Indiana University Overseas Study

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

I have now spent approximately two and a half months in Madrid, and while I certainly have much to learn, I have gathered a small list of advice to anyone planning to study in Madrid.

sunset, park

Sunset in Parque Retiro. I love coming here to run, read, and see sunsets.

1. If you don’t already have it, download Whatsapp to any mobile device you plan to bring to Spain.

Even if you don’t plan to buy a data plan for a smart phone (which I would highly recommend), I would recommend at least having the app for the easiest method of communication with other program participants as well as Spaniards. From potential landlords to Spanish classmates, most Spaniards I have met use Whatsapp instead of texting because texting phone plans are relatively expensive.

2. Find your Spanish comfort food.

While you may be able to find a bag or bottle of your favorite snack from the States, finding a uniquely Spanish or Madrileñan food can help with the transition to living in Spain. In my own experience, I found such comforts in some of the many ice cream stores and tapas bars after several long afternoons of apartment hunting (Kalua Helado Artesanal or Mercado San Ildefonso, for starters).

3. Take advantage of easy travel within Spain and Europe, but don’t forget about Madrid!

Madrid offers virtually limitless options for entertainment, shopping, and cultural activities. I have not regretted a single weekend that I’ve spent in Madrid because there is constantly something waiting to be discovered.

Palacio Real

Palacio Real in the city center. One of the many cultural sites in Madrid.

4. Read or watch Spanish and international news daily.

I may not have known much about current Spanish news, but Spaniards I’ve met have been quite well-read on both Spanish and American news. I like El País, but El Periódico and ABC are also good choices (and all have mobile apps).

5. Cafés are not for studying, generally.

Unlike the IMU Starbucks, cafés in Madrid are not for studying. If you’re looking to study outside of your apartment, university or public libraries will be good alternatives. However, there are a few cafés that have become popular hangouts for American students to study. Located in the attractive Malasaña neighborhood, La Bicicleta offers great afternoon snacks and a comfortable (if not loud and English-heavy) study environment.

6. Limit time messaging/Skyping with American friends and family.

More than just helping to adjust to living in a foreign country, this helped with keeping my mind focused on adapting to Spanish.

7. Complutense classes are daunting, but not impossible.

Spanish students, unlike their American counterparts, take classes exclusive to their majors (carreras), which means they are very well versed in their field by their second or third year at university. So when I began my third-year Spanish literature course with little background knowledge besides my an introductory Hispanic literature course, I was flustered by the amount of literary connections from prior classes students were able to make. But with the help of a tutor to review class notes, I’ve found that I am slowly but surely catching up.

8. Reunidas (American-style teaching) classes transform Spain into a living classroom.

I’ve found that the classes in which I have learned the most are those about contemporary Spain. They have helped tremendously in understanding the economic, social, and political issues in the daily news.


Interior of the Basilica of San Lorenzo of the Escorial Monastery, just an hour-long bus ride from Madrid. I learned about this monastery-mausoleum in several of the Reunidas classes this semester.

9. Even at the heart of the Spanish capital, you will find that many Spaniards are also fluent in English.

This has been a frustrating aspect of being an American in a Spanish-speaking city. Many times when Spaniards hear our American accents, they try to speak in English to help us. However, as an American trying to learn Spanish, it is important to keep speaking in Spanish, even if it’s not perfect.

10. Be aware of pickpockets.

I say this not for a scare factor, because the issue has mostly to do with being aware of your surroundings. My closest encounter with pickpockets occurred on a very crowded metro on a Friday night. While that was a stirring experience, I realized that Spaniards are just as leery and vulnerable as tourists are. I’ve found that sticking together and voicing any suggestion of danger are the names of the game in these situations.

11. Madrid’s nightlife lives up to its name, but at a price.

There seem to be countless unique bars, restaurants, and clubs in Madrid. However, most have quite expensive menus or entry fees.

12. Struggling with the language is a difficult but necessary part of the learning process.

Everyone in the program, no matter their previous language skills, struggles with the language. What we learn in an American classroom doesn’t compare to the reality of living and interacting with Spaniards, who enjoy their own set of refrains and vocabulary unique to the Iberian Peninsula. The key is, as in most things in life, to try, try, try again.

