UCR Around the Globe: Madrid, Spain

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Rolan
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Rolan

Name: Kimberly Rolan

Major: Sociology

Area of Study: Madrid, Spain

Year: Junior

Host Institution: UC Center Madrid


What do I remember about my summer in Spain? I remember admiring the colossal and luminous Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela during warm evenings. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls Festival. I also remember dancing in the streets as the street musicians sang and played their instruments. I remember the delicious foods, the sounds of the Spanish language, along with various other memories that could fill an entire book.

But alas, I do not have space for every single recollection, so the following words will have to suffice. The first few days after I arrived at the airport in Madrid are a blur. After settling into our rooms and unpacking, the other students in my program and I met up. We then spent most of the night aimlessly walking around Madrid, marveling at the beautiful architecture and doing our best to find our way around the foreign city. We met back at the school the following morning for our first field trip: Segovia in the province of Castile y Leon. We boarded the charter bus, drove about an hour westward and arrived at one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

The directors had arranged for tour guides to lead us through the city. We explored the Alcazar de Segovia, a castle that sits on a hilltop overlooking the city, while learning about the history of the city’s architecture that was built by the Roman Empire. University of California Education Abroad Program Madrid offered two more trips: The first was a day trip to the medieval city of Toledo followed by a four-day excursion to the luscious, northwest province of Galicia.

But, of course, we also had to attend our classes during the week. The UCEAP program was a language and culture immersion program, so everyone took a language class and a culture class. Since I had taken three quarters of Spanish during my freshman year, I was placed into Spanish 4. Because of the intimate setting of each class, I was able to improve my Spanish conversation skills while learning new grammar rules and new vocabulary.

My culture class met twice a week. The first class of every week was held in a classroom as we learned about the history and the culture of Spanish life. The second class of every week was spent on field trips, including the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia, el Mercado de San Miguel (a large farmers’ market) and a tour of Sol, the main plaza of Madrid. These field trips allowed us to further explore Madrid while learning more about the history of each location.

After school, I took some time to explore the city by myself and was able to tour the royal palace, watch a flamenco show and the see the “futbol” stadium. One evening a few students and I even attended a salsa class that was being held at a local restaurant.

During the weekends, we were given the freedom to explore on our own. Some of the places I traveled to included Burgos, Pamplona for the Festival de San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) and the Alhambra in Granada. One weekend, a small group of us took a bus to the outskirts of Madrid and spent the entire day hiking through the breath-taking wilderness, observing the wild horses, cows and goats that freely roamed the countryside. There were also a series of lectures incorporated into our program, including one about the history of bull-fighting. After this lecture, we were invited to see a live bullfight and I understood afterward why bull-fighting is so controversial.

Spain is a beautiful country rich with ancient rituals, unique customs, a wide variety of yummy food and different provinces that each have their own unique, memorable essence. The yearning to travel is as common as apple pie, but the difference between studying abroad and traveling is that studying abroad allows a student to become immersed in a culture for months at a time while learning about their country of choice. Whether you decide on studying abroad for two months, four months or even eight months, I encourage every student to study abroad because you will be given opportunities to expand your comfort zone, learn another language and be given memories that will last a lifetime.


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