Alpujarras. Ronda. Sevilla. Cordoba.

Just a few of the excursions that we’ve taken so far in my IES Granada program. When I first chose to study abroad, I was dead set on going to Madrid. In fact, I even applied to the IES program in Madrid. I only changed my mind once I received an email about the program in Granada and I must say it’s been the best decision I could’ve ever made and part of the reason why I say that is because of the excursions provided in this program.

The excursions we’ve taken have all been interesting in different ways. Alpujarras was a region super high up in the mountains, so high up that a few people puked once we got off the bus simply because of the altitude. Nonetheless, it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and since it was the first weekend of the trip, it was an incredible way to get to know people in the program. For lunch, we sat on a lookout and had home-packed lunches from our host families; we traded juices for chocolate milk and tuna sandwiches for ham sandwiches and we were reminded of the elementary days.

Ronda and Sevilla were a combined two-day trip. I’d never heard of Ronda before we went but it was tremendously breathtaking and very educational. The city is basically built upon a huge gorge or canyon and we learned that it was built this way so the soldiers would always have an optimal view of anyone who might be coming into the city. Before heading off for Sevilla, we ate lunch on this patio looking over the canyon where a musician was playing her violin. I have never felt more serene than just sitting there with my new friends listening to peaceful music and looking over this amazing piece of earth.

 I was surprised by how much I loved the city of Sevilla. The size of the city itself is much larger than I thought it would be but a river runs through it which makes it a bit easier to distinguish which part of the city you’re in. We biked through the city with a couple of our program directors for about 3 hours and got to see as much as possible. The short 36 hours were packed with cultural excursions; the Alcazar of Seville, the cathedral that looks over the city, the plaza of españa, and more. Needless to say, we were exhausted but it was well worth it. 

The last excursion that we’ve had so far was to Cordoba. Having studied Spanish since 8th grade, the Mezquita de Cordoba is something that I’ve been hearing about for YEARS. It is so rich in history and so interesting to learn about; I was so enthused when I heard Cordoba would be one of our excursions. In my art history and architecture class in Granada, we also learned about Madinat al-Zahra, the remains of an ancient city from nearly a thousand years ago, which we also got to visit. In recent years, I’ve really been interested in learning about history so it was personally so interesting to visit places I’ve been learning about and getting to see what we discuss in class.

I continue to be impressed by what we’re learning not only about Granada, but about its neighboring cities as well. I cannot wait for our trip to Morocco to see and learn more about this history. Until next time!

Exploring Your City

It’s tough to choose whether you want to travel often during abroad or chill and truly get to know the city you’re living in. Although my friends in the Granada program love to travel often, we all stayed back this past weekend and spent some time together.

A couple of weeks ago, one of our orientation leaders, Lucas, took a few of us on a hike up to this popular viewpoint in Granada. Although the view is beautiful, it’s hard to enjoy it when it’s packed with tourists. Thankfully, Lucas has lived here a long time and knew a spot to take us that was about 10 minutes past the viewpoint with an even prettier view.

This past weekend, I led a group of my friends to the same spot. In our bags we carried wine, cheese (manchego obviously), ham, bread, tinto de verano (a mix of red wine & fanta), etc. Though it was about a 40-minute hike up, the mountains carried a nice breeze and cooled us down. Once we got to the spot, we settled in, laying down blankets and enjoying each other’s company. I felt so wholesome and content and it was one of those moments that reminded me why I’d chosen a program where I would know no one. I wanted abroad to be a bit uncomfortable; I wanted to see new things and meet new people and try new activities. And here I was, doing exactly that with people I’d met only a month prior but that I already felt at home with.

Besides the time spent with friends, the hike was amazing because the view of the Alhambra with the sunset in the background was absolutely breathtaking. The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain and one of the most visited monuments in the world, and I get a view of it from my classroom. Instead of looking out the window to Tappan or Hill Street, I get to look at a UNESCO world heritage site every day.

The following afternoon, we went to the Granada soccer game with another one of our orientation leaders, Fran. Soccer has never been a passion of mine but I decided to go anyway because I figured it was something I’d never do on my own and I’m SO glad I chose to go. Turns out, Granada is a really good team; we won 2-0 and we had incredible seats… not to mention tickets were only FIVE euros!

