While academics were a big motivator for me going abroad, they did not take over my entire experience and I was able to embrace immersion and travel. The courses that I selected enhanced my understanding of Spanish culture and made me appreciate my surroundings more. I returned to my university with a full semester worth of credits, which has eased the stress of scheduling and filled required electives and courses on my transcript.
I attended classes Monday through Thursday, and they ran from 9am to 2:30pm with a 30 minute break in between the two classes I took each day. Class sizes were usually about 20 students, not all of which were studying abroad through CIEE. All of my classes were instructed in Spanish by local faculty.
First session I took (1) Don Quijote and the (2) History of the Great Painters: both were very cool because they built on the history of Alcalá de Henares. Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote, was born there, and the art history course enabled me to analyze artwork in the famous museums of Madrid.
Second session I took (3) Culture and Civilization of Spain and (4) Spanish film: again, directly applicable to my surroundings and very educational.
One course I wish I had taken while abroad was a gastronomy class where students learned about Spanish cuisine and visited restaurants for immersive experiences, and there were many other very interesting courses to choose from.
There was not much homework outside of class, and the most work was around midterms and finals time: teachers either gave a short quiz or assigned a paper for these, and I gave two presentations in Spanish during my time abroad. I also received a guided museum tour for my art history class.
My friends and I would study in the dormitory lounges, at tables in the university building, or find local coffee shops with WiFi. After completing homework on weekdays, there was still enough time in the day to go on a run or hike in Alcalá, try a new ice cream flavor at our favorite shops, go to a restaurant for dinner, take the train into Madrid for the evening, etc. I liked the flexibility of my schedule that allowed me to travel on weekends with friends and/or attend the fun CIEE-organized excursions without the stress of assignments.
Grading & Support
CIEE staff were very supportive of our studies and teachers were readily available for any help or advice we needed. It is important to note that teaching styles differ while abroad, and that the grade scale may be different but will still translate back to your university correctly. In Spain, my teachers presented slide shows and lectured during our 2.5-hour classes, and assignments were graded on a scale of 0 to 10.
My Daily Routine
- Wake up at 8am and get ready for the day.
- Eat breakfast in the dining hall at 8:30am (I lived in the dormitory, which was a 2-minute walk from the University of Alcalá). My favorite breakfast was eggs, turkey bacon, coffee, and fresh fruit or yogurt.
- Arrive at my first class by 9am and end by 11:30am.
- Break until 12pm: walk into town and grab coffee, pastries, or other snacks.
- Attend my second class at 12pm and end by 2:30pm.
- Return to the dining hall for lunch or walk into Alcalá to eat at a restaurant (standard lunch time in Spain is 2 or 3pm). My favorite lunch was Cuban rice with an egg, but the selection changed every day.
- Take a nap: crucial for fully immersing yourself in Spanish siesta culture!
- Do homework with friends in the dormitory study rooms or at tables in the university.
- Walk around Alcalá: get tapas with friends, go shopping, visit the park, etc.
- Eat dinner at 8:30 or 9pm in the dining hall or at restaurants in Alcalá.
- Get ice cream around Alcalá, spend time in the plaza with friends, hang out in the dormitory courtyard, etc.