Nina Donaldson


Stanford in Madrid, Spring 2015-16
Major: Environmental Systems Engineering
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?

Travel, exploration of other cultures and meeting people from around the world are all things I grew up valuing. When I came to Stanford, I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I chose Madrid because of my desire to improve my Spanish language skills, my obsession with Spanish music and a desire to be on the other side of the Atlantic. The Madrid program would fully immerse me in the language (we had a Spanish only language pledge 100% of the time) and expose me to the culture even more through the home-stay system. The idea of being in Europe and able to travel easily was also appealing to me.

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?

I was very open-minded going in, but I definitely thought the language pledge would be more of a barrier than it actually ended up being. I assumed I would not be able to communicate for the first part of the program, but quickly discovered after arriving that people are more patient than you may think.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?

The biggest academic benefit for me was actually taking a break from my regular academic routine. The program reminded me how much we can learn in a non-academically rigorous environment (at least compared to at Stanford). My Spanish language skills were also dramatically improved.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned so much more than I could ever fit into a paragraph, but one of the biggest realizations for me was that I am very comfortable and at peace with the culture in Spain – so much so that I can see myself living there more than in the US after university. I also learned how fast we learn and adapt when we have no choice but to do so.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

By far, walking El Camino – a 5 day, 112km walk through the northern countryside of Spain (part of a class during the spring). I learned that laughter cures pain. I also learned that if you put your mind to something, despite certain physical disabilities, you can achieve it and that there is special bond created between people after you have suffered together.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The biggest cultural adjustment was the eating schedule. Since I am used to a substantial breakfast, lunch around mid-day and dinner by 7pm, it was challenging adjusting to a no breakfast, 2:30pm lunch and 10pm dinner cycle. I found myself hungry a lot of the time, especially around 8pm (nothing a small bowl of cereal or biscuit could not fix). It definitely got easier by the end though.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?

The freedom I felt to explore the city either with friends or solo. I felt safe even when I was by myself at night, which is not something I am used to at all. The sense of independence that Madrid gives you is hard to match.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?

During one of our “charlas” (scheduled hang outs with local students our age), we visited El Circulo de Bellas Artes – a rooftop area for viewing the entire city. The sun was setting and we were laughing with 3 of the students. I remember feeling like my heart was warm and full and that there was nowhere I would rather be at that moment.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Formative, Necessary, Vibrant, A blessing, Way too fast

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?

Croquetas- cheesy, deep fried potato goodness.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

Comfy walking shoes!

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?

I fell in love with reggaeton