Nora Randolph '13 in Spain

A Comparative Literature major at Williams, Nora Randolph ’13 spent the 2011-2012 school year with the Hamilton College Academic Year in Madrid, Spain.

Why did you decide to go to Spain?  How did you choose the program that you did?  Had you been to Spain before?

I decided to go to Spain because I study Spanish and it’s the only Spanish-speaking country in Europe, and I wanted to be in Europe so I could travel there in my free time.  I chose HCAY because of the language pledge—the Spanish-only aspect was one of the best parts of my experience.  Existing as a person in a language other than English was a big challenge for me, especially at first, and the process of figuring out how to have a sense of humor and be able to say everything I wanted to say in Spanish was both frustrating and eventually really rewarding.  And I had never been to Spain before, or to Europe at all.

What was your biggest “culture shock” as you got used to living in Spain?

I think the biggest culture shock for me was getting used to the schedule, especially for meals. Lunch at 2:30 or 3, dinner at 10pm, four hours off for lunch. Otherwise, there were a lot of changes to get used to, but nothing too difficult.

Did you stay with a host family? If so, how did that affect your experience abroad?

I stayed with a host mother and another American girl from my program, and that definitely helped to make sure that I got continual practice with Spanish.  It was also great to have someone cooking me traditional food all the time!  My host mother was mostly really sweet, but also really vocal about her opinions, so we would sometimes get into discussions about Spanish ways of doing things vs. American ways.

Do you think that you will incorporate your study abroad experience into your major, for example through a thesis or an independent study?

The classes I took in my program definitely had an impact on the way I think about my major and my studies. I’m a Comparative Literature major, which meant that I got to take a bunch of literature of Spain classes, and the profs were great about explaining the way the political climate of the time had affected the writing and the authors of the works we were reading.

Why do you think it’s important for Williams students to study in foreign countries? Do you recommend a full year abroad?

Honestly, the most important part of studying abroad is not your destination, but the fact that you’re away.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.  We’re so privileged to be in the Purple Valley, and I appreciate that even more now that I’ve been out of it.  But there are things you can never learn by staying in one place, and the things you learn by talking to people very different from you can teach you more than any class.  And I do recommend a full year abroad, especially if you’re studying a language, just so that you can take advantage of the time it takes to really settle in and learn your way around (a.k.a. the entire first semester) and make the place feel like home.

What was your favorite food that you ate while in Spain?

That’s tough, since it was all really good. But if I have to choose, I’ll say chirimoya, which is a sweet, custardy fruit that you eat with a spoon.

This has definitely been the best year of my life so far, and all the travel I got to do has only made me realize how much I’m still missing, so I’ll have to go back sometime soon!