Back to SummaryNick Mascarenhas - Student Advisor Profile
Even now, a year after my stay in Madrid, I find it hard to pinpoint my reasons for studying abroad. Perhaps it was my desire to perfect my Spanish, or maybe it was that I needed a change of pace from the pre-med science classes I had been taking at Stanford. Regardless of why I made the decision, I prepared for my study abroad experience acutely aware of the vast impact that ten weeks in Madrid would have on me. Having traveled throughout much of Latin America, I am almost ashamed to admit that I arrived in Madrid thinking, “they speak Spanish here too, so how different can it be?” Yet after my arrival, I soon found the Spanish way of life to be fantastically different from anything I had ever expected.
Complete change proved to be the recurrent theme throughout my time abroad. Coming from the urban sprawl of Houston, Texas, the youngest in my family of five, I found myself among the towering apartment buildings in Madrid, newly welcomed as the older brother in my host family. At just ten years old, my little host brother, Javier, introduced me to one of the most important aspects of being a true Spaniard – soccer. Our first night together, he gave me a lesson on all the players of Real Madrid, a lesson that soon evolved into nightly soccer matches in his tiny room, me in the goal and him on offence. Not only did I learn from Javier the importance of having a true Spanish passion for fútbol, but I also realized that despite countless essays and readings for class, there is always enough time to have fun and to be a good brother.
Javier and the soccer ball may have dominated many evenings, but the daily Spanish lunch represented a time for tradition. Completely accustomed to the American tradition of downing a Subway footlong while finishing a problem set, I now miss the grand three course feasts that my host mother made everyday. Yet my relationship with her was not instant like my friendship with Javier. Just like a good meal, it took time to prepare. During the first weeks, my host mom was hesitant to cook anything that I would be uncomfortable eating. Similar to the food, our conversations during the beginning of my stay were predictable, unexciting, and bland. But as I began to share with her my favorite recipes and culinary tricks I had learned from my mom, she realized that I was quite an adventurous eater. No longer did she warm up frozen pizzas and simply throw a piece of chicken on my plate, but we began to enjoy a fantastic lunchtime cuisine of tortilla española, lentils, blood sausage, chorizo, paella, meatballs, and the list goes on. As meals became more elaborate, so did conversation, and before I knew it, I was tuned in to all the family history and family drama. Finally when she told me, “Nicholas, tengo confianza en ti,” I knew she truly thought of me as a son.
Aside from family life, academics played an important role in the Madrid experience, and what made this program unique was its emphasis in learning outside the classroom. From the first moment I arrived, the entire group was immersed in Spanish culture by venturing through the lively streets of Leon, the grand cathedral of Burgos, and the quaint seaside town of Comillas. This orientation trip opened everyone’s eyes to the diversity of Spain’s different regions and people alike. But the traveling didn’t stop there. The Bing trip took our group to the Rioja wine country, the sunny shores of San Sebastián, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Aside from being a great bonding experience for the group, our guided tours through all these cities directly connected to our history lessons from class and brought to life the profound influences that Europe and Africa had on this diverse nation.
Even back in Madrid, “la calle” proved to be the ultimate classroom. Whether in the streets, in the metro, or in the park, people watching became one of my favorite activities, and the observation it entailed proved to be the greatest teacher. I recall my first weekend in the city, taking the metro to Parque del Retiro and noting the elegance with which the madrileños held themselves. I realized that it was time to change out my flip-flops and t-shirts for the more sophisticated look of loafers and button downs. The change proved effective because even my host mom told me, “así te ves más español.” Even listening in on conversations or interactions between Spaniards helped me to perfect those subtle grammatical nuances that even the greatest Spanish textbook can’t effectively teach. Although learning in the classroom provided me with many profound realizations about Spain, living the true madrileño life in the hustle and bustle of streets and plazas taught me so much more about how to be a real Spaniard.
All in all, study abroad is a time for introspection. Despite the change in language and the constant bombardment of culture shocks, I learned more about myself than I ever expected. By being placed in a different country, I began to approach situations from a completely non-American perspective and began to try new things that I normally would have never ventured to do. Living halfway across the planet turned my world upside down, but it made me realize what I value most about my corner of the world and what foreign values I hope to adopt. Ultimately, my newfound appreciation for the Spanish way of life has greatly enriched my Stanford experience, and I know it will continue to do so for years to come.