13. Always keep a metro map (and card) and/or a 20EUR bill with you.

Even if you don’t want to look like a tourist, a metro map or some taxi money would allow you to go anywhere in the city in an hour or less.

14. Save yourself suitcase space and frustration—buy personal electronic appliances in Madrid.

In the case of many friends here, many American appliances such as straighteners or electric razors don’t work with Spanish outlets. As the Spanish say, “A Corte Inglés” (Corte Inglés is a large internationally-focused chain that carries many items not typically found in Spanish supermarkets and other stores).

15. Use Spanish whenever you are not talking with your American family and friends.

This, like all of these points, depends entirely on your personal goals, but as someone who wants to master the Spanish language during my limited time here, limiting myself to only speaking Spanish with other program participants and natives here is the way to go.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

Vincent Halloran - Buenos Aires

Something I learned quickly upon arriving to Buenos Aires is that political correctness, at least in the way we as Americans understand it, does not really exist. Instead, discourse is largely without limits for most Argentines, whether it’s regarding their distaste for the political status quo or a critique of your fashion choices on a given day (my pink chino shorts have attracted diverse comments, even from strangers, ranging from praise to looks of horror—though that may have been because it was 50 degrees). Becoming accustomed to the directness of discourse here, like having a professor tell you without hesitation that he is an unwavering supporter of the current regime and that any reasonable person should be too, is difficult at first. In the United States, so much is left unsaid in regards to certain topics, such as religion, race or politics, or at the very least subject to an unwritten code we all abide by when addressing these polemic topics.


I recently visited La Bombonera, home to the most popular and controversial club in Argentina, Boca Juniors.

I learned during my first ride on the subway here in Buenos Aires, referred to as the “Subte” by porteños, that politics in its rawest form is an intrinsic part of Argentine life. As I stood on the platform, watching a city government announcement advertising a program to provide shelters to the homeless during the colder months, I turned to an American friend to note the benevolent program. As soon as I looked away from the screen with my approving look, a well-dressed older Argentine woman interjected forcefully with one word, Mentiras! (Lies!) I learned then that I was in for a semester at the front row of a chaotic and controversial election season, and that my Argentine hosts would not hesitate to let me know where they stood.

There are two issues, as controversial as they come in Argentine life, that Americans (or norteamericanos as we are called here in the rest of the Americas) are best advised to avoid in all but the most intimate of settings: futbol (soccer) and the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). The domestic soccer league divides the city and nation into entrenched neighborhood and class-centered tribes, with passions so high that they often turn into riots and have forced games to be played in stadiums devoid of fans to avoid trouble. One club stands out amongst the rest as a center for admiration (or loathing depending on your perspective) among all the rest, the dominant Boca Juniors. In Boca, games had gotten so wild, with opposing fans and foreigners being harassed and beaten in the stands, that games are now closed to all but members of the club’s official supporters group. Noting the sometimes violent passion of the local fans, it is best to stay on the sidelines of these disagreements and instead wear neutral colors, like the always acceptable Messi jersey.

A sign I saw in the regional capital of Cordoba in Argentina's interior. Signs like this, depicting the outline of the Malvinas (or Falklands as the are known to the British) and some defiant slogan can be found everywhere. This one says, "It is prohibited to forget them, they are not negotiable."

A sign I saw in the regional capital of Cordoba in Argentina’s interior. Signs like this, depicting the outline of the Malvinas (or Falklands as the are known to the British) and some defiant slogan can be found everywhere. This one says, “It is prohibited to forget them, they are not negotiable.”

The other issue that any foreigner is best advised to avoid in any circumstance other than in outright support of the Argentine stance, is the question of the sovereignty of the Islas Malvinas. The Malvinas lie off Argentina’s southern Atlantic coast and are inhabited by several thousand British citizens as an overseas territory of the Crown. However, for Argentines, the Malvinas are an example of imperialism and colonization, unacceptably incompatible with trends of decolonization and historical claims. Argentina even once went to war in an attempt to retake the Islands, invading in 1982 in the final months of the military dictatorship; however, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government quickly defended the Islanders and retook the Malvinas. This issue, seemingly engrained in every Argentine irregardless of political ideology, is so strongly felt and controversial that it is best left off-limits at all times. Though Argentina is often a land of the politically incorrect, it is often best to just be a bystander to it all, so as to better learn and enhance our own individual cultural understanding.

