Meghan Jin (she/her) - Stanford in Madrid
Major: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This photo is from Barcelona during one of our many weekend trips. We were (slightly) racing to catch the sunset at the Carmel Bunkers, and there were many, many steps (and a few wrong turns and a missed 6 am train before getting there), but it was so worth it.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I really wanted to improve my Spanish, and had also never been to Europe before. I was drawn to the cultural traditions, lifestyle, and history. It’s a beautifully welcoming city full of great food, art, activities, and adventures. (And a great base to travel from!)
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
I knew that I wanted to spend some weekends traveling, but I wasn’t expecting just how much I’d also love Madrid and want to spend more time there. Although I had thought I might be able to get to know the city during the week, there are simply so many things to do (not to mention the amazing weekend flea markets and how busy classes can get). I definitely had to plan out my time and balance where I wanted to spend it.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
As a pre-med student, I loved doing the clinical internship. It gave me first-hand experience to the medical field and made me reflect a lot more on what it means to be a medical professional. Beyond the internship opportunities (there’s also an academic one!), I took an astronomy class (which I never would have taken otherwise). Studying in Madrid gave me the flexibility to explore other academic interests, and witness and apply what I was learning straight from the classroom to what was around me (the architecture, nature, etc.).
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
Taking life slower! Although I would occasionally get frustrated by the slow pace of people on the sidewalks, but I learned to enjoy the little moments and really just live life to appreciate the peace in those small moments. A big part of it came from Spanish culture and traditions, and how much Spaniards enjoy life and relaxing (and not working too much).
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
Around weeks 5-6, I felt like I had reached a plateau with my improvement of Spanish and even regressed a little bit. There were definitely good and bad (and confusing) days with Spanish, which was frustrating at times to feel like I was super comfortable with Spanish one day and the next I would struggle to get simple sentences out. However, having grace and patience with myself was super important to remember. Just taking everything in stride, laughing at myself, and staying consistent with practicing and using Spanish.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Meals! Not only do people eat extremely late (ie. 9-11 pm for dinner), but the whole attitude around meals is also different. It’s very typical for meals to last at least 2-3 hours and it’s a very social activity – you have ‘sobremesa’ (which can go on for hours sometimes!), where everyone has finished eating and is just chatting. At first, both the meal times and length of them threw me off, but the culture around meals grew to be one of my favorite parts about Spain.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
I loved walking around the city – I’d walk back home from the center and get to appreciate the liveliness of everyone around, stop by any stores to grab some fruit, and enjoy the weather. It was also nice to explore different parts of the city and get to see each neighborhood’s personality (by the way, Malasaña is great for thrifting).
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
One of the classes I took was an astronomy class, which included going on a field trip to the Canary Islands to spend a few nights at the Teide Observatory. Although we froze our butts off and were super sleep deprived, it was an extremely incredible and cool opportunity – we operated a telescope, stared at the Milky Way, saw one of my favorite sunrises ever, and laughed at each other huddled by the heater. Our Bing Trip was also to the Canary Islands, so we luckily got to spend a few more days exploring Tenerife.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Inspiring, fulfilling, spontaneous, adventurous, eye-opening.
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
While churros and paella come in at a (very) close second and third, I have to say all of the fruit. There’s ‘fruterías,’ little fresh fruit/veggie stores, every few blocks and I loved grabbing a few fresh, cheap, and in-season fruits on my way to the center, back home, or just around the city. Persimmons, chirimoyas (a must-try!), donut peaches, you name it.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Hiking shoes! Even though most of the trips we took were to cities, for any outdoorsy activity, hiking shoes are super versatile and definitely come in handy in my opinion.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?
Although I loved getting into reggaeton, the art and music scene in general is simply fantastic in Madrid (especially with all the student discounts). I got to attend so many concerts, operas, and shows – sometimes we’d spontaneously go after class. From watching zarzuela (a traditional Spanish form of musical comedy) to flamenco to ballets to just vibing to reggaeton, it’s hard to pick just one favorite.