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Intern in Madrid Shares Fitness Journey Abroad

by AIFS Abroad

We caught up with Grace, a college student from the University of South Carolina who has been participating in an international internship program with AIFS Abroad in Madrid, Spain. Grace’s personal and professional passions are related to fitness and health. After speaking with her about her goals, our team was able to place her in a summer internship abroad at a fitness facility in Madrid!

Read on to learn more about Grace’s fitness journey as an intern abroad.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

My name is Grace Griswold and I am currently interning abroad in Madrid, Spain. I am working at B3B Woman Studio (@B3BWomanStudio), a women-only fitness studio that combines cycling, boxing and barre exercises for a complete full body workout in just 45 minutes. The main focus of my work is to come up with content ideas for the brand’s social media accounts and film footage of the classes, although I also have other responsibilities, such as translating and helping wherever I can with different tasks. I also get to participate in workout classes when I can, so that is a definite plus!

I am a NPC Bikini competitor from Atlanta, GA and will be starting my senior year of college at the University of South Carolina this coming fall, where I am studying mass communications with a minor in Spanish. I am also working on content for my own social media accounts surrounding fitness and working towards getting my personal training certification through NASM because my goal is to help others in the gym.

AIFS Abroad Internship participant in bodybuilding competition

Fitness is a big part of my life so I wanted to share with y’all a little bit about my fitness journey abroad and how it’s been transitioning to off season life post show. I have always been an active person, as I grew up a gymnast, before participating in cheer and diving in high school, but I started lifting weights consistently in May 2021 and fell in love with it. Going to the gym is an important part of my lifestyle and I truly believe that movement is medicine; there are so many things that going to the gym or just being active in general can do for you, not just physically, but mentally, and I am a big believer in that.

I competed in my first bodybuilding competition, the Cydney Gillon Peach Classic, on May 27, 2023. I started prepping to compete on January 2nd of this year and it was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done, but the amount of discipline and inner strength I found through the process, as well as the feeling I had on stage, were indescribable, and made it all worth it. During a bodybuilding prep, there were many things in my daily life that changed; I had to follow a very strict eating plan, spend hours in the gym a day training and doing lots of cardio, practice my posing routine and make many sacrifices. From my description it sounds miserable and I’m sure you’re wondering “why would anyone ever want to do that?” and that’s understandable! But for me, I learned to fall in love with the process and being able to see the changes throughout my prep, the support from those around me from my friends, family, coach and bodybuilding community, and seeing the hard work pay off in my results.

It was definitely hard being a college student and not being able to participate in a lot of the typical college student activities that my friends were doing, but it was so worth it in the end and I can’t wait to get on stage again and bring a better package to the table. After a competition, it is important to follow a reverse diet in order to gain a healthy amount of weight back and get stronger so that you can stay healthy and grow more muscle in order to improve your physique for your next competition season/have a better starting point to work with when you start your next prep.

How has interning abroad in Madrid impacted your fitness routine?

For me, it has been slightly more difficult to stay on track than it probably would have been if I were home, but at the end of the day, the gym and bodybuilding will always be there, but an opportunity like this — living and working in Madrid — won’t. I believe I have done a good job of having fun, keeping my future and goals in mind, not restricting myself and practicing balance. I also think this has been a great and well deserved break for me and I know I can get back on track when I arrive home.

Any advice for future interns abroad who are looking to stay physically active?

My biggest advice for anyone looking to stay active in general while abroad would be finding a way you enjoy moving, whether it be investing in a gym membership, going for a run, trying out fun new workout classes that may not be available in your hometown or just getting some steps in. I lift weights 5 times a week because it is a part of my lifestyle and I enjoy it, but if that’s not your thing there are so many other ways to stay active; it is important to find something you enjoy because you’ll be more motivated to stick with it than if you were to force yourself to do something you hate! For me, I love finding cool new gyms to try out when I travel because it’s a fun way to switch things up and it’s exciting to me.