After the game, we all walked together to the IES center for the open mic night. Though I have no cool talents, it was so fun to see my friends doing things they’re passionate about. One of my friends did slam poetry, one sang and played the guitar, another tap danced, and yet another did Spanish rap. The center became like a little venue; in the side room, we had a
bar where we could get wine/beer and popcorn and each of our tables had a little candle; it didn’t feel like we were in any school-related building. The open mic night was also so fun because the more reserved people in our group came out of their shells to show us what they love to do; a few members in the program have even made a band together – if I’m lucky, I catch them practicing in the IES center.

With a weekend as packed as this one was, I did not do one shred of homework. I had to do it all super late Sunday night but I have absolutely no regrets because I’ll never get these same opportunities in the future. Abroad is abroad. There’s never going to be an opportunity for me to just go to a soccer game in Granada with my pals or go hiking to a spot where I can watch the sun set behind the Alhambra.

A couple tips for when you’re abroad:

  • Say yes to things you usually wouldn’t say yes to. Abroad is your time to get out of your comfort zone and find out more about yourself; that can’t be done if you stay holed up in your room all semester.  
  • You get a tapa (comparable to an appetizer) with every drink, so get a glass of wine and try every tapa place you can fit in in 4 months.
  • Bring a scrapbook and collect anything you can think of: museum entries, concert tickets, mini restaurant menus, etc.
  • Get a pionono – a flan type dessert – they’re the specialty of Granada.
  • Visit cultural excursions; specifically, visit the Alhambra as often as you can. Granada is rich in history and has so much to see.
  • Stay back and hang in Granada a few weekends. There’s so much to do and see within the city and IES provides you with weekend itineraries every week.
  • Do NOT shop before coming abroad; rebajas (sale) season lasts from beginning of January to end of February and Granada has so much shopping you’ll be upset if you already spent loads of money shopping in the states.
  • Soak up every moment because before you know it,you’ll be halfway through wondering how you only have two months left and then abroad will be over and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do more.

Armonía y eternidad

In September, I last-minute switched my abroad application from Madrid to Granada. Today marks a full 7 days now since I came home from my semester abroad. Back in January, as I was preparing to leave Michigan, I started thinking of what to expect upon arrival in Granada. I knew that I was going into the program by myself, I knew all my classes were going to be taught in Spanish, I knew I was going to be living with a host mother named Sonia – these were solid things that I knew would happen.

However, as much as I prepared myself for the things I knew were going to happen, I wasn’t prepared for how these things would affect me. I knew I was going into the program by myself because I didn’t know any of the kids from Michigan nor from the other schools in the program. I thought I’d spend every weekend traveling with my friends from Michigan, I didn’t realize that I would make such good friends in my program that I’d only spend 3 weekends outside of Granada. I knew all my classes were going to be taught in Spanish, but I didn’t realize how much Spanish I would learn just from hanging out with my Spanish friends. I learned to stop stressing about being incorrect with my vocabulary or grammar; the people I spoke to didn’t care if I forgot to use the subjunctive, they would’ve rather had me speak poorly but communicate well than speak perfectly and not truly communicate my personality. I knew I was going to be living with a host mother named Sonia, but I never imagined she’d be a teacher and friend as well as a mother. She worked for a feminist platform in Granada and she told me about her life under Franco’s dictatorship. When I had a problem at school or with my friends, she listened and offered advice – she gave me much more than the small room in the corner of her apartment.

As much as I thought I knew what my semester abroad was going to give me or teach me, I ended up knowing nothing. When my friends visited me, I took them to the Alhambra where I found a quote that said, “se fue a Granada por silencio y tiempo, y Granada le sobredio armonía y eternidad”. It means that he went to Granada for silence and time, and Granada gave him harmony and eternity. I chose Granada because I wanted a semester to myself, I wanted a semester away from everything I continually surround myself with at home and at school. I didn’t expect to find a home in Granada and in the people I encountered there. My semester abroad gave me more than I could’ve ever imagined and I am so thankful I took the chance in choosing Granada.