Housing Options in Madrid
As a student at SUMC, housing can make all the difference in your study abroad/freshman experience. As outlined in the information brochures, there are three types of housing here: host family, residence and apartment. Each option is unique to the SUMC campus (with the only exception being apartments, to some extent), which has no dorms or other designated residence area. Below is a brief list of the pros and cons of all three choices.
Host Family: As an incoming freshman at SUMC, host families are obligotory during your first semester here. The school has a network of families, most of which consist of older, single Spanish women whose children have moved out of the house; for this reason the majority of host families are located in the suburbs rather than the city center. Some speak English, but the idea is to learn the language and culture firsthand. Rules vary from household to household, but generally speaking you aren't allowed to use the kitchen or take food unless it's during mealtimes. As part of the half-board system you only receive two meals a day, typically breakfast and dinner. Host mothers will do your laundry, clean your room (sweep/dust/etc., not necessarily organize your things) and prepare your meals. However, the transition into a family that is not your own, in addition to the cultural differences, can sometimes generate friction between students and host families. If you're interested in improving your Spanish and learning more about the culture then this option is for you; however, of the three options, this one grants the least independence.
Residence: Although I've never had the experience of living in a residence, one of my good friends was placed there last semester. Residencies are more or less the middle ground between host families and apartments; while you live exclusively with other students, the school employs maids to clean the apartment, do your laundry, shop for groceries and prepare one to two meals per day. Many of the residences are located closer to the center of the city. It's a good way to meet other students from the school, but you can be lodged with as many as eight other people; in that sense it's the most similar of the three to dorm life.
Apartment: Typically reserved for study abroad students, but not off-limits to freshmen, the apartment offers the most freedom. In exchange for that freedom, however, you're responsible for your own laundry, cooking your own meals and/or eating out, and generally keeping the house clean. The school does employ a cleaning person to clean the apartment on a weekly basis, but he or she will not take care of the dishes or individual rooms. You aren't allowed to entertain guests past 11 pm and you're not allowed to drink alcohol within the apartment (although the same goes for host families and residences). Apartments are usually smaller than residences, and you typically live with four or five other people.
Hopefully that provides some further insight into housing options here in Madrid.