September 2, 2017 – September 3, 2017

¡Hola compañeros! My name is Nina, and I’m here to guide you through all the nuances and memories of my study abroad experience with UCEAP’s Contemporary Spain Program at the UC Center in Madrid. 🙂

Bright and early on September 2, my parents drove me to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where my journey begins. With a final destination of Madrid, Spain, my itinerary also included stops in Boston and in Lisbon with some layovers in between. Needless to say, I had a long journey ahead of me, but I was excited nonetheless. After months of telling friends and family that I would be spending a semester abroad in Spain, the time had finally come to make the trek.

I tried really hard to fit all my clothes and shoes into a carry-on sized backpacking bag. I mean I really, really tried. But after consolidating articles of clothing and trying to pack for a month of heat (all of September) as well as three months of cold (October – December), my mom and I decided to fit the backpacking bag into a larger suitcase and check the bag instead for less hassle. Even though I would probably need to get rid of some clothes and the suitcase before my planned European backpacking trip after the end of the program, that was a problem I was willing to deal with in December.

The first thing I had to do was check into my departing flight from Seattle to Boston. I flew with JetBlue and for some reason I had not been able to check-in online the night before. They told me that, since I was travelling with an American passport and did not purchase a round-trip ticket, they needed some verification that I would depart from Spain before they checked me in. Apparently, a plane, train, or ticket for any other form of transportation showing my exit date from Spain would work, but travelling with an American passport requires that you have proof that you will not stay in the country forever.

Thankfully, I had made plans to leave Spain for Fall Break (you get one week of break!!) and showed them my plane ticket that would take me out of Madrid. I’m not sure if this is a common experience for everyone, since many of my friends had no problem checking in. However, in order to avoid the hassle, I would suggest either booking a round-trip flight or buying a ticket to leave the country prior to leaving the United States.

The flight from Seattle to Boston was around 6 hours long and was otherwise uninteresting. I had a layover of about 2 hours in Boston, which gave me enough time to grab a bite to eat before my next flight to Lisbon with TAP Portugal. Before boarding the connecting flight, an attendant checked my passport one last time and verified my final destination. Then, I was off! One flight down, two more to go!

This airplane was bigger than the domestic one, by virtue of international travel. However, there wasn’t that much space underneath the seats so I threw my school-bag in an overhead bin and was very glad that I had checked my bags for the journey. This flight also took around 6.5 hours, for a total time of 12-13 hours in the air since I left Seattle. Since this was a night flight, they fed us dinner on the plane 🙂

When I stepped off the plane in Lisbon, I had one more connection to catch straight to Madrid. However, the layover in Portugal was very short and left me with thirty minutes to go through customs before boarding started. Yes, you have to go through customs after your flight from the United States into Europe. This is the only time they check your student visa and put you through a border check. If you fly straight into Madrid, it’ll most likely happen there, but if you have a connecting flight somewhere else in Europe beforehand, be prepared for a long line to enter the country.

So…ready for a plot twist? I missed my flight from Lisbon to Madrid because of the long customs lines and short layover (nooooooooo). Even though I asked the workers at customs to let me go in an expedited line, they prioritized other flights over mine while reassuring me that there was no way I would miss the plane. By the time I passed through customs and another round of security, the gate for my flight was already closed and there was nothing they could do to get me on the original flight. When booking your flight, try to ensure at least 2 hours of layover, especially if connecting straight from the United States to Europe.

The next direct flight from Lisbon to Madrid left at night and would arrive at 9 PM instead of the 9 AM original time. Since I had plans to meet Raquel at the UC Center (also called the ACCENT Madrid Study Abroad Center) for orientation before classes, I wanted to get to Madrid as soon as possible. So, as a workaround I was rebooked for a flight with Iberia Airlines to Milan that connected straight to Madrid by 6 PM. In the meantime, they reassured me that my checked luggage would be sent straight to Madrid and I was given a 6-euro voucher to get breakfast before my next flight.

After 4 separate flights and unnecessary layovers, I landed in Madrid in one piece! Whew! When we landed, I went straight to baggage claim to look for my luggage. Surprise, surprise, it had not arrived to Madrid yet. I filed a missing baggage report with the Iberian Airlines help-desk where I gave them the address of the ACCENT Center and my e-mail address to contact me. They said that once my baggage was found, it would take 2-3 days to send it to the address I provided.

Make sure to ask what kind of policy the airline has for lost baggage. I later found out that Iberian Airlines will reimburse up to 50 euros a day for any clothes, toiletries, or other necessities you need to buy while the luggage is missing. (Update: they delivered my bag 10 days later…still waiting on the reimbursements J)

Additionally, pack an extra outfit (including underwear and socks) along with travel toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, contacts, glasses, etc.) in your carry-on in case your luggage disappears for a little bit. While you can buy what you need in Spain, it’s better to have a base set of necessities with you. Even better, try to fit everything into a carry-on bag if at all possible, especially if you have multiple layovers before your final destination. That way, you’ll be sure to have what you need as soon as you arrive.

To get to the ACCENT center, I took a taxi with a flat 30-euro rate from the airport to anywhere in Madrid. Since I arrived a week later than everyone else, Raquel and I took care of all the logistics in one go instead of over the course of two days. I also missed the walking tour of the area, but since then have done plenty of exploring on my own to get situated J

Armed with tons of pamphlets with information about homestay customs, how to save money during study abroad, a language “quick guide” with handy Spanish phrases, a map of the city, important dates, and more, I made my way to my homestay location with the metro. UCEAP provides everyone on the program with an all-expenses-paid transport card that works for metro, train, and bus within Madrid – a true lifesaver!

Naturally, with no cellular data and no sense of direction, I started walking in the completely wrong direction as soon as I exited the Metro…but 30 minutes later I was greeted with open arms by my host-mom, Pura, and fed a delicious Spanish dinner of chicken and potatoes J I guess the good thing about traveling for over 24 hours is that I completely missed jetlag and got accustomed to the 9-hour time difference between Spain and California right away!

Hopefully you gain some vital travel insights from my struggles…I know I’m definitely more prepared for next time I travel!

More stories to come soon 🙂

Hasta luego,


Nina Chikanov studied abroad in Madrid, Spain in fall 2017: