
  • Clear expectations for host families so that they all provide uniform services for all students, with respect to cleaning and meals
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew how challenging it would be. Before going abroad, I always heard "you're going to have the time of your life" and "it'll be so fun," but nobody warned me about how difficult it would be to navigate a foreign country on my own, with all my family and friends across the Atlantic Ocean, in a different time zone. Ultimately, the richness of the program was a product of the challenges I experiences, as they forced me to grow more than I even knew I could. So, I don't regret or resent how difficult it was in any way, I just wish I could have anticipated that aspect of abroad more beforehand.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Outright Urbanite
A social butterfly, you're happiest in bustling cities with hip people, and took advantage of all it had to offer. You enjoyed the nightlife, and had fun going out dancing, and socializing with friends. Fun-loving and dressed to the nines, you enjoyed discovering new restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars in your host country.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Sintaxis Avanzada

Course Department: Spanish
Instructor: Carmen Caballo Sanchiz
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: I enjoyed the content of the class and found it very useful to learn more nuanced grammar and new terminology to advance my Spanish. We were assessed with midterm and final exams, short essays, and oral presentations. The only problem I had with the class was that I thought it was poorly taught. The teacher was extremely disorganized, often starting class 15 minutes late due to tardiness and/or a delay in setting up the lesson plan. Because of her disorganization, lessons were usually taught in a rushed manner, making it difficult to learn and leaving little (or sometimes no) time to ask questions. There was also often confusion among students about our homework assignments, as they were frequently posted incorrectly or weren't posted at all, in which case we had to email her to ask for the assignment.
Credit Transfer Issues: No.
Course Name/Rating:


Course Department: Philosophy
Instructor: Marcela Velez
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: This course was extremely difficult for me because the nature of the subject would have been very challenging in my first language, so to study it in my second language was exceedingly difficult. We read authors such as Aristotle, Kant, and Hume, and the study of Ontology involves its own vocabulary, which is new to me in English as much as it is in Spanish. Additionally, the professor did not use any PowerPoint presentations or handouts in her lesson plans. Instead, she taught by simply lecturing to the class, which I found very difficult to follow as I was the only international student in the class.
Credit Transfer Issues: No.
Course Name/Rating:

Filosofía Política Contemporánea

Course Department: Philosophy
Instructor: Carmen Madorrán Ayerra
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: This class was challenging because, once again, I was the only American student in the class and it was entirely taught in Spanish. However, this professor used PowerPoints and was also more understanding of my language limitations, so I found the class less intimidating and easier to follow.
Credit Transfer Issues: No.
Course Name/Rating:

Cambios Socioculturales

Course Department: Anthropology
Instructor: Aída Esther Bueno Sarduy
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: This class was very challenging with high expectations for class participation, thorough and detailed work, and written, reading, and oral language proficiency. Additionally, the class assigned many academic readings that used sociological and anthropological terms which I did not know in English, so that added a new barrier in Spanish. Nonetheless, the teacher was incredibly kind, passionate, and engaging, so the class was very enriching and all the hard work paid off.
Credit Transfer Issues: No.