Stanford in Madrid, Spring 2013-14 Major: International Relations College year while abroad: Junior
Questions and answers with Max
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I’ve been studying Spanish language and culture for over 9 years, and being able to live and communicate freely in Spain always felt like the end goal of my hard work.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
I expected Madrid to be more like the South American cities I’ve visited: more Latin than European. But Madrid is most certainly European and Renaissance. The architecture competes with Paris, the art with London, the cuisine with Rome, and the nightlife with Berlin.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
Spain is dealing with a lot of the most pertinent issues facing political scientists and foreign policy thinkers; immigration, health care, economic recession, unemployment, Islamism, and trade reform. Anyone studying social sciences will without a doubt appreciate using Madrid as a case-study.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I need to value my personal happiness and health and the well being of my family and friends as much as my academic and career successes. Americans like to criticize the Spanish for being lazy and unmotivated. But in Spain family and friends take precedence over career aspirations, and people who are overly competitive are viewed as misguided. I gained a deep appreciation for this mindset during my time abroad and will incorporate it into my daily psyche when back at Stanford.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I took a sociology course at the Complutense, the public university in Madrid, which was taught entirely in Spanish. The material was difficult to understand and I had to complete a quarter-long research project and present my findings to the entire lecture classroom, but I learned a ton about academia, Spanish students, and Europeanization (the subject on my project), so the challenge paid off.
How was your experience living with local families?
My host mother was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. She adopted me as her own and made me feel safe, comfortable, and cherished. My Madrid experience would not have been as enriching or special if I hadn’t had her as a constant cultural and familial resource.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Shifting my daily schedule. Spaniards go to bed late, wake up early, eat a huge lunch at 3 PM and dinner at 10:30 PM. But life is so much more enjoyable because of longer mealtimes and dedicated social and relaxation times during the day that sleep is less necessary.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
Walking the long way home, wandering through magical, unexplored alleyways and plazas.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
I went to Primavera Sound, one of Europe’s premier music festivals, in Barcelona with my best friend from the program. The music was incredible, and the experience was uniquely Barcelona. All of the stages were on the ocean, the concertgoers came from all over Europe, everyone was quite fashionable, and the music went until 6 AM.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Madrid?
Don’t skimp out on academic units and take classes that truly interest you, not just the “easy” ones.
If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?
I would have traveled less outside of Spain and focused more weekends exploring my beautiful host country. You have the rest of your life to see the rest of Europe; take advantage of your immersion in Spain and immerse yourself.
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
Albondigas (Spanish meatballs)
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My iPhone with 2 very crucial apps: SpanishDict and CityMaps2Go
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
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.