My Study Abroad Experience, Part 1 of 5

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Hi everyone! I’m Jasmine, a rising senior, Computer Science (CS) major, from Orange County, California! Today I wanted to start a blog series to tell you about my study abroad (SA) semester in Madrid, Spain and try to convince you why you should also study abroad during college. Since there’s a lot to talk about, I’ll be dividing this topic into five different posts.

  1. Deciding a location and applying to a SA program
  2. Getting adjusted to my new home
  3. Academic courses
  4. Daily life in Madrid
  5. Traveling in Spain/Europe and advice for future SA students

Deciding a location

Even before entering college, I was certain I was going to study abroad some time during my four years in college. I wanted to learn a new language and immerse myself in another culture. In addition, by junior year, I wanted to take a break from the Mudd bubble and live in a completely different environment. About 30-40 Mudders study abroad every school year (and this number has been rapidly rising recently!), mostly during their junior fall or spring semester to avoid conflict with their Core classes (freshman and sophomore year) and Thesis/Clinic program (senior year). Students are required to SA through a 3rd party program that provides academic courses and housing.

Spring semester of my sophomore year, I attended a few info sessions about SA and scheduled a meeting with Mudd’s wonderful SA director, Rhonda Chiles. There were a couple of factors considered when deciding a program:

  1. My HSA concentration (a Humanities, Social Sciences, or Arts discipline that a student is required to focus on by taking at least four classes in that discipline; think of it as a mini-minor) is Spanish. I wanted to use my SA semester to improve my Spanish speaking skills. This helped me narrow down to Spain and Latin American countries.
  2. I wanted to take some major classes abroad. Rhonda informed me that programs in South America required 5-6 semesters of college-level Spanish courses because many of their STEM courses were taught in Spanish. At that point, I wasn’t so confident with my Spanish, so I decided to choose to go to Spain that offered English-taught CS courses.
  3. I also wanted my program to be in an urban location, provide meals daily, and offer a homestay with local families so I can fully immerse myself in the Spanish culture.

Considering all these factors, I decided on an engineering-focused program in Madrid, Spain that offered CS courses at the local university, which would count as major elective courses, as well as Spanish language and culture courses, which would count for my concentration. After deciding on a location and SA program, I talked to Mudd alumni who have previously participated in the program to hear about their experiences and receive advice. Simultaneously, I met with my major advisor, HSA advisor and the SA advisor in the CS department to make sure the classes I was planning to take can be approved for credit at Mudd by reviewing the course syllabi. Since courses offered abroad don’t exactly match Mudd courses, it was easier to get them approved as elective classes (ex: Artificial Intelligence) instead of required classes (ex: Data Structures or Algorithms).

Jasmine in front of a medieval castle

Spain, here I come!

Applying to the study abroad program

There are a lot of applications and forms to submit, so it was important to keep track of them and meet all the deadlines. The timeline to SA is as follows:

  1. Intent to study abroad form: This is due the semester before you plan to submit the study abroad application, so two semesters prior to your SA semester.
  2. HMC application: This is due the semester before you leave for SA: on September 15th for spring SA and February 15th for fall SA. It is due early in the semester to allow students to apply to programs and for visas on time. Once approved, you are allowed to apply to the SA program.
  3. SA program application: Each program has their own procedure and requirements, such as college-level language courses, minimum GPA, transcripts, and recommendation letters. Make sure to plan ahead!
  4. Pre-departure forms: Once admitted by HMC and the program sponsor, you must submit a bunch of forms related to health, visas, insurance, and course approval. Your program will also require forms as well. Make sure to apply for a visa and buy plane tickets in advance!
  5. Pre-departure orientation: The SA director walks you through cultural immersion, safety issues, and emergency procedures to prepare you for your time away from Mudd.
  6. You’re all set! Buen viaje (“Have a good trip” in Spanish)!

While abroad, I kept in contact with the SA advisor for emergency situations and my academic advisors to sign up for classes for the next semester. I also continued to talk to my friends back in Claremont, who kept me up-to-date with any news in the community and served as a proxy for me during Room Draw (a process for selecting residential rooms for the upcoming school year). Most importantly, I regularly called and messaged my parents who were very worried about their only child living in a foreign country.

Regarding finances, I paid my normal fees to Mudd – HMC’s tuition, room and board, etc. Then, Mudd paid for the SA program’s fee, room and board, and a round-trip to the SA site. To put it simply, students pay Harvey Mudd and Harvey Mudd pays the SA program. Other costs, such as for the visa application, travels outside of the SA program, and allowance other than a reasonable room and board fee, were not covered.

The application and pre-departure forms were a complicated process, but at the end of the day they were worth it for all the unforgettable memories I’ve made abroad. Stay tuned to read about the rest of my SA experience!

Jasmine in front of a cathedral