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 Back to SummaryYuliya Mykhaylovska - Student Advisor Profile

Stanford in Madrid, Autumn and Winter 2011-12
MAJOR: International Relations
MINOR: Modern Languages

Ernest Hemingway wasn't kidding when he said that “nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night." Hemingway neglected to mention that the days in Madrid are just as rigorous and full of life. My seven months in Spain were the most fulfilling of my Stanford career, both intellectually and personally. 
For me, the decision to go abroad was obvious. As an immigrant from Ukraine, I had prior experience living abroad and learning a language from scratch. Knowing that the best way to learn a new language is to live in the country where it is spoken, I decided to study in Madrid. I truly believe it is impossible to leave Madrid without having improved your Spanish abilities. Spanish is the second most-widely spoken language in the US; in fact, in California, every other child born is from a Spanish-speaking family. The Spanish language is too important to ignore. 

My seven months in Spain were the most fulfilling of my Stanford career, both intellectually and personally. 
For me, the decision to go abroad was obvious. As an immigrant from Ukraine, I had prior experience living abroad and learning a language from scratch.

At Stanford, I took only 3 quarters of introductory Spanish. My study of the language was greatly aided by my previous study of French, Russian, and Ukrainian. As such, my learning curve for Spanish was favorable and I felt confident that my time in Madrid would help to ameliorate my Spanish. Since I was so serious about learning Spanish, I committed to spending two quarters abroad. I am so glad I did. The Madrid quarter offers so much. After all, as the Spaniards say: "si no te arriesgas, no ganas"  (no risk, no glory.) Going abroad for two quarters is a calculated risk, but one that comes with glorious adventures. 

Madrid is a great city to explore. The centrally-located and dynamic capital of Spain, Madrid offers a plethora of ways to get exposure to culture, arts, nightlife, and academia. It is incredibly easy to move around Madrid and Spain; the capital offers countless bus routes, train services, and flights. As a student, I was eligible for additional travel discounts. You only live once, and to be abroad in college, it's really a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

 

My Spanish host mom, Marisa, taught my roommate and I to make paella; she used a secret ingredient that I haven't heard of anyone else using. Marisa often invited her children and grandchildren over for weekend lunches.

Aside from the countless travel opportunities, through which I experienced a lot, I also learned about good food and wine. By living in Spain, you inevitably pick up some new skills. My Spanish host mom, Marisa, taught my roommate and I to make paella; she used a secret ingredient that I haven't heard of anyone else using. Marisa often invited her children and grandchildren over for weekend lunches. Not only did I get to meet other Spaniards, but I enjoyed many delicious meals with the family. Additionally, my friends and I sampled various tapas bars in Madrid and around Spain. The Madrid program provides students with three-meals a day and a stipend for outings. The BOSP staff in Madrid encouraged us to sample new foods. The group definitely did!

Food is especially important during the Spanish national holidays. Over the course of two quarters, I participated in the celebration of a dozen holidays. The Fiesta del Virgen del Pilar, held in Zaragoza, was especially memorable. Three friends and I arrived in the city at 4 am after taking a midnight bus from Madrid and headed for an early morning mass in the Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar. As sleepy as we were that morning, I know that none of us will forget the events of that day. We saw tens of thousands of pilgrims, dressed in traditional Spanish costumes, walk to the Basilica to pay tribute to the Virgin. Each pilgrim brought a bouquet of flowers; festival go-ers constructed a skirt of flowers for the Virgen. What we saw form before our eyes was a mountain of flowers. That image is just one of many I cherish from my time in Spain. The Spanish truly come together to celebrate holidays! The holidays are part of Spain's rich cultural history and legacy, which spans not just the Iberian Peninsula, but the globe. 

Madrid is home to some of the world's most renowned museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza form the famous Art Triangle of Madrid. The opportunity to study the artwork in these museums with a talented Spanish professor opened my eyes and widened my artistic palate.

Zaragoza was one of over twenty Spanish cities I visited while abroad. The Stanford in Madrid program prides itself on exposing students to the diversity of the Spanish cultural landscape. For this reason, each quarter in Spain starts off with an orientation trip to a new region and then a mid-quarter trip to another region. In the Fall, we explored Castilla-Leon, Cantabria, the Basque Country, and La Rioja. In the Winter, we explored Andalusia, Castilla la Mancha, and Extremadura. The Madrid staff ensured these trips were fun. Students sampled Spanish-produced olive oil in Extremadura, drank Spanish wine in La Rioja, and slept in a twelfth-century monastery turned hotel in Leon. The trips afforded students the opportunity to explore Spain's diversity. In addition to those trips, many students in the program traveled to other Spanish cities. Travel within Spain is an opportunity not to be missed! 


Yet as I wrote at the start, my time in Spain wasn't just fun; I learned a lot. One of my goals was to learn Spanish, and learn Spanish I did. In addition to talking a lot with students, most host families also leave the TV on 24/7, so that students are always exposed to the language. Some Spaniards call the TV "la caja tonta" (the crazy box) because it's always on and talking! With the constant exposure to Spanish, mandatory Spanish language classes at the Stanford center, and adherence to the Spanish-only language pledge, students truly do improve in their Spanish abilities. It is incredible to watch how quickly students pick up Spanish. The difference between the first week and last week abroad is notable. 

Besides taking Spanish language classes, I also took classes to fulfill some requirements for international relations. My class about Islam in Spain and Europe was extremely challenging and rewarding. I learned about the Islamic faith in Spain, trying to memorize both Arabic names and their Castilian counterparts, reading chapters in Spanish, and writing a ten-page final paper in Spanish about the famous Mezquita of Cordoba. The class visited the town of Toledo, where we learned about the intersection of three faiths and visited several sites of worship. In Spain, we lived and breathed history. 

Study abroad is a great time to venture out in a new academic field. In the winter quarter, I took a class about women in Spanish art. One class a week was devoted to lecture and discussion and the other class was aside for guided visits to Madrid's museums. Madrid is home to some of the world's most renowned museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza form the famous Art Triangle of Madrid. The opportunity to study the artwork in these museums with a talented Spanish professor opened my eyes and widened my artistic palate. The widening of my tastes and interests is a theme that applies not just to that class, but to my entire stay in Madrid.
I absolutely loved my time in Madrid. The seven-month adventure was full of surprises and changes. The lack of a rigid routine allowed me to explore to my heart's content. Yet, as the Spaniards say, "lo esencial es invisible a los ojos" (the essential is invisible to the eyes). The biggest and best experience of my time in Spain is the new found love in my heart for a country of passionate, energetic, and strong people. I cannot wait to return!

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