From January 8-30, eighteen MIT undergraduates participated in IAP Madrid, studying Spanish, while having a chance to experience life in Spain first-hand. The subject, 21G.795 Advanced Spanish Communication in Spain, was taught by Global Studies and Languages senior lecturer Margarita Ribas Groeger.

Students lived with Spanish host families and spent several hours a day Mondays through Thursdays in the classroom. After class they participated in a range of guided cultural activities, funded in-part by grants from Global Studies and Languages, Associate Provost Richard Lester’s Office, the Kelly Douglas Fund, and the Council for the Arts. Cultural studies scholar Jon Snyder (Boston University) led a number of guided tours. A walking tour through old Madrid included the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, the remains of the Arab city wall, and two of the most emblematic plazas of Madrid, la Plaza de la Villa and the Plaza Mayor. At the National Archeological Museum students were introduced to Iberian sculptures, samples of Roman engineering, law tablets, coins, and mosaic floors; Visigothic crowns; and Islamic art and architecture. At the Prado Museum students learned about Velazquez and Goya’s masterpieces. The visit to the Museo y Centro de Arte Reina Sofía focused on surrealist paintings by Dalí and Picasso’s Guernica and their historical context. Students also had a chance to explore beyond Madrid on the weekends.

One of the highlights was a cooking class. Students gathered at the Apetit’oh! Cooking School to prepare traditional Spanish dishes from scratch: salmorejo, tortilla de patatas, paella and tarta de Santiago. Students mastered the art of flipping a Spanish potato omelet, of cleaning and preparing the squid and the shrimp for paella and of baking and decorating the Tarta de Santiago, all while speaking Spanish, and learning about the history and traditions surrounding each of the dishes.

Study abroad programs such as this give students the opportunity to improve their linguistic skills and cultural competence while experiencing another culture first-hand.

First-year student Sophia Mittman described her experience with IAP Madrid this way: “For me, [this] was so much more than simply learning the Spanish language better. . . .  This class was an opportunity that boosted my confidence and enthusiasm for actually speaking in Spanish (which I had lacked previously), taught me what I need to know about traveling independently (sometimes I learned the hard way), and helped me hone my skills when it comes to building relationships with different types of people—fellow peers, teachers, and Spanish locals. I not only learned lots about art, architecture, history, and culture; I also got to experience all of it first hand, which, in my opinion, was a mind-blowing experience that I will never forget.”