This spring we have sixty percent of participants who are women. This notable gender difference may be unique for STEM students who study abroad in Spain, but we are very pleased with their enthusiasm. The airport pick up went very smooth as CIEE staff had arranged for a private bus to coordinate a courtesy pick up at 11 am. There were no flight delays and no problems with luggage, so student arrived at their homestays before lunch time. The students had a several days of orientation activities that included exploration themes in central neighborhoods of Madrid: a guided walking tour of the historic area of Spanish Golden Age authors, a museum discovery activity of “curious and obvious” objects in Madrid´s archeology institute and an architectural expedition to the Royal Palace (the largest palace in Western Europe).
Objectives and Expectations
Another practical part of the orientation is a reflection session, led by CIEE staff, on student´s personal and group goals. The one hour session explores expectations and challenges that participants may face during the spring 2016 semester. Students were separated into groups into one of the spacious student lounges at the Study Center. The engineering students came up with a long list of possible barriers for integration during their spring semester (such as not possessing enough Spanish vocabulary, staying in an American bubble of friends and a fear of failing a class in a different education system). Once the list was written up, the students shared this with the others in the room. Together with the CIEE staff, the students came up with suggestions, advice and resources on how to overcome some of the aforementioned barriers in a positive manner.
Intensive Spanish Language Class
This semester we had three levels of Spanish (beginner, intermediate and advanced). The advanced level group was the largest class and they participated in extra-curricular activities, such as a local visit to a fruit and vegetable market where students had to interview vendors about the products they were selling; and preparing and asking survey questions on the street by approaching locals on how to get directions to some famous sites in the city and recommendations for cultural activities. This 40 contact hour course is led by experienced local Spanish professors with master´s degrees in Spanish language and linguistics who have worked for several years with U.S. college students.
All the STEM students received a list of popular engineering classes and read past student evaluations with comments about direct enroll courses. After a group session on the academic expectations, teacher communication styles and UC3M classroom norms, each student met separately with the Resident Director. All students reviewed the access to their new student account, course schedules, pre-requisites and host university norms. This semester students are enrolled in Fluid Mechanics, Airport Security, Statistics, Discrete Math, Cryptography, Artificial Intelligence, to name a few. As part of their cultural course work participants are also enrolled in Intercultural Communication and Leadership, Art History, Film Narrative and Contemporary Spanish History. All the resident director meetings took place in the Study Center. In addition all students accompanied CIEE staff on a campus tour that included instructions on the various ways to reach the university in public transport as well as completing the registration for direct enroll courses at the university campus is a CIEE-reserved computer room.
Health and Safety
Currently there are no health and safety alerts in Madrid; however, the news media in the U.S. and other countries have focussed a lot of attention on the emerging Zika virus that is transmitted by mosquitos in tropical areas. CIEE staff circulated an email with relevant information regarding the Zika virus albeit there have been no cases reported in Madrid. As part of our orientation, CIEE staff has explained the use of English medical facilities in Madrid, reviewed CIEE protocols regarding our 24-hour local emergency phone that is operated by CIEE resident staff, the emergency phone tree and the implementation of an emergency evacuation plan when this becomes necessary. All students received this information and important phone numbers in their welcome packet. The CIEE Study Center is in close contact with the U.S. Embassy regarding health and safety issues and also explained to our students how to register for the SMART program (which is an optional U.S. citizen registration site that is managed by the U.S. State Department).
Finally, all CIEE participants completed a two-hour workshop led by all CIEE staff on Bystander Intervention, with a special focus on Madrid and the help of our Spanish student network. The Spanish peers participated and mingled in our group exercises and reflection. One part of this workshop also had a discussion by our housing coordinator, Patricia Witzig, who discussed issues of consent in both a U.S. and Spanish context. The CIEE teacher for Intercultural Communication also discussed body language and hand signals that may lead to “cultural mishaps." Overall, we received very positive feedback from our participants on what is a a very sensitive and controversial topìc. After the session CIEE staff was available to meet with students if they wanted to ask individual questions or if the required resources for further counseling.
Throughout the semester we will keep you and our students posted. Many saludos from Spain!