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MIT-Madrid: five students share their study abroad experience

C.J. Enloe, Elise Myers and Franco Montalvo take a weekend trip to Segovia to explore the impressive castles and the world renowned Aqueducto de Segovia, seen in the background here.
C.J. Enloe, Elise Myers and Franco Montalvo take a weekend trip to Segovia to explore the impressive castles and the world renowned Aqueducto de Segovia, seen in the background here.
During a tour through the campus of Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Sara Comis, Saul Lopez, and Elise Myers huddled behind a parked car for shelter from the fiercely cold wind.
During a tour through the campus of Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Sara Comis, Saul Lopez, and Elise Myers huddled behind a parked car for shelter from the fiercely cold wind.

Five MIT students — C.J. Enloe (Course 14); Sara Comis, Saul Lopez and Franco Montalvo (Course 2); and Elise Myers (Course 12) — spent last semester in Madrid participating in the MIT-Madrid Program. They studied at two leading Spanish universities — Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and Universidad Complutense de Madrid — and experienced Madrid and Spanish culture through total immersion. They took classes with Spanish students, lived with Spanish families, ate Spanish food, and experienced Spanish traditions, way of life, art, architecture and more, up close.

The program also provides an option of interning at a company in Madrid alongside the academic coursework, and Sara Comis took advantage of that opportunity. The Global Education and Career Development Office asked the students to share what they think they accomplished and would remember most from their semester in Madrid and here is what they said.


During my semester in Madrid I took classes at the Universidad Complutense focusing on economics, culture and literature. My economic history class had the opportunity to attend several lectures at CaixaForum (modern art gallery sponsored by the bank la Caixa), where we heard guest speakers discuss relevant topics in economics and finance. I also got a chance to meet with a professor from the Universidad de Oviedo who has been conducting interview-based research on job seekers in Madrid (basically identical to one of my UROP projects back at MIT).

In addition to taking classes, I really enjoyed traveling around Spain and getting a sense for the country's many distinct regional cultures. My visit to Gijón, Asturias was particularly special for me because the city was home to my great-grandfather and his family before they moved to the United States in 1919. It was also really fun to see and experience regional celebrations such as Las Fallas in Valencia and Sevilla's Feria de Abril.

By far one of the best parts of my Madrid experience was living with my host mom, Helena. She very generously welcomed us into her home and I loved having conversations with her about Spain and discussing the cultural differences between Spain and the United States. Living with a host family and taking classes in Spanish really helped me with my spoken language skills, and I feel that I greatly improved both my Spanish and my level of cultural awareness during my five months in Madrid. Taking a semester to study abroad and immerse myself in an entirely different culture was one of the best decisions I've made during my time here at MIT!


During my semester in Madrid I took classes at Politecnica (at two different campuses) and at Complutense universities where the learning cultures were entirely different from the one I was so used to at MIT. In addition, I took 2.002 online. I think the biggest accomplishment of living abroad for me was the amount of travel and exploration that I was able to do. It was really a mind-opening experience that widened and clarified my view of the world, not simply because of the sheer exposure to so many different ways of life, but also from the people I met along the way and the intricacies of life that seem to catch me by surprise and leave me in awe at times.

Aside from that, exposure to different work styles and school atmospheres greatly revolutionized my mode of thinking and re-emphasized the fact that there are multiple "right ways" to do things. It is kind of ironic, but the most significant and life-changing experience of my undergraduate education at MIT happened abroad. I feel like I learned something that no one else here knows. And, when I walk through the campus halls, I can't help but feel like I've got a little secret worth so much more than any project, Pset, or exam: and I am so ready to share it as best I can.


While I was in Madrid I took courses at Politecnica (at two different campuses) and at Complutense universities and at each of those schools I met people with entirely different frames of mind who see the world much differently than people I've met at MIT. I learned what motivates, inspires, and worries these students. Being introduced to different people from all over the world and discovering their values really put my own values and what I consider important into perspective. These interactions led to intangible changes within me that I will continue to reflect on with time.

On multiple occasions I found myself in situations that I would have never imagined, but each experience has made me grow and gives me the ability to relate to people of diverse backgrounds. I firmly believe that my problem solving abilities grow with my life experiences and that as I am exposed to new ways of thinking I can draw inspiration from all aspects of my life. Having fun while traveling and being exposed to new cultures and problems on a global scale gives me the opportunity to return to MIT with a fresh set of eyes, revitalized and ready to take on new challenges.

While I was in Madrid, I was also conducting research remotely through the UROP program. I helped create a detailed (up to screw level) database of collaborative CAD models for machine learning research project in the CSAIL department. The summer after I returned from Spain I worked for a medical devices company where I submitted a patent disclosure for a new design of a mapping catheter for atrial fibrillation ablation therapy.

Now back at MIT, I will use the skills I developed to conduct research with the Fluid Interfaces group in the MIT Media Lab while tackling grad-level courses. Deciding to study abroad was a tough decision. I don't know what would have happened if I had stayed at MIT, but I will never have to ask myself what would have happened if I had gone abroad.


My experience studying abroad in Spain was a fantastic opportunity for personal growth. I learned how to balance classes at three different universities (Complutense, Politecnica, and MIT through the 2.002 online course offered for the first time) while interning two full days a week at a cogeneration company. I took advantage of my location to gain a better understanding of Spanish culture and the influence of the past on present day customs by traveling around the country.

In addition to participating in the intercambio (an opportunity where through conversations with a native speaker of Spanish I was able to improve my Spanish language skills while sharing my English language skills), I also taught classes on science and the design process to middle school students at the Instituto Internacional. Overall, the decision to study abroad in Madrid was one of the best decisions I ever made at MIT. The challenges I faced gave me different opportunities for growth than those present at MIT.


Last spring, I got the opportunity to study in Spain, specifically Madrid. As an unofficially adopted "Latina" by many of my friends from Central and South America, I have always loved Latin culture and the fluidity of the Spanish language. During a rough first semester at MIT back from a mind-blowing research trip in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, I was struggling to re-adjust to a world with much less Spanish. I talked with my department director and decided I could go to Spain my sophomore year, even though most applicants went in their junior year.

Two of the classes at Complutense in particular, Stratigraphy and Sedimentary Methods (both Sedimentary Geology), were amazing. We went on field trips regularly to actually be in the field and see the active physics and science of Sedimentary Geology. In these classes, I was able to see parts of Spain that most tourists and visitors don't get the chance to explore. I worked diligently in these classes, keeping detailed notes in both English and Spanish, which many of my classmates wanted to copy at the end of the year.

It was difficult to learn a completely new science in my second language, but, after many hours in the library, I began to think of the science without a language and simply understood it. Because I worked so hard in these classes, my Professor of Stratigraphy paired me up with her Master's student who was writing her PhD for a UROP and my Professor for Sedimentary Methods invited me to the Master's field trip for Coastal Dynamics that took us to the south of Spain. When I think about their strong Earth Science Department and the classes I loved, I think about one lecture my professor gave standing on the pebbled coastline of Mazarron.

The group of people that we had in Madrid was phenomenal; I couldn't have wished for better people to have spent such an incredible experience with in Spain. They were a constant source of energy, friendship, and even support when we were all struggling to get our academics sorted out and to find people to talk to us.

I can't say that there was any one thing about my spring in Madrid that made it truly worthwhile, just because there were so many moments that made it unforgettable. My semester in Madrid was a lot more than a few months of school; it was a life changing experience. I've realized and adopted the Spanish mentality that your life and your happiness should come first or at the very least should be highly valued in your life. There is so much more than just working and you'll end up missing out on those memories if you don't live your life at the same time. And there is so much that we take for granted being at MIT, which I can now appreciate and take advantage of for the next two years. MIT-Madrid was, in my mind, a process that, despite the difficulties of setting everything up in the beginning, was completely worthwhile.

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