Stanford in Madrid, Winter 2014-15
Major: Political Science, Minor: Psychology
College year while abroad: Junior
Why did you choose to study abroad in Spain?
For the sake of keeping this short, I’ll only include a few of the many reasons I chose to study abroad in Spain. But in all honesty, I could probably talk for days! For one, Spanish culture has always been a part of the Mexican and the American cultures I am immersed in since both once formed part of the Spanish empire, New Spain. The implications of Spanish colonization both in Mexico and the U.S. has always been enthralling topic for me. Since highschool, I have also been engrossed with the historical accounts of the Spanish Civil War and of its political dissent. My interest in this Spanish time period was only strengthened after losing myself in the fictional world of a fun read, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Zafon. Having the opportunity to live and study in Madrid was beyond exciting for me; to be at the site where Federico Garcia Lorca wrote Canciones,where Picasso’s piece Guernicais displayed, and experience the rich diversity of culture in the heart of Spain would be incredible.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Spain?
As the first person in my family to graduate high school and go to college, I expected it would be difficult for me to be so far in an unfamiliar place to study. Studying abroad in Spain was really the only time in my life I had traveled abroad for an extended amount of time without family. With that being said, I am glad to say that my time abroad was not a challenging experience, quite the opposite. In fact, ever since I left Spain, I have wanted to go back. In Spain, I felt very comfortable and cannot remember even a second when the thought of coming back crossed my mind. Perhaps I experienced a lower level of culture shock because I had previously been exposed to certain aspects of Spanish culture, communicated in Spanish, and am a fairly independent person. When it comes to expectations, I certainly didn’t expect my time in Spain to affect me so profoundly in the positive way it did!
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Spain?
I know that studying abroad is sometimes considered antithetical to having academic benefits on campus, but studying abroad was hands down one of the most rewarding academic experiences I’ve had! I had countless academic benefits, between the orientations looking at Spain’s history, the small seminar classes I was a part of, my internship experience, or the independent study I did with the faculty-in-residence Professor Segura. With the aforementioned experiences in mind, I am most grateful for having the opportunity to learn from a Stanford faculty within my department to focus on a subject that is relevant for my academic experience on campus, but also was a formative learning experience to my learning of Spain.
Also very important to consider is the issue of balancing between academics and experiencing the cultural immersion in Spain. Often times, students like to frame this question as achieving one or the other, academics or cultural immersion. I definitely saw this framing reflected in the Stanford group I studied abroad with, but I’d argue that they go hand in hand. I was someone who really thought about immersing myself in all aspects of Spanish culture, having fun, traveling, while also complementing this experience and applying it to the learning I was doing inside the classrooms.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
When I was abroad some of the more challenging moments came when confronting questions around race within the program and in Spanish society. There were few experiences while studying abroad where people in my program were challenged because of their identity due to explicitly racial language. In Spain, being forthright and politically incorrect is the norm. This manifested in various ways, most people call every Asian “chino” or chinese, and we saw youth outside of Madrid wearing blackface, for example. With everything that came up for my peers and I, the Stanford BOSP Madrid program did everything they could in order to make us feel welcome, comfortable, and safe. I knew that some cultural situations would be challenging and I ultimately saw them for what they were, experiences for cultural learning. These experiences taught me a lot about the role of race/ethnicity outside the U.S. , made me reflect on America’s unique racial politics, and lead to many interesting conversations with my peers and Spaniards on the issue.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
My time in Spain was an immersion into another world of ideals, a time to reflect and gain critical consciousness. I asked myself: As you live your life, what is your ideal? Do you prefer individualism or collectivism? Why? Being abroad really shook my understood certainties about my life and future. More concretely, I learned that I really love traveling, am a risk-averse person (i.e. driving to other countries, why not?!), and can easily forget to sleep if I am exploring new places.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
One of the biggest cultural adjustment (aside from the occasional political incorrect statement) for me initially was to ‘slow down’ and have a more relaxed understanding of time. This was most challenging for me when I would go to restaurants or cafes expecting to remain on a tight schedule and then be disappointed when it didn’t quite work out. In these situations, I was very conscious of the difference in expectations that I had to the Spanish and it is something that I adapted to quickly. To be honest, I may have adapted too much to Spain’s cultural perception of time now that I am back on campus (partly, I joke).
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Spain?
I would have to say how often I learned something new, whether that be about the awesome peers I traveled with, myself, Spanish culture, or American culture (after leaving the U.S., a lot of things that go unnoticed suddenly stand out). In Spain, I was a young fish in the didactic essay of David Foster Wallace “This is Water,” and I was constantly asking “what the hell is water.” As Wallace says, it's hard to see the realities of our world until we turn away from it. But in Spain I managed to do just that, and learned a lot more than I would’ve done by learning in the classrooms alone.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Spain?
This is so hard, I’m not very good at picking favorites! The most rewarding and likely the most memorable experience for me happened on my 21st birthday, it wasn’t your usual 21st birthday celebration. I was a volunteer teacher at a Spanish NGO, “APRAMP” and was fully responsible for developing classroom curriculum and preparing classroom activities, so I spent most of my day prepping. APRAMP has mobile units and welcome centers where legal, social, and health information and support is provided to victims of human trafficking. At one of these centers I was teaching my usual three-hour class when my students surprised me by singing happy birthday in Spanish (which made me feel very proud) followed by the birthday songs of the various countries they were from (Nigeria, Brazil, Macedonia, and Romania mainly). As if this wasn’t enough, the women also gave me an apron they had made in APRAMP’s workshop. I was so grateful for their gesture, I was fighting back tears of joy and with a lump in my throat, gave them huge hugs. Still, thinking about the women who made the memory for me makes it impossible not to smile. This incredible memory I owe to the women who taught me about life as much, but likely more, than I taught them about Spanish language.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Meditative, Mind-blowing, Boundless, Transformative, Thrill
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Spain?
My advice as someone who was (real talk) hesitant at first, JUST DO IT!!! I had applied, gotten accepted and then turned down the opportunity to go abroad to Spain a quarter before I actually went. If there is a way to make it work in your schedule, which is definitely a possibility given all the efforts BOSP does to be inclusive of all disciplines, study abroad in Spain! If you need help in working out your schedule, talking through some hesitations, or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
This is hard to say, because I had such an amazing time in Spain (those five words sum it up!). If there is anything I would’ve done differently, it’d only be to have made plans to stay for another quarter. Also, I would’ve stayed in Madrid more weekends, to have more time with my Spanish host family and have more time to wander the streets of Madrid.
How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?
Being in Spain gave me a lot more time to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, without part-time jobs, incessant deadlines, or extracurriculars (all of which I still appreciate). I audited a course in the Complutense University of Madrid, and found myself happy to find an honest curiosity for the subject. This prompted me to take relevant graduate coursework back at Stanford, and I have considered various options to pursue learning in the future as well. I have shifted my understanding of success as it relates to my career, to one can also leaves room for values reinforced through my abroad experience (intellectually stimulating and morally rewarding work). I have also come to understand the Spanish proverb, ‘trabajar para vivir’ or ‘living for life’ rather than just ‘vivir para trabajar’ or ‘living for work.’ Knowing this about myself is crucial, as I am a graduating senior.
What was your favorite food you had in Spain?
For me, the best tapas options included tortilla de patata, croquetas, but as someone who missed the spicier food palette, my favorite was patatas bravas (soo tasty but still not super spicy).
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Spain?
Nicky Jam is a reggaeton artist that I discovered in Spain, it wasn’t until going abroad to Spain when I started to listening and dancing to reggaeton. To my surprise, the music genre reggaeton was all the rage among Spanish youth.
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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