Katie Mayopoulos, Madrid

Middlebury College

After a semester in the Spanish House on campus, there was no better way to become fluent in Spanish than to spend the spring semester of my junior year at Middlebury’s School in Madrid, Spain. The immersion-style program gave me abundant opportunities to live, work and interact with Spaniards on a daily basis. Becoming fluent in Spanish was similar to tuning into a radio station: slowly but surely I could understand more and more clearly what people around me were saying. As a Spanish-Sociology joint major, I interned two days a week at La Comisión para la Investigación de Malos Tratos a Mujeres, one of Spain’s pioneering non-profits that works to end violence against women. Not only did I hone skills in English-Spanish translation while working in an office in a foreign country, but I also learned more about Spain’s approach to domestic violence, an issue that matters to me. By sharing an apartment in the artsy neighborhood of Malasaña with my landlord, a Spanish woman, I learned Spanish slang you don’t see in academic classes and enjoyed independent city living. Plus, through the required grammar course —the most challenging grammar class I’ve ever taken! —I clarified grammatical questions and issues I had wondered about for years. While attaining fluency represented my main goal in studying abroad with Middlebury in Spain, I took advantage of many cultural and travel opportunities. Every Wednesday, my art history class visited the internationally renowned Prado Museum to study some of the most famous works of art in person, such as Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and cultural events such as wine tastings and cooking classes let us experience Spain with our other senses. Some of my most lasting memories stemmed from travels done with friends in the program to various regions of Spain, such as Sevilla, Granada, Valencia and Córdoba, and also to cities outside of Spain, such as Florence, Munich, London and Budapest. I will always remember one large sign, in English, that hung from the top of Madrid’s City Hall:  “Refugees Welcome Here.”