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3 Things I Learned Studying & Interning Abroad in Madrid

October 10, 2023
by Amalia Nichols

Top 3 Things I Learned Studying & Interning Abroad in Madrid

Despite my best efforts, I have become a cliché. I never wanted to be the person who “found themselves” during their study abroad. That phrase always seemed trite and melodramatic. I wanted to come back from my study abroad boasting about the art and history I saw and about my expanded international business perspectives from my internship, which I did. However, I also came back a cliché who “found herself” in many forms during her study abroad program. So, here are the top three things I learned – about Spain, business, and myself – while studying and interning abroad in Madrid, Spain

Girl Scout Cookies bring people together in Madrid

I interned abroad at Bluspecs, which is a digital transformation consultancy firm. I operated in a mostly data science and data interface capacity. I loved it there. My colleagues were so kind and the environment was much more casual and harmonious than what I’ve encountered in the U.S. People often brought treats to share with the office. Thus, when I obtained Girl Scout cookies (thanks to my family visiting), I brought them to share. In quite the tone of amazement and astonishment, it was asked if these are the cookies “from the movies?” I’m glad I could share this with my colleagues because I really enjoyed working with them and the environment they invited me into. 

This brings me into what I truly learned: I love Madrid’s work culture. At my university, at least within the business school, the idea of a “work-life balance” as you enter your career is almost laughable. It’s a “live to work” mentality in the U.S. generally. Before my time in Madrid, I had the mentality that work will be my life’s priority. As once discussed with one of my Madrid Uber drivers, Spain has a “work to live” mentality. You can love your work and work extremely hard as I saw with my colleagues, but you also get a fulfilling life outside of work. My colleagues would take time off to travel, the office closed at 3 p.m. on Fridays, and everyone just seemed happy. These items, especially the last, stood in stark contrast to the culture at my U.S. internships where everyone constantly seems stressed and at least slightly miserable. This was my main motivator to consider returning to Madrid after graduation. 

Additionally, Madrid is a diverse, international city, and the BluSpecs office reflected that. Only three of the 10 people in my office were even Spanish. Due to this diversity, both in the city at large and my office, I never really felt that overly-conspicuous, despite being an American and a person of color. Madrid also has no shortage of diverse cuisines abroad. I had some of the best Chinese, Mexican, Indian food of my life while in Madrid, which says a lot considering I’m half Chinese, from Texas, and also spent a semester in London

A group of yellow drinks with hearts drawn on them

Complimentary mango lassis from Indian Aroma in Madrid

I'm not built for the snow but am for the turf 

CEA CAPA organized a lot of awesome events and excursions. One of the most memorable for me was the hiking excursion in the mountains near Madrid. Unbeknownst to the CEA CAPA staff when planning, it ended up snowing the night before the hike, so we ended up hiking in the snow. I’m from Houston, Texas, which is both hot and flat, so a hike in the snow was utterly magical to me – at least at first. On the way up, I felt like I was in Narnia. I was obsessed with the way the snow sparkled and the sound it made under our feet. On the way down, my inexperience in snow and on mountains showed. It was slippery, especially as the snow began to melt, and I definitely lost some dignity.  

A person sitting on a rock

Me during a quick lunch and reading break on the Sierra de Guadarrama in Madrid during a CEA CAPA hiking trip.

I can't complain, however, because I now enjoy hiking for its beauty and also met some of my absolute closest friends on this hiking trip, and at similar CEA CAPA events. 

While I struggled in the snow, I surprisingly did not during the CEA CAPA-organized soccer games. I say surprisingly because I thought my six-time pulled hamstring meant my soccer days were over. After a certain point, it was mostly a mental block, but I just couldn’t find the motivation to risk reinjuring myself.  

Luckily for me, the CEA CAPA staff was amazing. They were unbelievably supportive and caring. They managed to assuage my fears by reassuring me and building my confidence. For this, I am forever grateful. I thought the soccer chapter of my life was closed, and I really missed it. CEA CAPA  brought it back to me. I love the CEA CAPA staff. I still keep in touch!  

A group of people standing in front of a goal

This is everyone at the last CEA CAPA soccer match played at a sports complex in Madrid. Of course, we only remembered to take a group photo at the last game, and this was the one where all the other women in the program who usually played had time conflicts. It was still a blast, and I even scored the winning goal!

Not everything is as expensive as California 

Being an out-of-state student at the University of California, Berkeley means paying the out-of-state student premium. I saved a LOT of money by studying abroad through CEA CAPA. The cost of the entire program – including Madrid tuition, housing, events, and excursions – was less than the cost of a semester’s tuition. Here’s some things I got for that cheaper price that I don’t have in California: an in-unit washer-dryer, a dishwasher, my own room, a full-sized bed, and a prime location. “Prime location” isn’t an exaggeration. My 15-minute walk to my CEA CAPA classes from my apartment took me right by the Royal Palace. 

A building with trees and a blue sky

This was my view on my everyday walk to class! Specifically, this was my view of el Palacio Real in Madrid.

The CEA CAPA events and excursions were all included in the program cost. We got to go on a 3-day trip to Sevilla, Spain, which included a lovely hotel and guided tours. Our CEA CAPA  excursions to Segovia, Toledo, and Alcalá de Henares also had guided tours! The low cost of living is another pro for moving back to Madrid.  

Two women posing for a picture

One of the tours from our Sevilla excursion took us through the Alcazar, which had stunning architecture and breathtaking gardens. Here I am with one of my roommates.

I just want to thank Madrid and CEA CAPA. My experience has given me a direction for my future and brand-new interests. Honestly, I could go on about more things I learned, but I don't want to also become the cliché of the girl who won’t stop talking about her study abroad. 

Amalia Nichols is the Spring 2023 Alumni Ambassador in Madrid, Spain, and is currently studying at University of California-Berkeley.
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