As many of my fellow freshman bloggers have shared with you, here at Hopkins we have this amazing term during the month of January called Intersession. During this three week period students have the option to either stay home for an extended holiday break, or come back to Baltimore to take fun classes for pass/fail grades.
The third option over this January term is to apply for one of Hopkins’ Study Abroad Intersession Programs, which is what I ended up doing. So for the past three weeks I have been in Madrid taking a class and touring around the city.
Just a heads up before I begin: try as I might to convey through out this blog how absolutely beyond completely wonderful and life-changing this trip was, I will never be able to actually do it justice.
So the class I took was called Perspectives on the History of Spain, Its Art and Culture, and was taught by my wonderful Hopkins professor, Dr. Kagan. Because this was an upper-level history course, I was able to take it for credits and an actual grade that is factored into my GPA, making for a very productive Intersession!
Every morning we had lecture at 10:30 at the International Institute, which is a building where American college students studying abroad take classes. The lecture would focus on some aspect of Imperial Spain, with emphasis on certain monuments and works of art. Then we would break for a long lunch, during which we were free to explore the city and all its incredible restaurants. Later in the afternoon we would meet up again to go visit the site or piece of work we had discussed in class earlier in the day,
It was so incredible to actually be in the country whose history we were learning every day in class. For me, my understanding of the material was so much deeper learning in this kind of environment. I know it would be impractical and impossible – but I wish every course in college could be taught like this!
What really made this program so unique was Dr. Kagan’s emphasis on teaching us about the culture of Spain. He wanted us to be immersed in the customs and traditions of Spanish life, which made my educational experience in Madrid incredible on so many levels.
One of the best parts of this trip – as can be seen from the tightness of my jeans’ waistline and the emptiness of my wallet – was the food. The Hopkins Madrid coordinator Manuel, who manages the study abroad trips to Madrid as well as the Intersession trips, actually lives in Spain and so he was able to provide us with recommendations to amazing local restaurants everyday for lunch and dinner. I can honestly say that I am going through tapas withdrawal at the moment, and am going to scour the city of Baltimore until I can get my fix.
Another incredible part about this trip was meeting the other Hopkins students on it. I did not know anyone going into the program, which was cause for much anxiety on my part prior to our departure. However all of my worrying was for naught, because I met some awesome people over our three weeks in Spain. I love having all these new upperclassman friends to impart their wisdom onto an ignorant freshman like myself.
One of my favorite aspects of Madrid was its public transportation system. I know that is kind of a lame thing to be excited about, but I cannot stress enough how critical it was during our stay. The program provided each of us with a monthly pass that gave us unlimited access to the buses and metro stations. The metro in Madrid is so simple to navigate that someone who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish (like myself) can figure it out no problem. Because of this we were able to criss-cross the city looking for the best tapas bars or the most delicious churros, the cutest antique shops or the tastiest bread and cheese.
I might have to say one of the best parts of this trip for me was the feeling of independence I had through out my entire stay. Dr. Kagan and Manuel trusted us enough to give us complete freedom and so we were really able to explore to our hearts content. It might seem silly seeing as I was only gone for three weeks, but during that time as a student in Europe I really felt as though I matured as a person, and I am so lucky to be at a university that offers me the opportunity for such an experience.
I decided to give you a taste of what our trip was like by writing out our itinerary for the past three weeks. I was astounded we were able to see as much as we did in the time we were there.
Intersession in Madrid Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Madrid! Group dinner at Taberna Albur (the most amazing restaurant in all of Spain – we had 7 courses!)
Day 2: Free day to get adjusted in our apartments/explore the city.
Day 3: Class in morning. Afternoon walking tour of Madrid de los Austrias.
Day 4: Class in morning. Afternoon visit to Royal palace.
Day 5: Class in morning. Afternoon visit to Museo del Prado.
Day 6: Day trip to Toledo where we saw Iglesia de San Juan de los Reyes, Iglesia de Santo Tome, Sinagoga del Tránsito, Museo de Santa Cruz and Catedral
Day 7: Class in morning. Afternoon visit to Fundación Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan.
Day 8: Day trip to El Escorial.
Day 9: Day trip to Segovia and Pedraza where we saw Alcázar, Catedral, Acueducto and Castillo de Pedraza.
Day 10: Class in morning.
Day 11: Class in morning. Afternoon visit to Conventos de las Descalzas Reales y la Encarnación.
Day 12: Class in morning. Afternoon visit to Museo del Prado.
Day 13: Class in morning. Drive to Granada.
Day 14: Visit Alhambra and Generalife, Albaizín, Catedral and Capilla Real and Casa de los Tiros. in Granada.
Day 15: Visit Mezquita y Judería and Medina Zahara in Cordoba.
Day 16: Visit Catedral y Giralda, Museo de los Venerables and Alcázar in Seville.
Day 17: Drive back to Madrid.
Day 18: Class in morning. Afternoon private tour of the Reina-Sofia.
Day 19: Class in morning.
Day 20: Class in morning. Farwell dinner.
Day 21: Back to Baltimore :(
And though I was so excited to start my classes today (I promise to share all about them in my next blog), part of me is longing to be back in Madrid. I am now more excited than ever to study abroad my Junior year seeing as this trip has really opened my mind up to the concept of international studies. Thankfully I won’t have to miss the people in my program for too long, because we are having a reunion dinner later on in the month, thanks to Dr. Kagan’s generous hospitality. During the past three weeks I have had some of the most incredible experiences of my life, and could never thank Hopkins enough for affording me such opportunities.