Vincent Halloran - analyzing Argentine political and economic models

Adam Pease - Madrid, Spain

Before leaving for my yearlong study abroad experience in Madrid, my two biggest concerns were (1) being away from friends and family and (2) finding a place to live in Madrid.

Part of the Wisconsin-Indiana-Purdue (WIP) Madrid study abroad experience is finding our own housing. This means just a few days after arriving (not even fully recovered from jet lag), we began looking through neighborhoods and online advertisements for rooms to rent for the semester or year.

This was my first time looking for an apartment—and during this inaugural saga, we had the special bonus of doing it all in Spanish.

Needless to say, my housing search during my first month here was quite the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire experience. However, at each step of the way I was comforted by the fact that each of us on the program was encountering the same challenges.

Segovia on excursion

Vista of Segovia on a program excursion.

From our first feeble attempts at calling landlords (if you’re wondering what heart palpitations feel like, I suggest calling a Madrileñan landlord with virtually no prior experience talking on the phone in a foreign language) to running to and from metro stations for apartment showings, at each step I had fellow WIPers along for the ride.

Our program administrators shared that year after year, alumni of the program say that this first task is one of the most rewarding—albeit most challenging—aspects of the program due to the absolute necessity of speaking to native Spaniards in Spanish. While I can confirm this statement first-hand in respect to my language skills, I also think my housing search was an essential part of finding not just a roof over my head, but also a community here in Madrid, formed by the shared trials, failures, and resolutions of living abroad in Madrid.

In that sense, this ongoing journey of learning the Spanish language and becoming accustomed to the Madrileñan culture seems to be more than the sum of its parts. Gaining a sense of family here has helped to transcend this experience from a “study” abroad experience to one of “living” abroad.

For me, it has been a conjunto (“grouping”) of experiences and people that has made this semester all it has been: at first, all the stressors that come with culture shock and learning curves in a new place, but also (most significantly) a multitude of connections—to my Madrileñan neighborhood, to my Spanish classmates, to the host language itself, and to my peers who have been along this same journey since we stepped foot in the Madrid-Barajas Airport.

hiking in Madrid

Hiking in the Sierras of Madrid with fellow program participants.

I would be lying if I were to say that I don’t miss my home in Indiana. But I must say that truly have found, finally, a home in Madrid.

Adam Pease - writing with a passion for visual art and social history

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

At some point in September, a woman from our program asked if I was going to be at the fútbol [soccer] tournament during some weekend in October. I immediately said “absolutely,” and didn’t realize until I was home the day of 15 hours of fútbol would be on my 21st birthday.

Of course I had my hesitations about waking up at 6:45 AM to drive two hours to a professional-sized cancha [field] to play four games of fútbol and return that night around 8 PM. Adding the fact that a huge carrete [party] would be going on when we got home that we’d have to rush to did not add to the excitement of a day many people countdown to in the US.

However, this may have been one of my favorite birthdays yet.

We arrived to San Felipe, Chile to the house of our coach, Jefe Kelly [Boss Kelly], where her little sister let me hold a baby bunny for half an hour as they surprised me by singing happy birthday with a giant piece of cake. A giant piece of cake while holding a bunny. It was a dream.

dirt soccer field

After arriving at the cancha (that was straight out a movie situated between hills and the Andes mountains next to a herd of cows), we played an exhausting game of fútbol, took a ridiculous amount of pictures, and walked to an asado [barbeque] that was being set up for us. Being surprised with another huge cake and getting my face shoved in it as thirty of my newest Chilean friends sang Feliz Cumpleaños [Happy Birthday], was one of the coolest things of my life.

Marie with cake on her face

As soon as we arrived back to our home, it was a race against the clock to shower, get ready, and walk over to celebrate three birthdays: mine on that day, my friend’s host sister’s the next day, and my friend’s two days later. With my tomato sun-burnt face, we arrived to hugs and kisses from every one of our friends and about 100 new ones I had never met, but who were just as kind as the friends I had known for months. Feliz cumple, Marie! Que linda! [Happy birthday, Marie! How cute!] was what I heard for the first thirty minutes of the party as everyone gave me two hugs and kissed my cheek at least four times. When the clock struck twelve and my birthday ended as Fiorella’s started, and the third cake of the day was brought out.

