Josh - Universidad Pontificia Comillas

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

Universidad Pontificia Comillas (or just Comillas as its referred to), has a number of campuses around Madrid, however, there are two main ones; Alberto Aguilera in the inner north west of the city and Cantoblanco in the northeastern suburbs. As all of my courses were within the Humanities Faculty, I, therefore, spent all of my time at the small Cantoblanco campus. I studied 6 courses whilst on exchange:

4 courses in English:
-The Spanish Political System and Politics of Spain (5ECTS)
-Current International Issues from a Spanish Perspective (5ECTS)
-International Security (6ECTS)
-European History of the 20th Century (5ECTS)

And 2 courses in Spanish:
-Español para estudiantes extranjeros (5ECTS)
-Contemporánea Historia de España (5ECTS)

The teaching style in classes is more like a Contact class at UQ rather than a Lecture and Tutorial style. this format made it easier to form friendships with other students in the class. I will admit I found it difficult to adjust to this change of teaching style, however it becomes fairly routine after a few weeks.

Personal experience

I gained so much from this experience that it is difficult to pinpoint just a few. First of all being on exchange forces you to be more open and accepting of others whilst putting yourself out there for others to accept you. It may seem daunting at first but after a few weeks, you will be surprised at how many new and interesting people you become connected too. Due to the fact that I studied through the week and did not have a part-time job to take up my weekends, I finally had the opportunity to travel through more of Spain and experience the different regions of Spain. My favourite region to visit was Andalusia in the south, where I went on three occasions, in particular to Cadiz, Granada and Sevilla. Andalusians are lively and yet laid back people with a rich culturally diverse history, plus the architecture and scenery are spectacular. That being said other regions of Spain are just as awe-inspiring.

Accommodation

My biggest recommendation for an exchange in Madrid or Spain, in general, is to seek out your own accommodation in share housing. None of the other UQ students that I knew who went on exchange Madrid did a homestay. Friends I made who did a homestay were predominately American students who did not enjoy the experience. Some even had to leave earlier and find new living arrangements part way through the semester. I personally did have a very good living situation as the rental agency I used a fixed price for the room each month plus an extra 30 or 25 euros per month for utilities. All I had to worry about was paying the rent each month in cash at their office, which was only 5-10 minute walk away from my apartment. 

As with most other apartments in Madrid, you will likely have your own room furnished with a bed, desk and chair. The rest of the apartment will be furnished and the kitchen will also be equipped as you may expect. However be advised many European apartments will come with a washing machine quite possibly in the kitchen, which in my case meant that there was no oven. However, when you are looking I would suggest finding a place with a washing machine was it makes life a lot easier. 

This is the rental agency I went through which from hearing about other experiences is really good: Opera Housing Madrid, landlady: Amparo
http://operahousingmadrid.com/ 

If not you can use Idealista https://www.idealista.com/en/ which is a large classified for apartments in Spain, however, if you do contact them give yourself a lot of time and many choices as many do not respond.

Budget

Living in Madrid is perhaps cheaper than living in Brisbane but overall reasonably the same. for a good apartment the centre of Madrid ie Sol, Opera area approx 350-500+ Euros per month. Malasana, Chueca, Moncloa and other areas are about 300-400 Euros per month depending on the size of the room, Lavapies and La Latina are cheaper than the rest an is regarded as the lower socio-economic area of central Madrid. If you are going to Cantoblanco campus I suggest finding accommodation closer to Sol or Nuevos Ministerios as the train to catch there goes through those stations and is not accessible by the Metro, only the Cercanias.

Food prices are cheaper across the board for Spanish and European options, Asian and Mexican foods are pricier than Australia. Alcohol purchased from the supermarket is generally cheaper than Australia.

Transport in Madrid is ALOT cheaper than Brisbane. Particularly for Cantoblanco students, or anyone who intends on using the metro and Cercanias a lot, I suggest getting a Transport Concession card which can be purchased from a few tobacco stores in the city. At only 20 euros per month, under the age of 26, who have unlimited travel on the Metro, Cercanias, EMT Buses and other transportation methods throughout the Madrid transportation fare zones. This meant we were able to go to Toledo, a 50min bus ride out of Madrid using our cards. 

Cinema tickets are also a lot cheaper, no more than 10 euros for a student on the most expensive night.

Overall I would budget around 8000-9000 AUD to live comfortably and travel around Spain for 5-6 months. Every fortnight I would withdraw 200 euros as spending money for that fortnight and carry around no more than 20 euros per day, I found it to be a good system to keep track of my spending. However, if you intend on travelling through more of Europe whilst on exchange and I suggest you do, that can be upwards of a further 3000-4000AUD depending on where you go and how long for.

Professional development and employability

The whole experience itself is a major contribution to your professional development as it shows potential employers your ability to independently organise your life, make connections and possibly do all this in a different language. Personally, I believe that the experience has greatly enhanced my organisational skills.

Highlight

The food, the city life, the friends, living in the exciting city of Madrid was the ultimate highlight of my trip. It became my home and I missed being there despite being in other exciting places. Madrid was the highlight of my experience.

Top tips

DO IT!

The whole experience was difficult and stressful but it was the best of my life and the friends I made, the experiences I had and the memories I have made, are unforgettable. The exchange is a fantastic way to advance your language skills and I highly recommend to make use the different events, usually by City life Madrid, such as salsa dancing, language exchange, and beer pong.

 

Josh - Universidad Pontificia Comillas