Joan is a 19-year-old AIL Madrid student from San Diego, California, USA. She has been studying at AIL for nearly three months and, though she's leaving in just three weeks, she's already planning her next visit to Madrid. Born on the island of Coronado, CA, she spent the first six months living on a boat with her parents, who lived at sea for a total of six years. Her family is “pretty crazy, in a good way”, and her energetic mom celebrates every single holiday, even going all out for Crazy Sock Day.

At home, Joan just earned a two year professional degree and teaches children's ballet, as well as gymnastics and ice skating, “I got my degree in dance. I just love dance; it´s my passion and it's my work as well… That's the only thing I miss from back home; my little kids from ballet.” But that doesn't mean she holds still in Madrid: “I go salsa dancing every Monday... I was surprised that people were just so serious about it! They just took you and started dancing with you and speaking in Spanish!”

Joan United-States-of-America

Intensive Course

Meet Joan!

What Brought Her to AIL Madrid

After earning her degree, Joan was standing at a personal crossroads, between cosmetology school and continuing her college education, when her parents suggested she improve her Spanish (a frequently used language in her native San Diego). “I brought up Spain, and then once my brother heard that he said ‘I'm going too!’ He was all in for it. My brother actually came out for the first month that I was here... it was really fun!” After some rapid research online, Joan felt AIL Madrid was a clear winner and immediately enrolled in an intensive course. And, though it is extremely normal to feel some butterflies while heading off to a new country, she adds, “I decided really quickly and then got on a plane and came, so I wasn't really nervous. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn't.”

Adventures with Spanish

Before AIL, Joan had a few unsuccessful experiences trying to learn Spanish, and was at a low A1 level when she arrived. But what past knowledge she did have finally made sense once she was in Spain, “more things clicked when I was here- I didn´t know I knew this much until it came out. I was like hey, I might know that word!” Two months later, she just aced her level exam and feels great about it,

“I love this environment because there aren´t very formal tests, except the one at the very end. It´s not about the grade, it´s about actually knowing [Spanish] …. I just have to do what I need to actually learn the material, not to pass a test, so I feel like I'm learning way more in these three months than I did in school. I have a much more positive feeling about language learning now.”

Joan's teacher, Lucia, has been a huge part of this experience, “She is very fun. She is very hands on, she plays tons of games. If you say something wrong she'll let you finish your thought and then correct you.” Lucia often has other students try to explain a concept if someone is confused, allowing the students to use their voices and knowledge in class. Additionally, her classes are full of laughter and activity. For a dancer like Joan, this works perfectly; “I love when she gives us a topic and we have to write questions down and then we get up, move around, and ask the other students, so it’s a lot of talking and a lot of moving.”

Friends and Family

Joan's life in Madrid is much more than just her time in class. After learning all afternoon, Joan goes home to her host-sister Lucia, with whom she has become very close, “after class I'll go over all my stuff with her and we play the same games that we play in class. I teach them to her because she's fourteen so she loves it. So it usually clicks when I go back home and talk to the family and go ´oh ok, that’s what that was´. It compliments my class time.”

In fact, her time with the family has become one of her most meaningful experiences in Madrid, as well as illustrating an interesting cultural difference, “I love the family time, family is so important here and that’s really nice. They always eat dinner together… Sundays I spend with the family. We usually go to a different member's house for lunch; last week we went to the uncle's house.” As for her Lucia, Joan says, “she has seen the improvement in my Spanish and it’s great that we can actually have meaningful conversations in Spanish now, whereas the first day it was like ´hi, how are you, what did you do today, I'm going to go do homework’ but now we talk about her boys and all that girlie stuff.”

Joan Takes Madrid!

Beyond the family, Joan is fully in love with her life in Madrid. Choosing it over Barcelona because of the dialect, she spends her weekends going on picnics in the park, experiencing the crazed atmosphere while watching the Madrid vs. Barcelona game in a bar, and even going for a spin in a rowboat: “[it]was so much fun! And we crashed a lot, we're not very good at maneuvering through the other boats, but they didn’t seem to mind!” Her daily commute to AIL is a thirty minute walk through the Parque de Retiro, where she pauses daily to chat with an accordion player; an experience that makes her feel like she's living in a movie.

“I've been to Segovia and I’m planning on going to Toledo next week with another student here. But I haven't really travelled this trip because I've been through Europe before, a couple of years ago, and so this trip was more of a learning Spanish, staying in one place kind of trip. I feel more local than when I did my other trip; we were going everywhere and it was very touristy. But because I'm kind of living here, I get to do local things and just live the daily life, which I really like.”

Her Recommendations

When asked if she would have advice for anyone just starting, she says,

“I like that every day is a challenge because I don't speak the language; going to the store I have to pump myself up and think ‘you can do this!’ The little things can be so fun, whereas back home saying ´let’s go buy some bread’ is not challenging. So that's what I would suggest. Get out there and try it!

So for Joan, only one question remains: given this experience, will she come back? “Yes, I am coming back. I already want to book my flight, I already miss here and I haven't even left yet. I'm coming back!”