Clara MacAvoy (she/her) - Stanford in Madrid
Major: Computer Science
Minor: Classical History
College year while abroad: Senior
About the photo: I went abroad in Fall of 2021, and our cohort was only three people. I'm the woman on the right in this photo, which is of myself, the two other members of the cohort, and Pedro, the wonderful program director. This photo was taken during our Bing trip to Cordoba and Sevilla, which was a highlight of the program. I had taken a class on Sephardic History (Sephardic = Jews from the Iberian Peninsula) all quarter, and traveling to the sites I had learned about augmented my classroom experience greatly.
Questions and Answers with Clara
Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?
I had always wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking location to help me improve my Spanish skills, and so the language pledge in Madrid really appealed to me, as it gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in Spanish for a quarter. I also really enjoy history, and I loved that the course offerings in Madrid focused on history subjects I normally wouldn't get to explore at Stanford.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?
I went abroad during the covid pandemic, and I really didn’t know what to expect for the program. I was very pleasantly surprised to arrive abroad and discover a program in which I felt as though I was having a complete experience, with classes in person, the ability to travel throughout Spain and chances to socialize with other students and visit sites throughout the city. The credit for this is mostly to the course staff, who worked so hard at creating a seamless experience for all of us. I think a second way in which my expectations changed was the treatment of students - at all times, course staff treated as independent adults, with all the benefits and consequences that come with that.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?
The academic benefits of studying in Spain were far greater than I had imagined. First and foremost, studying abroad is in fact studying, and the classes I took made my experience all the better. In particular, being in Spain allowed me to take classes on subjects I wouldn’t normally have been able to explore at Stanford, and it allowed me to explore those subjects in situ, for lack of a better word. For example, I took an art history class with weekly trips to museums to see the paintings we were learning about in person, and I took a Sephardic history class with field trips to Toledo to tour the buildings and historical sites firsthand.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I became much more nuanced in my view of my American identity, and much more confident in myself and my resilience. Prior to my time abroad, I’ve lived in the SF Bay Area my entire life, and I felt like I had never truly challenged myself to step outside my comfort zone. Going to Spain stretched my boundaries, and proved to me that I can live and thrive independently, without the comfort of knowing a place since birth or having family 15 minutes away at all times. I also changed how I view American culture, not necessarily for better or for worse, just differently. Things I had always taken for granted I started to realize weren’t universal, and it helped me to think more critically about my own values, and what I like about the United States and what I would like to see change in the future.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I took an art practice class which was focused on drawing. I’m a CS major, and had steadfastly avoided art classes at Stanford before going abroad. The class was really outside of my comfort zone, and often my perfectionism made it feel impossible. However, on the final day of the quarter, my professor laid out all my pieces from the class in order to take a photo, and looking at my progress in that moment, I saw how far I had come with the support and guidance of the class. It taught me not to underestimate myself, and also to accept help when it is offered by others.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
The culture around food and eating is completely different in Spain. Spanish meal times are generally different than the US, and in my host family, we ate lunch 2:30-3:30 and dinner around 10:30 or 11. This was a big adjustment for me, but necessary to understanding Spanish culture, and by the end, I felt like the Spaniards have it right - they firmly embrace the idea that food should be enjoyed and is a time to come together with family and friends, which I think is a very healthy mindset to have.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?
Walking through the city. Madrid is an incredibly walkable city, with large and safe sidewalks, and in general the city is relatively flat as well. I walked pretty much everywhere - to the institute each day, as well as to museums and parks throughout the city. I loved feeling like a madrileña and seeing the residents of Madrid going about their lives, and it made me feel deeply connected to the city.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?
My final night in Madrid, I decided to take a walk of the city to enjoy the Luces de Navidad (citywide Christmas lights) and purchase some final souvenirs for family members from traditional candy stores throughout the city. I dutifully checked the weather, was promised clear skies, and headed out. When I was about an hours walk from my apartment, the skies just split open - absolutely pouring. I had a shopping list, so I (perhaps ill-advisedly) soldiered on. It was a very chaotic moment, but memorable for me because it was a perfect reflection of my growth during the quarter - I learned to deal with challenges as they came up, and I felt completely comfortable doing it in a city that I had learned to feel at home in. And the candies were delicious to bring home to friends and family :).
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Independence, Resilience, Learning, History, Bilingualism
What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?
An anise rosquilla, which is a type of Spanish donut. I got one fresh out of the fryer at a medieval festival in Tarragona, and it was a great way to feel a part of the local culture and experience the festival.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
My tennis shoes. I walked around 5 miles a day on average while abroad, and my trusty shoes kept my feet feeling fine the entire time.