Maggie Roache (she/her) - Stanford in Madrid
Major: Political Science
Minor: Human Rights
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This is a photo of me during a day trip to Toledo, which is a short train ride from Madrid. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is famous for its marzipan.
Questions and Answers with Maggie
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I primarily chose to study in Madrid because of the language pledge. For years I had been interested in immigration issues, and by the end of my sophomore year at Stanford I knew that if I wanted to work for organizations which help people trying to navigate the U.S. immigration system, I would need to take my Spanish skills to another level. I’d always known I wanted to study abroad in Europe in college, but was particularly drawn to Madrid by the fact that its emphasis on immersion in the Spanish language would open doors for me professionally and academically.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
Prior to studying abroad, I imagined that I would be constantly on the go, and would spend most of my weekends traveling elsewhere in Europe. However, soon after arriving in Madrid, I fell in love with the city and quickly realized how many different neighborhoods there were that I wanted to explore. Additionally, when I learned about the vastly different experiences you could have in each region of Spain, and the affordability of train tickets from city to city, I decided to prioritize traveling within Spain. In addition to spending more weekends than I had originally expected in Madrid, I also traveled to many Spanish cities such as Valencia, Barcelona, Toledo, Granada, Sevilla, and Cádiz. In every Spanish city I visited, I met incredibly friendly Spaniards, who were always so excited that I was learning their language. I find it funny that I once thought I would spend the majority of my abroad experience country-hopping, when in reality my main regret is not exploring more regions of Spain, such as Basque country.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
First, studying in Madrid brought my level of Spanish to an advanced proficiency. Thanks to my time in Madrid, I was able to take more advanced Spanish classes at Stanford, such as a human rights course on asylum which is taught entirely in Spanish. My improved Spanish abilities have also opened professional doors for me. Since Madrid, I have completed two nonprofit internships which were carried out completely in Spanish. Additionally, as I expand on below, my time in Spain provided inspiration for my honors thesis topic.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I think that the main thing I learned about myself, which is probably a common theme among many students who go abroad, is how capable of independence I am. While moving away from home to attend college is undoubtedly a step into independent life, living abroad is a huge leap. I went into the Madrid program without having any super close friends who would also be studying in Madrid that quarter. In the end, this was a complete blessing in disguise because it gave me the opportunity to meet new people as a junior (a rarity if you don’t study abroad!) and develop new friendships which I have maintained since returning from abroad. Also, learning how to navigate your way around a foreign city, in your second language, is a major confidence building, independent moment. After living in Madrid, I felt much more sure of myself and my ability to live in pretty much any major city after graduation.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
At the beginning, I struggled a bit with operating completely in Spanish. I felt like my host family wasn’t getting to know the real me, as I stumbled through my sentences at the dinner table. In the first week or so, it occasionally felt like pulling teeth. However, pushing through and committing completely to Spanish was worthwhile in the end. Had I not been forced to do so because of the Stanford language pledge, I would have never operated in Spanish to that extent. That commitment, however, was the key to taking my language abilities to a new level.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The different meal times in Spain was probably the biggest cultural adjustment for me.
In the Madrid program, you eat lunch with your host family every day of the week except for two. For Spaniards, lunch is around 2 or 3 pm, and dinner is often 9:30 or 10 pm. My host family would often eat “early” at 9 pm, out of kindness to us American students. I also found it a little difficult to adjust to the fact that in Spain, lunch is the largest and most important meal of the day. I had always been one for a light lunch, so the three course meals served at Spanish restaurants for lunch took some adjusting to.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
My favorite part of everyday life was eating meals with my host family, especially dinner. I shared a homestay with two other Stanford students, and in addition to our host parents we also had two host sisters who were 14 and 16 years old. As I come from a big family, I found it extremely comforting to end each day in Madrid with a family dinner. Chatting with my host family about their days at school and work made me nostalgic for my own family dinners I had back in high school, but it also made it so much easier to adjust to my life in Madrid.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
I would say my most memorable experience in Madrid was when our culture class took a field trip to Valle de los Caídos, a Spanish Civil War monument. When I told my host family and charlas partner that we would be visiting the monument, they explained that it was a very controversial place for Spaniards. It was built during the Franco dictatorship by way of forced labor, held the remains of thousands of victims from both sides of the war, and was also the burial site of Franco himself. The fact that Franco was buried there had been debated in Spain for decades and, coincidentally, the day we visited the monument the Spanish supreme court announced that Franco’s remains were to be immediately removed from the site. Witnessing such a historic moment was incredible, but what really surprised me was seeing all of the flowers covering Franco’s tomb and the number of mourners who showed up to the monument, dressed in all black, after the supreme court’s decision had been announced. I was fascinated by Franco’s legacy in the country, and I have continued to study it in depth since returning from Madrid, as it is the focus of my undergraduate honors thesis.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Independence, immersion, beauty, curiosity, welcoming.
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
I fell in love with two Spanish classics: gazpacho and tortilla española. BOSP in Madrid hosts an annual gazpacho competition between all the host families, and my host family had won for a few years running. So, unsurprisingly, my favorite place for gazpacho and tortilla was right at home.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
An adapter for outlets and an international credit card, so that I wouldn’t get hit with fees for using an American debit card. Also, what I wish I would have brought with me for fall in Madrid is more jeans and sweaters. I severely underestimated how cold Spain could get, and therefore had to do some shopping for warmer clothes.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
Prior to studying in Madrid, I had already been a big fan of reggaeton music, Bad Bunny especially. I’d also listened to a lot of Rosalia’s more recent, pop music prior to studying abroad. While in Madrid, I was exposed to some of Rosalia’s older, flamenco inspired music and quickly fell in love. Thanks to the Stanford flamenco class, I also had the opportunity to meet a flamenco singer who had sung back up for Rosalia at that year’s MTV European Music Awards. Attending flamenco shows was definitely one of the highlights of my abroad experience, as I found the talent of both the dancers and singers to be absolutely breathtaking.