AIFS Abroad international internship program partticipant at the gym in Madrid

Running or walking is a great way to unwind, get some alone time to think, explore your surroundings and of course, get some steps in. I always opt to walk over taking the metro because I prefer it; I think it is a great way to explore the city and avoid the crowded trains. I always pass by beautiful architecture and find cool restaurants and coffee shops I want to try on my walks to and from work. Due to Madrid (and many other European cities)’ walkability, I’ll often look at my step count on my phone and see I have walked 7 or 8 miles in a day without even thinking about it and it doesn’t even feel like exercise, but it’s so good for you.

Also, many different types of fitness studios (B3B included!) will let you try a free class, so I think that would be a great way to try out different types of workout, yoga, pilates etc. classes without breaking the bank. I have never personally used it, but there’s a membership available in most cities called Class Pass that lets you try out different gyms, fitness classes and even spas, for cheaper than buying a membership at one gym would be and they even have a free trial available; I’ve heard great things about it from my coworkers here and friends back home!

Can you share your thoughts on acclimating to different culinary traditions abroad as a fitness enthusiast?

For me, I [try] to cook the bulk of my meals at home, which is a great way to eat healthier while saving money and improving your skills in the kitchen. It’s fun because you can get creative. However, eating out doesn’t always have to mean eating unhealthy! I have found so many great restaurants [in Madrid] that serve healthier foods of all different types, ranging from buddha bowls to vegan pancakes made from whole ingredients that taste like chocolate cake. Eating healthy does not have to mean restricting yourself or eating boring food by any means.

I would also definitely recommend eating the local cuisine, as well, and giving yourself the freedom to go out for drinks or grab some pasta, etc. if you want. Life is too short not to, and there are so many fun foods here that you can’t really find in the US. I love Spanish food so much!

I also take advantage of the fact that the food over here generally is higher quality and less processed than back home due to the EU’s stricter regulations. Portion sizes are generally smaller, too. So, if you are someone that struggles with your relationship with food (I did for many years!), I know it is easier said than done, but I would try not to worry about it too much to the point where it takes away from your experience or adds unneeded stress.

Watch Grace’s takeover on the AIFS Abroad Instagram account

What’s your top piece of advice overall when it comes to fitness abroad?

My biggest advice would be to enjoy whatever you do and not restrict yourself. I always try to balance having fun with being mindful about staying active and eating on the healthier side because I am intentional about my goals for the future as a bikini competitor. However, I try not to be too hard on myself if there is a day where I do not eat the healthiest because I know it won’t ruin my progress! If my plan was to go to the gym one day but my friends ask me to go out with them and I end up not having time, it’s fine because I would rather potentially have an unforgettable experience with friends in Europe versus skipping going to a fun restaurant or cool event, etc. to go to the gym.

Some weeks I may only make it to the gym four times a week, for example, which may not be my norm — and there were times in my life where that would have stressed me out, but it’s perfectly okay. At the end of the day the gym will always be there but once in a lifetime experiences and memories won’t!

There is also no right or wrong amount of times to workout in a week, it is completely up to you. I just go often because it has been a part of my routine for more than two years now and is a huge part of what makes me me, but that doesn’t apply to everyone because we’re all so different.

Just find some way to keep yourself active and, most importantly, find something you enjoy doing because it will feel like less of something you HAVE to do if you enjoy it. I also promise that being active will do so many things for you, such as making you feel better and giving you more confidence.

And above all, HAVE FUN abroad because you deserve it!

If you want to keep up with my fitness journey + more helpful tips you can follow my Instagram @gracegriswoldfit where I post my workouts, food, daily life and updates about bodybuilding!

Big thanks to Grace for sharing her fitness journey abroad as an international internship program participant in Madrid!

Interning abroad is your chance to do something different, learn outside of the classroom, gain work experience, earn academic credit, make lifelong friendships, and explore the world. Ready to start your journey?

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