Madison Houston (she/her) - Stanford in Madrid
Major: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: My roommate and I (right) on the way home in the Madrid Metro. This night I finally decided to check "Metro photoshoot" off of my to-do list and everyone was not as pleased about it as I was. Behind us, there is an ad that says "viajar es maravilloso" which means "to travel is marvelous." I did not see it at the time, but nothing could be more fitting.
Questions and Answers with Madison
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I knew that I wanted to study abroad before I ever stepped foot on campus. In the Houston Black student send-off all of the alumni named "not studying abroad during their tenure at Stanford" as their biggest regret. From that moment on, I was determined to study abroad. Although I did not initially intend to minor in Spanish, I also made that decision fairly early in my college career. Therefore, I was mostly deciding between the Madrid and Santiago study abroad programs. Ultimately, I decided to study in Madrid because I felt that the Language Pledge would help me to improve my Spanish-speaking ability, I relished the opportunity to travel within the European Union on occasion, and I was excited to live with a host family.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
Before arriving in Madrid I anticipated that I would want to do everything there is to do in Madrid. I envisioned myself going to all of the museums, going to concerts, eating new cuisine -- you name it. Actually, what I discovered is sometimes a nap is more beneficial than discovering a new painting. I discovered that fajitas with my host family while watching TV can mean more than a fancy new fish to try. I found that reading a book in Parque Retiro could be more satisfying than a night out with friends. Looking back at my time during the program, it's the small, unplanned moments that I'm most fond of and I did not expect that.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
Of the many academic benefits, perhaps my favorite was the relevance of the course material to my environment. That is to say, I could spend a class period learning about Picasso and his art form then later in the week visit a museum with my classmates and professors to see his work firsthand. It helped me to be more curious and engaged in the classroom setting because I could easily trace each lesson to the real-world. An added benefit is the small class sizes. In Madrid is the first time I felt connected to professors. In many instances not only did they teach us, they would also lead tours in the museum, recommend local eateries and festivities, some even joined us at Cirque du Soleil. This way, we mutually learned about the complete person and not just their intellectual capabilities.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned how much I value creativity while studying abroad. First, I took an art class, which was completely uncharted territory. Although it was labor intensive, I enjoyed trying to recreate some of the most iconic artists' works or working on an original piece. I also chose to document my weekend travels using my iPhone. I filmed short video clips and edited them (poorly) in iMovie to share with my family and friends back home. Also, I used anytime alone at home to sing old Disney Channel hits and freestyle some choreography. Admittedly, one time I thought I was home alone, but my host brother was taking a nap. He came to my room and asked, "everything okay?" All in all, I really enjoyed finding new, and sometimes obnoxious, ways to be creative.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
The most challenging experience I encountered in Madrid was having my backpack swapped for an empty one while in a cafe. I lost my wallet, work from most of my classes, and supplies for my internship, where I shadowed an ob/gyn. Initially, I was devastated and frantic because I had never experienced anything similar back home. I was not sure how to navigate the coming days and weeks. However, I soon found out that everyone around me was concerned and dedicated to helping me get back on track. My host mom walked with me to the police station to file a police report. My friends happily offered to pay for food and metro tickets until I was able to pay them back. The administration offered me a temporary loan. And all of my teachers knew my circumstance. Days and weeks after, rather than asking about the missing assignments, they were more concerned with my well-being. In the aftermath of one of the most challenging periods abroad and in my life, I realized that I truly had a safety net of people who cared about me and who would offer support (tangible and otherwise) in times of need.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Food! Food! Food! We ate really big lunches and small, late dinners. Items that looked familiar somehow taste different. I tried snail and octopus for the first time. Fun fact: we even had a preserved pig leg on our kitchen counter!
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
My favorite part of my everyday life in Madrid was the walk to and from the Institute. I was fortunate to live just one Metro stop from classes. That meant I could take a 5 minute ride or choose to take a brisk 20 minute walk. Each day I discovered something new and wondrous. I looked forward to the new pup I might see or the boutique I would decide to revisit over the weekend. I enjoyed the thrill of crossing the busy streets and made sure to memorize the cute outfits I would try to recreate. What I didn't realize was by the end of the program I would begin to see old faces. I would always smile hesitantly at the little old woman who walked with a cane and forced a tin can in my face. I tried to peek through the tall iron gates that hid the Italian embassy, which was always manned by a particularly unfriendly-looking man. I could gauge whether or not I would make it to my Spanish class on-time by how far I was behind "the man with the briefcase." My walk truly helped me to feel at home.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
My most memorable experience in Madrid is heading home from the Institute on the last day of classes. Earlier in the week my friends and I planned watch Netflix, eat snacks, and finish our last assignments together. On our walk to the Metro, we played Christmas carols and belted the lyrics at the top of our lungs (Important: this was just days before Thanksgiving)! We danced like no one was watching and cried from laughing so hard. That night felt like a celebration of the completion of the program, but also us cementing our friendship as more than an abroad convenience.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Pivotal, adventurous, insightful, a blessing
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
Tacos from a place called "Takos al Pastor." I'm craving some right now!
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
Lauren Daigle. We celebrated a birthday at her concert in Madrid.