Grace Laboy


Stanford in Madrid, Fall and Winter 2014-15
Major: Communications and Music
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Madrid?

Because I’m half Puerto Rican, I’ve always been passionate about learning the Spanish language and experiencing different Spanish speaking cultures. I did a month long immersion program in Spain during high school, and I have family in Madrid, so I had been to Spain four times prior to my Stanford in Madrid study abroad experience. Over the years, I fell in love with the Spanish culture and people, the city of Madrid, and of course the amazing food, so I always knew Madrid was the program for me. My main goal was to improve my Spanish, and I felt Madrid was the place to do that.   

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Madrid?

I had heard all about how studying abroad and traveling makes you more independent, helps you grow, etc. but I didn’t understand exactly what all this meant, and I didn’t expect to actually feel all of those things. As someone who had traveled loads prior to my BOSP quarter, I figured studying abroad wouldn’t change me too much. But traveling the world and living with a host family in a foreign country all by yourself is completely different than traveling with your family, or going on a one-week vacation with a group of friends. I was able to completely immerse myself in a different culture, meet new people, and make lifelong memories.   

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Madrid?

As a double major at Stanford, I don't have room for many classes outside my majors, and the Madrid program allowed me to explore and take classes that I wouldn't have been able to take otherwise. During my time abroad I took a world history class where I visited archaeology and art museums, a theater class where I got to attend eight shows, and an art history class where we went to the Prado, one of the world's best collections of European art, once a week. I even took a Flamenco class! I also had friends who were engineering and CS majors who loved having a break from very "techie" heavy classes. and if you're worried about "getting behind," never fear- I took one class that counted towards my major, and I was able to fulfill 2 GER's in my time abroad!

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned how much I need down time to relax and reflect every day. That’s why I loved my walks to school every morning and my runs in Retiro park.  I also realized that I really want to have a job in the future that allows me to travel. You really learn so much about yourself and about how to be independent, and experiencing different cultures and seeing how other places around the world do things is really valuable.    

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

I really loved my host family in the fall- both parents were heavily involved in music, which was perfect for me since I’m a singer, and they had an adorable three-month old baby. However, I struggled with their meal schedule.  They ate dinner really late- and I mean late, even for Spaniards. Most Spaniards eat around 10PM, but my family ate at 11:30 PM, which means we wouldn’t finish eating until 12:30 most nights.  This would either make me go to bed directly after eating or late for meeting up with friends to go out. It took me a while to say anything, but I finally spoke up and talked to a program coordinator, and then to my host dad.  We ended up working out a schedule where a few nights a week I would eat earlier with my host mom, but I learned that you really have to speak up and stand up for yourself in certain situations. 

How was your experience living with local families? 

I absolutely loved my host family.  In the winter I had two host siblings, ages 22 and 25, and it was so fun to hang out with Spanish kids around my age and practice my Spanish with them. My host mom and I would just chat for an hour after we finished dinner every night. Just as I loved learning about their culture and values, they loved learning about my background and family, as well as Stanford and American culture.   

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Obviously the language adjustment is going to be a big one for most people. I’m used to hearing and speaking some Spanish since I’m half Puerto Rican, so I probably had an
easier time with that than most people did. But it still takes time to get used to only hearing Spanish when you’re walking down the street, and to start thinking in Spanish. Another cultural difference is, if you feel sick and want some over-the-counter meds, stores like CVS don’t exist in Madrid. You have to go to a pharmacy, (there are TONS, basically one on every street) tell them your symptoms, and they’ll give you whatever they think will help you.  

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Madrid?

I’m going to cheat and pick more than one, because it’s too hard to pick! I really loved just walking down the streets of Madrid while listening to my iPod. I walked to school most mornings, and it’s a great way to get to know the different neighborhoods of the city.
Next, I loved running in Retiro (the most amazing park!) and watching the sunset at Templo de Debod. (One of the best places in Madrid to watch the sunset!) Lastly, I really loved chatting with my host family at dinner every night.  Hearing my host brother talk about Breaking Bad was always entertaining.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Madrid?

During my time in Madrid, I got to know members of a band called Rootful Monk, who played every Tuesday at a live music bar called El Junco. I sang a song with the band one night, and after that, they started letting me sing three or four songs with them. I ended up singing with them every Tuesday while I was abroad, and it became the thing I most looked forward to every week. I felt like I was really immersing myself in the culture, and it was great to see how music truly is a universal language.  

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Life-changing, FUN, adventurous, inspirational, enlightening/educational, freeing   

What advice would you give to someone who was considering studying abroad in Madrid?

Do it, do it, DO IT you will NOT regret it. Don’t over- exhaust yourself, but do all that you can!  Go to the amazing museums, clubs, restaurants, plazas, and parks that Madrid has to offer. And one of the most important things- meet locals and speak Spanish! (Stanford in Madrid has “charlas,” where Stanford students hang out with Spanish college students a few times a week.  I loved the charlas, and still keep in touch with most of them- two of them just visited the U.S. and we all hung out!)  

If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

I would recommend staying in Madrid for at LEAST half of your weekends abroad. Some people travel every weekend, which is great, but then they miss out on really getting to know the ins and outs of Madrid. Create a balance that’s right for you! 

How has the experienced changed or enhanced your future academic and career goals?

For one, my experience abroad has made me think about working in Madrid post graduation, since I love it so much there. I’ve always recognized how much I love to
travel, but living abroad made me realize how important travel is to my happiness, and how much I want a job that allows me to travel.  

What was your favorite food you had in Madrid?

Can't pick one, it's too difficult. I'm a sucker for a good tortilla de patata, a good gazpacho, or some good croquetas. Also, ALL of the seafood and fish are so amazing. You definitely have to try a Cociso Madrileno at some point. Lastly. San Gines is a churro y chocolate cafe open 24 hours and next to a fun club called Joy, I'll leave it at that :)

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Madrid?

Ask me about fun live music bars- there are a lot, and Madrid has some really amazing bands and musicians!