One might imagine a cake to celebrate three birthday’s might be rather large. This cake was so large that I thought Taylor’s host mom was going to fall over from holding it. Marvelous. We sang once in Spanish, once in English, and then more friends showed up maybe five minutes later. So we did it again. One more blowing out of the candles and two more songs.

host mom bringing out cake

Although I didn’t get the typical “first legal drink” pic, or people buying your drinks at the bars, I got three cakes, four Feliz Cumpleaños songs, two Happy Birthday songs, countless hugs and even more kisses, and I got to spend my birthday with people I didn’t know and people I did.

Since I chose to go abroad in the fall, I’ve been nervous about spending my birthday here because I knew I wouldn’t have any of my family to see or any of my life-long friends to dance with. But instead, I got to make probably 1,000 new friends who were all genuinely thrilled it was my birthday. I love them, and I’m coming back every year to get sun-poisoning from 15 hours of fútbol and three cakes in a day.

soccer team

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

Explaining what it’s like to live with a host family is extraordinarily hard. It’s almost as hard to explain as it is to live.

Imagine living on your own for two years without ever having to tell anyone what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re coming home. To go from two years of being completely independent back to answering those questions is extremely difficult. It’s like when you go home for summer break back to a house with rules and expectations except this is five months adding the element of different cultural expectations and a different language.

Living with a host family isn’t so much about answering the questions of who you’re going with and where you’re going and when you’re getting home, but by habit, you say those things anyway.

Voy a salir con mis amigas y probablemente voy a regresar después de once y no necesitan esperarme. [I’m going to leave with my friends and probably will return after dinner, so you don’t need to wait for me.]

That sentence is on my top three most frequently used sentences. After [yes] and ¿qué significa esta? [what does that mean?]. Almost always the response includes a smile with a thumbs up followed by a serious face drop to ten cuidado Meri [be careful, Marie]. Once in a while though, the response is something along the lines of, “Do you leave so often because you hate my cooking!?” And when that happens, it’s like a slap in the face reminder that I live with a family again.

The fact that you have to tell people you’re leaving isn’t the hard part. The hard part is finding out what your host family holds high. For example, it took me 70 days of living in this house to realize that my host family really cares about the family eating together whenever at all possible. It also took me 70 days to realize that spending the entire day in your room except for times when you’re eating dinner is okay, and they don’t do it because they hate you.

Obviously, I’m not speaking for all Chilean families when I say this, but of all the houses (6) I’ve seen since being here, there is no living room like we have in the US. There’s no place where you watch the latest episode of Parks and Rec together while eating pizza or drinking chocolate milk. Instead, the gathering place is the bed of the parents where they catch up on their latest soap operas or watch the breaking news about another earthquake strike. Some nights, dinner, which consists of bread and tea, is spent in the bed as well. The idea of family bonding is extremely different here than in the US, and that’s what has been so challenging about moving in with a new family.

Me with my host family

In my house, family bonding is even more different from some of my friend’s houses. I live with a host mom, dad, and sister—all of whom are much older. Living with a set of grandparents has its pros and cons. Not going on adventures and only leaving the house together when we have a meeting to go to are absolutely on the con list.

However, pros include things like grandkids running through the house and the understanding that comes with having raised four children. I still get asked questions about where I am going, but it’s more for them to know where I am in case an 8.4 earthquake strikes. They’ve grasped the idea that I’m a 21-year-old who will be going out and living life outside of the house. They also understand that after a game of fútbol [soccer], I might not have the biggest desires to sit at the dinner table and eat with everyone. Sometimes a tray filled with food, a bed, and Netflix is all you need at the end of the day.

So, yes, living with a host family is really hard and isn’t always butterflies and rainbows. However, since moving in 87 days ago, I’ve learned over 100 new vocab words (especially food), tried 100 new kinds of food, and made little 7-year-old friends—all of things I would never had experienced if I chose a program that doesn’t require host families. Don’t get me wrong, those programs have their pros too, and I probably would have adjusted a little faster to a live in a dorm that I’ve lived before. Although, living in a dorm would have meant I would have never found my Chilean friends, I would have never tried cooked cabbage with hotdogs and potatoes, and I would have never had a host mom to hug me when a lady stole my smart phone on the bus.

