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AU Madrid | Alumni Profiles

Studying in Madrid Changes Lives

Since AU's program in Madrid started in the Spring of 1996, over 1,250 students have studied abroad there. Our students lives are forever changed after spending time in Spain and our program alumni go on to do great things in their lives. Here's a small sample of a few students and what they have been up to since leaving Madrid.

A professional photograph of AU Spain alum Sonia Checchia

Sonia Checchia

Spring 1997

Sonia Checchia studied in Madrid in 1997, during her junior year at American University. An International Studies major (SIS ’98), her goals for the semester were to improve her Spanish language skills, learn about Spain, and deepen her understanding of European politics.

Looking back on the experience, she reflects, “I learned more in one semester than I had from so many hours in the library and in class. In addition to learning about Spain, I gained tremendous self-awareness. With Madrid as my ‘classroom,’ I left my comfort zone daily—every time I had to go to the post office or order a cup of coffee. I gained clarity on what frightens me, what delights me, and where my natural talents lie. I became a keen observer of the locals and tried hard to fit in and not be ‘spotted’ as a tourist. Through this experience, I developed confidence in myself, became self reliant, and built strong friendships I still cherish today.”

The semester also helped shape Sonia’s career path. Intrigued by cross-cultural communication and misunderstandings, early in her career Sonia worked as a study abroad advisor, including working for the American University programs and the International Student Exchange Program. She then translated her skills and interests to a corporate setting. At Booz Allen Hamilton, Sonia developed expertise in corporate communications and training and Diversity & Inclusion.

Today, Sonia is Creative Director at Creative Types Consulting Group. With expertise in strategic communications, change management, internal communications, brand management, messaging, and event planning, Sonia consults with clients to build communications strategies that ensure their most important messages are heard. This involves studying culture, including workplace culture, and working with language to craft and test messages.

Sonia holds an M.A. in Sociolinguistics from Georgetown University. She continues to be intrigued by language, communication, and misunderstandings, loves to travel, and is always looking for the opportunity to dust off her Spanish. She blogs at

Casual portrait of Joy smiling

Joy MacFarland

Spring 2001 and Fall 2001

Joy participated in both the Spring 2001 Madrid program and the Fall 2001 Mediterranean program, the first fall AU program in Madrid ever! She enjoyed learning the culture and the city, as well as making friends and getting to know her host family. Joy was able to intern at a middle school, working with the English classes, while she was in Madrid. At her final dinner of her second program, Joy won the superlative “Least Likely to Ever Leave” and she fulfilled that by staying in Madrid for another 11 years after the program ended.

Joy completed her Masters through Boston College in Madrid and then continued on working in bilingual schools and language schools in Madrid. She was one of the founding members of the language school that is housed in the AU Abroad Madrid Center building and worked there for four years as the Director of Studies of the ESL program.

Thanks to the AU Abroad programs in Madrid, she had such a strong foundation in Spanish language and culture that living in Madrid completely immersed in Spanish culture with Spanish people was not difficult at all.

Joy returned to the United States in July of 2012 and currently heads an international language school in the Boston area. She is in Madrid various times throughout the year and is always around the AU Madrid Center office when she is in the city.

Professional head shot of Brita Doyle smiling

Brita Doyle

Fall 2001

Brita studied abroad in Madrid in the Fall 2001 semester. She followed that with a study abroad semester in Santiago, Chile in Spring 2002. She was pleased to be able to experience two vastly different Spanish language dialects and accents. In Madrid, Brita took classes with the Mediterranean program and had an internship at a PR firm that promoted cultural events in Madrid.

After her return to AU, she wanted to help other students learn the ways of the world so she took a part time job in the AU Abroad office during her senior year. After graduation, she was lucky to be offered a full time job in study abroad office as an advisor and registration specialist. Since she took that job in 2003, her position has grown and changed over the years to include more responsibility. Now as Assistant Director in the office, Brita manages all of the study abroad programs in Spain, Latin America, and much of Northern Europe. Her experience in Spain in 2001 left an undeniable mark and she is so excited to be able to help more students experience a semester in Madrid. Returning to Spain for AU Abroad site visits is without a doubt the best part of her job.

Brita still uses the Spanish language skills she fine tuned in Madrid in her daily work at AU Abroad. She is proud to be able to conduct site visits in Spain and Latin America and be able to do all of her meetings in Spanish. Her daily management of the programs require constant emails to on-site staff and this helps keep her Spanish writing skills as strong as can be.

A photo of AU Madrid alum Nathan Bronstein smiling

Nathan Bronstein

Fall 2011

Nathan used his time abroad as a chance to reset after his hands on experience as Student Body President of AU during the 2010-2011 school year. Going to Madrid in Fall 2011 gave him a chance to leave the country for the first time in his and conduct research on the American identity and how it is perceived from abroad. During his time with the Madrid and the Mediterranean program, he practiced Spanish language, met incredible new people who he is still close to today and traveled to 10 different countries in one semester. The experience gave him meaningful perspective that ultimately helped him decide to join Teach for America and return to his hometown of Philadelphia, PA. There he worked as a science teacher in North Philly for two years during which time he also earned a Masters in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Nathan is currently earning his second and third Masters degrees in Public Administration and Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania while working on a social venture to promote collaboration across cultural silos. He says that his time in the Mediterranean Program was one of the most meaningful and enjoyable experiences of his life. He recently said to AU Abroad staff that "the lessons I took from my time abroad continue to influence many of my endeavors as I work towards empowering our future generations, and to connect people from different backgrounds."

A photo of AU Madrid alum Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson

Spring 2014

Sarah Peterson studied in Madrid in the spring of 2014 with AU's Iberian Experience program. While in Madrid, Sarah was able to fully immerse herself in the Spanish culture with the help of her host family and AU Center professors. The Iberian Experience program allowed for her to take all of her classes in Spanish, while also interning in an area related to her Communication major. Abroad, Sarah interned for MassPublic, a bilingual tourism magazine. As an intern, she had the opportunity to both translate and write articles that were published in the seasonal magazine.

Her abroad experience not only exposed her to the various regions and cultures in Spain, but also helped develop her proficiency in the Spanish language. With the Iberian Experience program and through her own travels, Sarah was able to build lasting friendships with locals and study abroad students alike. She would love to return to Madrid to visit her amazing host family, professors, coworkers, and friends.

Currently a senior at AU, Sarah is majoring in Public Communication and minoring in both Dance and Spanish. She will be working as the Media Intern for AU Abroad this spring and is excited to share the many benefits of study abroad with the AU community. Upon graduation this May, she hopes to utilize her passion for adventure and confidence in her language skills to land the job of her dreams.