Back to SummaryEliana Arredondo - Student Advisor Profile
It may sound strange, but I guess you could say that study abroad runs in my family. My parents studied abroad, my sister studied abroad, and we hosted exchange students from various countries. Growing up with these experiences, I knew I wanted to major in International Relations especially since I would have to study abroad. So I started looking at the Bing programs and realized that Spain had a Spanish-only pledge, exactly what I was looking for to improve my Spanish. Chile appealed to me but the draw of Europe and the Spanish-only pledge convinced me that Spain was where I should study.
So I went, not just for one quarter but for two and it was a good decision for me. Unconcerned with having to get every bit of traveling in I could before going back to the U.S., I was free to explore Spain and Madrid in particular. I came to understand the interconnectedness of the streets of Madrid and learned that if I was going to a place that was two stops on the Metro, it might be almost as fast to walk. I found my way by getting lost for hours on the streets of Madrid, weaving through streets and neighborhoods I did not know. And I never felt unsafe, even at the latest hours of the night walking home from discotecas to my home in Sol. In fact, I felt at home and safer than I've ever felt walking through most American cities.
I wandered through museums on my own, the Prado after 6:00 p.m. when it was free to enter, and I saw every room there, some multiple times. I wandered through the Thyssen-Bornemiza just twice (it cost money) and I tried out Madrid's tapas weeks and restaurant week. The desgustion de gastronomía in Madrid provided two weeks of the best tapas at any of 30 different restaurants across the city and a small bottle of Mahou (Spain's most popular beer) for just 3 euros. For restaurant week, you could select one of many restaurants in Madrid and have a 4 course meal for 25 euros each. It seemed like a lot of money, but with the subsidy and the quality of the food, it was more that worth it. And it was worth it not just for the food, but for the company. I went with a group of Stanford students and we were a table full of kids trying to their hardest to speak only Spanish, and the wait staff appreciated it.
It was a time of constant discovery. Once I followed the blog piece of El Comidista, one of my favorite food bloggers, of the Spanish newspaper El País, to La Rosconada in the Mercado de la Paz, a place where they sell the Three Kings Day treats called roscones all year long. To my surprise, the Mercado was in an area of the city I had passed several times without knowing the delicious secrets within. Through a friend, I discovered Sorrolla's art museum, free for students and just down the street from the Institute, inside a house I had passed at least a million times. I read about a chocolate con churros place online and found it simply by wandering through the streets. It was amazingly good. And these occurrences of stumbling upon someplace great, were constant and often helped along by the madrileños I knew.
My host sister was one such person who helped me to find cool new places. She was out of the house when I first arrived on a Sunday night but I met her the next day at dinner. My host mom, Cristina, set the table for the two of us and I ate with Julieta who talked to me about her life and her work as a photographer and poet. Then, much to my surprise, she invited me to go with her that night to the cafe-bar her sister worked at called El Azul. A tiny place with mismatched chairs and a set of bookshelves filled with books and strange glass jars with cassette tapes floating inside, the place was calm and kitsch and cool. It was the kind of place only locals would go to and indeed they went. Every Monday night, Julieta and Carolina's friends made it a habit to meet there for drinks, just to talk and socialize. It was typically Spain, socializing not at someone's house, but outside. I can count on one hand the number of times Julieta brought friends to the house and when it occurred, it was just one friend for a couple hours, never multiple friends. But that's the way Spain is - people socialize outside their houses while their homes remain perfect museums of cleanliness. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with people socializing in bars and restaurants at all hours of the day and night, spilling out into the streets to smoke after the indoor smoking ban went into effect.
My coworker Cristina, was another person (almost a madrileña) who helped me to discover some amazing places in Madrid. A Brazilian woman who had spent nearly 10 years living and working in Spain, Cristina spoke almost flawless Spanish and was incredibly kind and bubbly. Almost immediately after I began my internship, she offered to introduce me to some places in Madrid and took me to what would become one of my favorite museums, Caixa Forum. Housed in a new-age building with impossible looking architecture and a living wall of plants, it has amazing shifting exhibits. And it's free.
Then of course there was my internship, with the various conferences and activities which introduced me to different places of Madrid I would never have discovered on my own. Not only that, but it introduced me to my coworkers and over the course of my 6 month internship, I felt myself becoming more a part of the team. I discovered what work-life was like in Spain and what it meant to work for a small business. I also came to know people from across the globe with whom I worked and with whom we shared office space. It was a melting pot of friendly people who helped me feel at home and who most made me sad to leave.
So while many people say that they change while abroad or that studying abroad was a life-changing experience I never though that cliche would be part of my experience. But it was. I admit that I did change, and I came to realize it over time. I loved that I could blend in with the Spaniards and sometimes even convince foreigners that I was Spanish. I was able to give directions to someone on the Metro, in Spanish, and understand almost every word that was spoken. As I tutored Virginia in English, the 30 something sister of my flamenco teacher, I realized I had learned so many Spanish phrases and idiomatic expressions that I could efficiently translate almost any phrases she wanted into English. But more than improving my Spanish and my confidence in speaking it, I gained a more global perspective of the world, through my experiences, through the people I met, and the places I visited. It was an experience which I could not have gained within the Stanford bubble and one which makes my time abroad one of my most valuable college experiences.