Madrid Offers Students Unique Immersive and Cultural Experiences
January 22, 2024 — At the center of Marist’s nation-leading study abroad opportunities are dedicated and talented staff members who bring the student experience to life.
For Dr. Isabel Carrasco Castro, who serves as director of the Marist Spain program, her role is about more than administration; it’s about curating moments that students will carry with them long after their study abroad journey is over.
Marist's Spain program is nested within the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), one of Europe’s most prestigious universities. With two distinct tracks—Spanish-language and English-language—students can tailor their academic journey to match their language proficiency.
In her role, Isabel combines her responsibilities to coordinate the program with her academic work and personal passions, including her research interests in graffiti, calligraphy, and street art. She seamlessly blends her responsibilities by sharing unparalleled knowledge of Madrid’s urban landscape, ensuring that students not only gain academic knowledge during their abroad experience, but also discover the artistry and vibrancy that the city and country offer.
Dr. Isabel Carrasco Castro with President Kevin Weinman and students in the Marist Spain program. Photo courtesy of Marist Spain.
“Isabel’s dedication to enriching the study abroad experience shines through in every interaction, from weekend excursions to check-ins in her office to make sure students are confident and prepared to excel overseas,” said Mia Garofalo '23, who studied psychology at Marist and studied in Madrid for the spring, 2022 semester.
As a child growing up in Madrid's suburbs, Isabel was far more interested in crayons than toys. Her interest in art led her to study art history at Complutense University in Spain. She later earned a PhD in philosophy from the same school.
As her education progressed into her career, she participated in a mix of artistic practice and art criticism, with street art becoming her primary focus.
Street art in Spain. Photos courtesy of Isabel Carrasco Castro.
“I’m very interested in social justice issues and the street is the place of activism par excellence,” she said. “I like when things are raw and not mediated by money or any other force, just the person—not even necessarily a professional artist—expressing something and questioning the status quo.”
Isabel brings this passion and expertise into the experiences of Marist students in Spain through a wide variety of memorable learning opportunities that are second to none.
“The street art walking tours are something I will never forget,” said Daniella Lipoff '25, an elementary education major who studied in Spain in 2022. “Isabel would go out of her way to make sure that we were seeing the most authentic and coolest sights that Madrid had to offer.”
The engagement with Spanish culture extends far beyond Madrid as well, with excursions offered to Barcelona and the Canary Islands, among other local and regional sites.
“Isabel organized weekly cultural immersion activities, including a flamenco show, a cabaret show, and a tour of an abandoned metro stop,” said Juliann Negron '21, who earned her degree in applied mathematics, spending a semester in Spain in 2017. “She also planned a few trips outside of Madrid for us, including Sevilla and Tangier, Morocco. I am forever grateful for her labors of love to give us the ultimate Madrid experience.”
Beyond the immersive learning Isabel provides, students say she helps smooth the adjustment to living abroad and is always available to help them learn and grow.
Students in the Marist Spain program on a tour of the city’s street art. Photo courtesy of Dr. Isabel Carrasco Castro.
“Navigating a new city can be stressful, but Isabel has an incredible way of making it a seamless transition,” said Alex Carlin '17 who earned his degree in psychology and Spanish and spent the full 2015-16 academic year in Madrid. “She goes above and beyond, offering support and guidance to every student in the program to help them succeed both in and out of the classroom.”
“Isabel’s positive and enthusiastic attitude pushed me to constantly get out of my comfort zone: to go places I once thought were not for me,” said Franciluz Lizardo '22, a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship who earned her degree in human biology and studied in Spain in 2022. “My experience in Madrid would not have been the same if Isabel wasn’t there.“
Isabel’s guidance and expertise help foster the College’s commitment to bringing Marist to the world and the world to Marist, a key component of the Marist 100 strategic vision.
Dr. Isabel Carrasco Castro with Marist faculty, staff, and students posing for a fun photo in Venice. Photo by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College.
“I've been taking advantage of every single opportunity that Marist has proposed to travel, develop, and make connections,” she said. “I’m a very active researcher and I love what I do, and Marist has been very supportive as I continue to learn, so I can also help make the program even stronger.”
"Dr. Carrasco Castro is the consummate international education professional," said Dr. John Peters, Associate Provost for International Engagement and Senior International Officer. "She provides clear leadership for the Marist Spain program, has a strong academic background, publishes and presents widely in her field, and helps to nurture the intellectual, personal, and professional growth of her students. We’re very fortunate to have her as part of the team!"
One of Isabel’s main goals is to make sure students are confident that they can navigate both the school and the city when they arrive for their study abroad experience.
“Everything is planned to make them feel very familiar with everything,” she said. “We travel the subway, we navigate buses, trains, everything together.”
With UC3M being akin to an Ivy League school in Europe, sometimes students can arrive with a bit of intimidation. One of Isabel’s favorite aspects of the job is watching students evolve and gain confidence attending a new university in a new city.
“I always tell students: Marist is here for a reason,” Isabel said. “Students succeed being here. Don’t be scared about who is sitting next to you. You’re going to make it, and you’re going to feel proud.”
You can find more information on Marist’s program in Spain at the following links: click here for the Spanish-language track and here for the English-language track.