Cecilia Atkins (she/her) - Stanford in Madrid
Major: International Relations
Minor: Creative Writing
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This photo is from a day trip I took to Cuenca. Cuenca is a historic city nestled in the mountains a couple hours east of Madrid and it’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but definitely deserves a spot on the list of places to visit in Spain. We had an incredible day roaming around, stopping for a long Spanish lunch, and soaking up the beauty and peace of this somewhat lesser-known town.
Questions and Answers with Cecilia
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I’ve studied Spanish since first grade and I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country and have as immersive an experience as possible. The language pledge for the Madrid program appealed to me as an opportunity to develop fluency in Spanish. I had studied abroad in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain, in high school, so this time around I wanted to be in a large capital city that serves as more of a crossroads and central hub. I had also just finished an internship in Madrid the summer before my autumn study abroad and that cemented my desire to keep living in and exploring Spain.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
I didn't expect to form such strong bonds with some of the people in my program, it just wasn't something I had thought much about before studying abroad. But, I came away with many new, deep friendships that shaped my experience abroad and continue to shape my life back on campus! I also hadn’t known what to expect from my professors and classes in Madrid, but I loved Dr. Joe Lipsick’s class and Prof. Miguel Larrañaga Zulueta’s class and found myself constantly engaged and excited by all of the new material we covered.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
The language pledge was challenging to stick to at first, but really brought the entire experience into focus. My Spanish improved dramatically, and using it everyday in academic and non-academic settings helped me move around the city with ease. Other academic benefits included the access we had to centers of culture and art via the incredible museums in Madrid and our Bing trip to Sevilla and Córdoba.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned more about the different ways in which I like to explore new places, both on my own and as part of a larger group. I learned that I highly value opportunities to integrate into local communities, and I was able to do this through my volunteership at a local LGBTQIA+ non-profit.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Initially, it was challenging to actively remind myself to switch gears from the go-go-go Stanford mentality that tends to characterize our lives back on campus to a slower-paced existence in Madrid. Ultimately, this was one of the most rewarding aspects of my time abroad. With my newfound time and freedom I explored cafes, bookstores, and museums. I took myself on long walks and engaged with my surroundings in a way that Stanford's pressures don't typically allow for. In doing so, I learned to appreciate balance and moments of connection.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Discussions about race, gender, sexuality, religion, and many other facets of identity take different forms around the world. In Spain, as elsewhere, there is a lot of historical context that informs present perceptions of these topics. When engaging in these important and complex conversations in Spain, I had to adjust to make sure that I was communicating my perspective and experiences in a way that was respectful and made space for differing opinions.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
Walking to school everyday with my roommate through the winding, colorful streets of our neighborhood, Malasaña. We developed a favorite route that took a little longer but took us past our favorite alleys filled with thrift shops and street art and through plazas full of conversation flowing from groups of friends crowded around metal tables.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
Near the end of our quarter abroad, my roommate and I planned to cook dinner for our host mom. We had planned to cook for roughly 6 people: ourselves and a few of her friends. However, we should've known that many more friends would stop by, as was typical in her warm and welcoming home. Luckily, we were able to make our recipes stretch and ended up feeding a dozen people! It was an evening of laughter and stories that I'll never forget.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Engaging, illuminating, formative, vibrant, lasting.
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
Tortilla de patatas!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
Reggaeton in general, re-discovering old favorites and dancing to new songs.