Even though it took 70 days of this 151 day journey, I am very lucky to live in a house with home cooked meals and pieces of cake next to my bed when I get home after a day of class.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Los Toros

Debora Estrada Lobo

The corridas de toros has been cultural tradition in Spain for many ages. Although it was the romans who started this tradition during their Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the modern corrida de toros was established. Since then, this tradition has become one of many emblems of Spain and its culture. Although this tradition remains, there currently great debate about its continuity as many Spaniards and animal lovers consider this tradition a cruel abuse towards the toros.


Last weekend I attended my first corrida de toros with a group of friends. I was personally not very affected by what I saw, as I had a good understanding on what to expect. However, many of my friends were repulsed by the spectacle. I think there are two ways we can think about the tradition. We can see it as a cruel abuse towards the bulls or an art and
cultural tradition.151007d

This current dispute has caught my attention and so I have researched both sides. Yes, there is no doubt that the bulls are being hurt with the final goal of having them killed. Yes, people are watching a spectacle and will most likely watch a bull die at the hands of a torero. The antitaurinos claim the tradition to be destructive, cruel and torturous towards animals. If we were to see the corridas de toros in just this way, everyone would probably be against such a show. However, the people who want the tradition to continue also have good points.

According to my research, toros bravos are some of the only animals that are well treated, and roam freely, throughout their life outside of the arena. Like many other animal meats, the meat of the toros killed at the corridas are also eaten. Not only is the meat used but their skins are also used to produce leather goods. Aside from the goods that may come from the bull, the animal is one of few that can fight for its life and “die with dignity.” With this information we can also see the other side of the dispute.151007b

I personally think that the art that some claim the corridas to have comes from the toreros. On average, toreros start training from a very young age and have to not only be physically and mentally prepared but also have to perform with a certain aesthetic manner and technique. This is what I think make the fight interesting to watch. Throughout the last portion of the fight the matador and the bull are in close proximity of each other; at some points, the matador can even have an arm around the bull as it circles the matador.

If there was not the possibility of death to either party, I think anyone could see a certain beauty in the movement of both parties. As this is not the case, the corridas de toros are certainly not for the faint hearted as in the end, either the toro or torero will die.

Debora Estrada Lobo - exploring contemporary Spain

Debora Estrada Lobo

It’s been almost a month since I first arrived in Seville, yet I feel as if I have been here much longer while also feeling as if yesterday was my first day here. Seville is a beautiful city, its streets are always busy and there is a contagious and calm lifestyle. My fellow classmates and I like to describe it as a “pueblo” within a city. A city that is not only rich in culture but also with an interesting history.

Throughout these past weeks, every person in my group has experienced different hardships or experiences; however, my experiences have sometimes been very different from the rest of the group. I should start by saying that I am both bilingual and bicultural. And although being completely fluent in Spanish has its benefits, it also seems to have some restraining aspect.

Being fluent in Spanish does allow you to better communicate with Spaniards and fend for yourself; however, speaking Spanish so fluently seems to take the charm away from being a foreigner. This does not mean that I’m not interacting and making friends with locals, it simply means that locals seem more interesting in talking to those who do not resemble or talk like Spaniards. Maybe they just like having a hard time talking to someone! Oddly enough, I’m not the only one with this interesting setback—a fellow bilingual Hoosier is also experiencing this phenomenon. Having been on the other side on many occasions, I think the charm comes from the interest and the effort a person makes to get to know the culture and country that he or she is visiting. Nonetheless, the fluid interactions we have with the locals can be deeper, more interesting, two-sided and very rewarding. While I’m in Spain, I will take in as much Spanish interaction as possible, foreign charm or not.

The non-language barrier has also had an effect on my host family. Concha, my host mother, has commentated on the ease and difference it makes to have a fluent Spanish speaker in her home. Not only do we easily talk about our days and deeper subjects, but my biculturalism has also been appreciated. Since I arrived I have become involved in the kitchen and other small house activities that other students have not been engaged in due to a difference in culture or simply due to some communication issues.

However, whether you are bilingual, studying Spanish or just starting to learn the language, your experiences will be eye-opening and a great adventure! With only a month into my study abroad, I can already claim that some of my most wonderful memories are those that I have formed during this experience abroad.

Debora Estrada Lobo - exploring contemporary Spain


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 288 other followers

%d bloggers like this: