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3 posts from October 2013


Fall 2013, Mid-Semester Update Engineering and Society


Dear CIEE friends and colleagues,

It is hard to believe that we are at the mid-point of the fall 2013 program.

The first part of the semester included various CIEE-organized activities to help students become familiar with Madrid.  As the "To-Do" list may seem overwhelming for some, we remind our participants that everything is optional (but mostly fun!).  This past Saturday, October 19, several CIEE students and our CIEE Activities Coordinator, Sonia Sales (with cool green sunglasses) participated in the Holi Run held in Madrid. This was an activity for anyone who wanted to walk or run while colored powder and energetic music was being played. At each mile, runners received a "bath" of our magic powder, each one with a specific color. When our students reached the end of the course with a rainbow-colored body they showed a lot of smiles.

ZZ Holirun 1
HOLLI runners

Our students have also been participating in CIEE's “Meet and Talk” events with Spanish students from the Universidad Carlos III. During a full hour, American students mingled with Spanish students interchanging language from English to Spanish and vice versa.  Every five minutes a CIEE staff member ring a bell and students had to change language. There was also a lot of food and drinks to be shared. In total 23 students participated in this series of events and are now meeting one-on-one for intercambios and other types of gatherings.

 ZZ Meet and talkMany students are relieved that they have now completed most of their midterm exams. This semester there is a new grade scale being introduced by CIEE that has been adjusted to keep the rigorous classes of the Universidad Carlos III  (UC3M) in mind. The majority of the students are doing well, but they all comment that they have make sure to comply with all the homework assignments and make sure they do not miss any lab work.ZZ midtermsOne of the benefits of the UC3M Engineering professors is that they have permanent office and research space at the Leganes campus where they hold student office hours; not all public universities in Spain abide by this privilege. In addition, through our working relationship with the Dean's office, the CIEE program is able to secure professor tutoring for our students who may need additional help with the course work.

  ZZ Leganes

The student mid-term housing evaluations were very positive with one student expressing concern regarding the Spanish food diet.  All CIEE families follow a mediterranean diet and the student preferred to eat only ecological products such a soy milk, strawberries and raspberries.  A lot of students also eat in the campus cafeteria during lunch time and get to try out all sorts of food served in a cafeteria buffet-style with salads, starters, soups, paella, rice dishes, fish and meats, a variety of seasonal fruits. But many have great compliments for the shared food that the CIEE hosts make them.

ZZ Mediterranean diet
All students have been able to tell us stories of their favorite things with their home stays. For instance, some CIEE students have mentioned how much they appreciated going for a run with their host in the Retiro park; enjoying pleasant conversations after dinner about politics and cultural differences; or, learning about the “amazing" cooking of their host and children. 

Overall, CIEE staff is very pleased with our current group of students. Some participants have also started exploring beyond Madrid -- initiating weekend travel to various regions of Spain like one engineering student who went to see the modern architecture in Valencia.

ZZ Valencia

We will keep you posted. Saludos from Madrid.



The Incredible Blip: Work and Play

By:  J. Marquis, University of California - Berkeley

Blip was incredible! I have always been interested in working outside of the U.S. and was eager to see what the workplace is like in other countries.

ZZ Blip Visit 1

Visiting Blip was an extremely valuable experience. It is one of the fastest growing engineering companies in the Iberian peninsula. Their main area of work is web-based programming for various global firms. The headquarters is based in London but they operate in different countries. We met with Sofia Reis, Head of Operations at the Blip office. She explained how the company is quite unorthodox in its work approach and try innovative new ways to do business and engineering.

Their goal is to be the best place to work and, in my opinion, they achieved it. The workplace was very reminiscent of a bay area tech start up company with some added European perks (such as a free kitchen and free food).  My favorite part about the company was the atmosphere there. It was all open space. No walls or closed offices.

ZZ Blip 3

Also, it was very group based and inclusive. Everyone was interested in others work and successes. It was very typical there for everyone to start clapping and shouting when someone accomplished something. All of the project groups were themed and some people even had costumes (such as a big Mexican sombrero) in their work corner. The Blip rep explained that staff members can write down ideas on big boards plastered on the various walls so that the whole department can look and share ideas about a problem or an issue an employee is working on.

ZZ Blip 2

During the company visit our group also learned how Blip employees are expected to determine their own work schedule and how they can decide on their own when they want to take a break. Many employees often take a short break from their workstation so that they are able to think through a programming problem on their own or with other people in the office. There is a music room, a video screen, a kitchen with free delicacies, etc. where staff can go and “brain storm.” This goes into contrast with some of the local labor laws where a company has to record and register when employees take an official break and what time is dedicated to work. Rather than following a strict labor code, this company is very flexible and open-minded about work habits.

ZZ Blip Coach
One unusual part of the visit was seeing the non-traditional conference room that fits up to six employees. Rather than sitting around a desk in a room, staff have the option to sit in a stage coach (from a Western film!). The idea is to make employees “go back in time” and transport themselves back to the old West of the U.S.. In this stage coach they can start to imagine how people would have resolved a problem while exploring new frontiers. The stage coach is meant to push employees to be more creative and think through problems in a relaxed, unusual atmosphere. 

All in all, it seemed like a company that actually cared about its employees and their happy work fulfillment and in return they seemed to really appreciate that.

I would love to work at a place similar to Blip. 



So far... my best trip with CIEE Madrid

By: Eliana Ramirez, Northeastern University
Visiting Oporto with CIEE was one of the best trips I have been able to do so far during my study abroad semester in Madrid. I didn't know what to expect and to be honest I didn't do my research about things I could do there. I decided I would try and see the city without too much preparation. I did not know Oporto would have some very steep cobble stone streets, so I did my best to walk around it with my sprained ankle (from a small accident a couple of weeks earlier). Smile. And I did it.
Eliana TRAM

We got to Oporto on a beautiful Friday afternoon and we had a guided tour with a very knowledgeable Portuguese guide, named Sergio, who told us in detail about the amazing history 
of Oporto. He guided us through the main landmarks and then at night we tried one of  Oporto's main dishes: Francesinha, a sandwich for meat lovers topped with layers  of melted cheese, and a beer based spicy tomato sauce... YUMMY!!

On Saturday morning I woke up really early to see the Livraria Lello, the oldest wooden bookstore
in Oporto, and to take pictures inside. It is an amazing small bookstore with stunning staircases... a must see place! This place is now well-known by many tourists because J.K. Rowling wrote her first three chapters of Harry Potter while she lived in Portugal.

Then, I traveled to the other side of  the Douro river and took the funicular to appreciate the landscape even better.

Later on the afternoon the CIEE group gathered to do a wine tasting tour  where we learned about the traditions of Oporto's delicious ports and ruby wines. We also tried some.
At lunch time, I walked  along the Ribeira (river side) and went to a really cozy and very tasty  restaurant called Chez Dany with some vinho verde (green wine). After this, some CIEE friends and I took the boat  cruise and took incredible pictures of the sunset, the city and the city´s six bridges.
On our last day many in our group preferred to sleep in but I decided to wake up early. I went to the beach side close to the Forte de San Francisco  Xavier where took some pictures and took a stroll through the Parque da Cidade which  is a huge park where people jog and enjoy the nature and finished my clandestine exploration by visiting the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Fundacion de Serralves, which is a museum filled with beautiful landscapes and contemporary art.
Without a doubt, Oporto was an amazing place to visit for its amazing food, its warm and friendly people and all the architecture and landmarks that make it  a very interesting city to enjoy to the fullest!