Stanford in Madrid, Spring 2017-18
Major: Public Policy
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: Growing up, my family would listen to spanish music on the weekend, and one of the songs was La Puerta de Alcalá by Ana Belen. Imagine my excitement when I ran into it on the first weekend in Madrid, needless to say I could not get the song out of my head for the rest of the day.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I chose to study in Madrid for many reasons, but the first one being that I had never gotten a chance to explore my Spanish roots. I grew up listening to how my ancestors were Spanish and listening to Spanish music while growing up in my native Cuba. Madrid gave me a chance to explore my Spanish heritage and to once again live in my native language.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
Before I went I was expecting the Spain full of stereotypes: everyone taking siestas, drinking sangría and dancing flamenco. Needless to say that my time in Madrid changed that dramatically. In the ten weeks I spent there, I learned that Spain is a country full of different cultures embedded in one, and its history is present in its everyday life. Nevertheless the Spanish people are kind, joyful, and persevering, and I can't wait to find myself within them again.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
In Madrid I was able to take classes that I did not have the chance to take on campus such as a history class, and a flamenco class. On campus I was always worrying about checking off something in my major’s requirements, and being in Madrid allowed me to disconnect from that mentality and take classes that I really loved without checking a four year plan beforehand. I was also able to take up an internship at a local elementary school, which fed into my passion for education. After taking classes in Madrid, I have shifted my four year plan to take more classes that I am passionate about.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Studying abroad I found a version of myself that I had not seen in a while. Being on my native language again made me feel confident in myself, and I used that confidence everywhere. I spoke up in all of my classes, and I talked to people everywhere. I made friends on the bus, on the metro, even on museums. I was also the designated front row seater in taxis and ubers. That way I found myself asking questions everywhere to get to know the real Madrid and the real Spain, and that is something that I would not regularly do in the States.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Spanish people are very blunt. They say what they think, and do not think twice before saying. This is no different than the way I grew up, but it is quite different from the states. While I felt the lack of political correctness at times was just a reminder of home, my classmates’ shock at some Spanish expressions made me question cultural differences. Overall I learned that all countries have their own thinkings and social rules, and while it is alright to question these, it is important to learn how to bridge our thinkings with theirs.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Definitely the meal schedule. Spanish people eat late, lunch was at 3:00pm and dinner would be at 9:30pm. At the beginning I would find myself starving, but little by little I got used to it and enjoyed my meal times with my host family. Back in the states I had a hard time adjusting back. The commute was also a new thing for me, but I took up reading and read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits while blending in with the rest of the Madrid commuters.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
Dinner time with my host family was definitely my favorite time of everyday. My host sisters would tell the wildest stories that happened on their school day while my host mom shared the latest zumba class trend and we would finish with my host dad showing us his favorite music videos on youtube. It may sound chaotic but it was just the perfect mix to to end my day. It didn't matter how the day went, because every night I knew dinner time would bring a smile to my face.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
There were many memories to pick just one. One of my favorite was when I hosted the talent show for the program. This is not that I would normally volunteer for, but Laura was nagging everyone to participate and I rather host than embarrass myself singing. I had a wonderful time helping out with the event and it brought me closer to the amazing Madrid office staff. It also turned out that my host family won the award for best gazpacho and I had the honor of announcing the win and celebrated with them on stage. It was honestly a perfect day on all aspects.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
life-changing, transcendental, enjoyable, eye-opening, transformative
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
The plug adapter. Mine has settings for all countries. It was a life savior. Also the city mapper app!
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
Rosalía, credits to Laura.
Every Stanford undergraduate should give serious consideration to studying overseas.
Regardless of the academic path you choose, you will be enriched by time spent in another country. Achieving cultural literacy and gaining substantive understanding of other perspectives in the world will deepen your awareness of yourself, your educational goals, and your own society. Nearly one-half of each graduating class studies abroad through one of Stanford's overseas programs.
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