KP Mendoza

KP Mendoza is currently a junior nursing student studying at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing at New York University. After studying abroad in Madrid, Spain through NYU Global Programs, he hopes to return one day to his beloved host city and possibly even live there for an extended period of time while teaching English and immersing himself once more in the rich Spanish culture he holds so dearly to his heart.

Why did you choose this program?

Wine tasting in Spain

I chose this program because I wanted a city that carried a lot of history, and so much of Spanish culture is oftentimes thrown into the same pot as Latin American/Hispanic culture. I wanted to see for myself where my heritage derives from, and I wanted a clearer understanding of Spanish culture, of Castellano living.

Moreover, I had visited several cities in Spain when I was a child, and of course, when you're that young, you can't really appreciate the culture and traveling experiences. Because of that, I wanted to return to one of my favorite countries in the world and see everything through a fresh pair of eyes as a young adult.

Also, as a nursing student, I only had one semester to study abroad. With a nursing major, it is oftentimes very difficult to study abroad for an entire semester. Most universities I applied to during my senior year of high school merely gave me a few weeks or a summer term at best to study abroad.

NYU provided that opportunity for me, and while I had thirteen different sites to choose from, I ultimately chose Madrid because I wanted to fortify my Spanish speaking, writing, and reading abilities. I had not practiced language since high school, and I wanted to finally be able to say that I was bilingual.

Added to that, I decided to declare a Spanish minor right before going abroad, so what better place to fulfill that than Madrid? I knew within the first week that I had made the right decision to study in Madrid.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Riding a camel in Morocco

Our NYU Madrid staff was incredibly helpful and resourceful. First off, they placed me in a beautiful apartment, and in fact, I had coffee with my Spanish landlord in New York the other week! His sister was the one coordinating the monthly payments while I was there, but her brother was living in New York at the time and still is.

Additionally, NYU Madrid staff provided a myriad of trips both within and outside of the country. During the spring semester, they had free trips to Córdoba, Barcelona, Salamanca, Toledo, and several others. At the end of the spring semester, they had an optional paid trip to Morocco (which is where my camel picture came from). That, by far, was one of the most enlightening and memorable trips I have ever taken in my entire life.

In the summer, we visited San Sebastian and Bilbao, and on the way back down to Madrid, we stopped by a winery to learn about the history of wine-making, the science behind it all, and also the art of tasting wine!

Within the program itself, they had an extracurricular activity known as the Intercambio program where we met madrileños, locals of Madrid. Oftentimes, there were also students from other parts of Spain who were studying in Madrid, so that broadened our perspectives beyond just Madrid culture. As for what I organized on my own, it was mainly trips outside of the country. I visited eight different countries and saw eighteen different cities, all throughout my time in Europe.

The combination of my own independence and the immense support I had from NYU Madrid staff resulted in such a poignant, memorable experience.

Truly, those six months were some of the best six months of my life thus far, and it was such a transformative period in my life that I will carry with me in my heart forever.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't be afraid to travel to a country where you don't know the language. I promise you that everything will work out. You've made the first big step by electing to study abroad. Now, go one step further by taking a step outside of your comfort zone. You'll be amazed by what you can do and how resourceful you can be.

This realization occurred to me when I traveled to visit a dear friend studying abroad in Prague. I realized when I landed and got into a cab that I had no idea how to communicate with my cab driver because he did not speak any English. However, I arrived at my friend's dorm safe and sound, and I managed to get back to the airport just fine at the end of my trip. So, if I can do it, so can you.

Most importantly, my biggest piece of advice is to not forget why you chose your host city. Traveling every single weekend is great in theory, but don't neglect to immerse yourself in the rich culture and allure of your own city. Madrid for me was everything and more, and that is why I elected to stay for the summer term as well.

I really took advantage of the local festivals and celebrations of Madrid, most of which were during the summer. I think that is what made me fall in love with Madrid even more - experiencing the festivals that Spaniards have been celebrating all their lives as though I too were a Spaniard myself.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

A student would typically go to class in the morning/afternoon, as there were few evening classes available to students. Then, the rest of the day was yours! My schedule was very well-planned on my part; I only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my spring semester. Granted, I would be exhausted by the end of it all, but at least I had my evenings free, and I had especially long, four-day weekends.

I really focused on myself as an individual; I taught myself how to cook, I went to the gym everyday, I went out almost every weekend, I traveled at least twice a month, and I made sure to meet locals and spend time with friends. Most importantly, I really prioritized my well-being above all else, something I had somehow forgotten to do in my first year and a half living in the Big Apple.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

My biggest fear while going abroad was missing out on something important or perhaps not traveling enough. Granted, there will always be certain trips I wish I had gone on or specific cities I should I have visited, but there will hopefully be time in my life later on to accomplish all that.

However, I think that by being minimally involved in academic extracurricular activities, not working, and by focusing on school only when I needed to, I not only thrived academically, but I also thrived culturally.

I went to every Intercambio event, I planned trips, and I made a point to form everlasting connections with friends from both Spain and other countries. I believe the fear that constantly loomed over my head was returning to the U.S. with an empty heart, but I overcame that fear by being myself and by doing what I wanted without any reserve.

I still chat with my favorite madrileña friend to this day, and my Norwegian friend I met who was also studying abroad in Madrid will be coming to visit me in New York this winter. Through them, I relive my time there, and I know that I did not waste a single moment while I was abroad because of the memories I created with them.

If you could go back and change anything about your time abroad, if anything at all, what would you change?

City views in Spain

For one, I would have definitely purchased a ticket to a fútbol game at the Real Madrid Stadium in Madrid. Ironically, I was even warned about going early on in the semester from a peer of mine who she herself had made the same mistake. Even if you are not a fan of fútbol (which is soccer in Spanish for those who haven't figured it out yet), it's a huge part of the culture, and it's worth reveling in the screaming, the cheers, and the hype of it all, if only for a few hours in the entirety of your life.

At the beginning of the semester, I told myself I would go when the weather was more agreeable. However, I soon found ticket prices to be skyrocketing, as the team normally succeeds every season. The later the season ran, the higher stakes, and ergo, the higher the ticket prices became.

Moreover, I wish I had gone to Barcelona, even by myself. They say traveling by yourself is an amazing experience that everyone should partake in to discover themselves. Frankly, that's the one piece of advice I don't think I needed to experience. I know myself quite well, and in my short twenty years on this Earth, I have done enough self-discovery thus far. In my mind, I ought to leave some room for self-discovery as the years go by.

I hate traveling solo; I always love sharing that view, that dish, or that funny memory with someone in my life, and I was not about to befriend a stranger to do that. I wanted something meaningful out of every trip, and I found just that. But, I wish I had made an exception for Barcelona because it was the one city on my list since before I even landed in Madrid back in January.

Most importantly, I wish I had not stressed so much about traveling. While I had a very fulfilling, happy time abroad, there were moments when I had stressed more about traveling and organizing every little detail when instead I should have been enjoying the time in Madrid or that country I was traveling to. I learned that about myself more so as the semester progressed, but the first few trips I took out of country when I was a novice were perhaps not as fulfilling as the trips I had taken later on in the semester.

I really learned how to enjoy myself and plan out trips with minimal stress as I became a more worldly traveler. One of the most fulfilling, memorable trips I had was a Spanish road trip with my five friends and myself to the beach town of Alicante in Spain. We rented a car, hopped in, and went for a quick weekend trip to sunbathe on the beach, try authentic fideuà, and simply put, be happy.