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 Back to SummaryAlejandra Lynberg - Student Advisor Profile

photo of Alejandra
Stanford in Madrid,

MAJOR: International Relations
MINOR: Science, Technology and Society



Questions? Send Alejandra an Email.

Exactly one year ago I had just begun my biggest adventure yet: my study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain. My mother is Spanish, from a small city in the north, and I have had the chance to visit Spain on a number of occasions, but always for brief periods of time. Many people asked me why I chose to study in Spain since I visit the country frequently. The answer seemed quite simple to me. I very much wanted Spain to be a big part of my life, because I have a deep love for Spain and its people, including my relatives who live there. My experiences in my homestay, in the classroom, and in my travels not only fortified this love but also revealed the wealth and beauty of Spain’s culture and history while also teaching me valuable lessons about cross-cultural relations.

I never expected to experience culture shock in Spain, but my first two weeks in my homestay proved me wrong. My host mom was a confident and fiery woman with a huge personality that always spoke her mind, in true Spanish fashion. She had a long list of rules and she retained many of the old Spanish traditions. She continued cooking traditional dishes and upheld the practice of returning home for lunch, along with the typical three-course meal and the formal table manners that go along with it. As I became more comfortable in this new environment I found myself learning more and more. My host mom was a fountain of knowledge when it came to Spanish history, culture, society, and politics and would spew out personal anecdotes detailing the drastic changes that Spanish society has seen in the past decades. My interactions with my Spanish relatives and my host family also illustrated one of Spain’s defining cultural characteristics: the importance of family and the warmth of the Spanish people, which runs much deeper than the visible two-kiss greeting. In my seven months abroad I didn’t just read about this Spanish trait, I felt it. Whether it was a 3-hour conversation about her family and childhood over dinner or a stern, yet understanding, reminder that I was using the wrong knife to cut my fish, I quickly realized that my host mom cared that I got the most out of my abroad experience which meant my complete incorporation in the Spanish family structure and day to day traditions.

Studying abroad is about immersing yourself in something new. Just like my homestay, my academic experience was characterized by learning through complete immersion. I had the opportunity to take an art class that met in Madrid’s renowned museums. It felt like a dream to learn about Goya and Velázquez’s artwork in class and to hop on the metro and find myself face to face with these same masterpieces. Halfway through winter quarter the professor of my class on bioethics was featured in a national newspaper article detailing the debate surrounding the Spanish tradition of bullfighting. To be able to then converse with him about this controversial topic offered a valuable perspective on this subject. My internship at a law firm and a small startup company opened my eyes to the traditions of the Spanish workplace and offered me an opportunity to form friendships with Spaniards and to practice expressing myself in Spanish at a professional level. My experiences inside the classroom were new and different, and not only because I was being taught in Spanish, but because textbook learning was combined with interactive experiences in the form of conversations and field trips.

Another form of interactive learning was travel. Spain’s transportation network facilitated travel and in turn facilitated my exposure to the eclectic beauty of Spain’s different regions. The capital city of Madrid is a cultural hub of arts, entertainment, politics, and history. Everyday I found myself casually stumbling across monuments such as el Palacio Real, a symbol of the parliamentary monarchy that still reigns in the country, or the last home of the author Miguel Cervantes, a symbol of Spanish literary history. Just a quick metro ride away one can arrive at la Estación de Madrid Atocha, where trains departing to all of Spain’s cities are found. The southern cities of Andalucía were characterized by richly detailed Moorish architecture, a visit to Salamanca was like a visit to ancient Rome, and the North of Spain retained a medieval appearance with castles and Gothic cathedrals. Each region not only differed in architectural nature but also held its own unique traditions, cuisine, and geographical beauty. Extremadura was characterized by rolling hills, oak trees, and jamón ibérico, while Asturias was home to majestic peaks and fabada, a typical bean stew great after a day of hiking. This diversity is like none other I have ever experienced and it offered me a unique perspective on the regional tensions that consistently make Spanish newspaper headlines. On trips to Cataluña and the Basque region I saw separatist displays and I struggled to find a balance between the beauty of the eclectic nature of the country and the violence which it seemed to bring with it. In my eyes, Spain is a country unified in tradition and the eclectic nature of Spain’s regions is only physical, and I found great value in being able to appreciate these differences and similarities alike.

“Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde.,” say the Spanish. “That which you learn well is never lost.” During my time in Spain, I learned how to assimilate to and reflect on different cultures and environments, a lesson that will serve me throughout life. The Madrid study abroad program, through its homestay program and class offerings, did a wonderful job with immersing its students in the Spanish culture, and this immersion pushed students to strive for an understanding of the culture in which they were being welcomed to take part in.

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