What was the highlight of your trip?
Aubrey: Studying abroad was one of those experiences I knew was going to change me and I was just excited to figure out how. I took some of the most genuinely interesting courses of my life. Part of why IES Granada is able to achieve this is because they have been careful to construct courses that take advantage of where they are. The Alhambra became not just a stunning place to see as a tourist but a fascinating piece of history. As can be said of many European cities, Granada is peppered with amazing buildings, both standing and in ruin, that tell stories I had the opportunity to hear. In flamenco we did not just learn how to dance but we learned how much that music and dance forms part of the culture and vice versa.
Additionally, taking courses at the Universidad of Granada presented new challenges. Taking courses in my non-native language at native speed, using a different university format and schedule all the while, was a lot of adjustment all at once. It took a while for me to get a hang of it all, and I had the edge that most IES students did not of staying all year and being able to follow the European schedule, but in the end I did quite well. That was a highlight all on its own when I got an email from my professor saying “You received a ‘sobresaliente’ while over 60% of the class failed!”
I just remember when I was saying my goodbyes in June, I thought back to the end of my first semester. When the first group left, I was just discovering how amazing Granada was. By the end of the second semester, I had made lasting friendships and had fallen head-over-heels in love with the city. One of the most striking things about my time there is that it had all these elements of a normal year – school stress, plans with friends, dating and heartbreak – mixed in with all these things that became normal – hikes in the Sierra Nevada, visiting centuries’ old churches, and taking short vacations to cities in other countries.
I grew tremendously as a person as a result, discovering my own power to adapt and even thrive. My year abroad was a time of self-discovery beyond what I ever could have imagined or expected. I ended with people saying I was ‘half Spanish’ but also found myself connecting more to my American past and my roots from places I visited like Germany and Croatia. Also, one question that without question made my day was when I was asked where I bought my shoes. All-in-all what will always stay with me is that my life there was not a vacation but was instead a completely new and genuine life experience.
Describe your typical morning?
Aubrey: Each morning either my alarm clock or a firm knock on the door from my host mother would get me out of bed and into my routine of a short shower (they take drought conditions seriously) and a delicious small breakfast. Then it was off to class about a half hour’s walk away. I liked coming up with new routes, depending on how much time I had for my commute. We all had our language/grammar class first with a short break before the next class which I would generally use to get my coffee. At first I used this as a homework opportunity, but then after many an admonishment from Spaniards, I used it as time for conversation or the newspaper. Classes in the morning were generally kept to the classroom and covered an array of topics from history to sociology to political science.
What about your afternoons?
Aubrey: After morning classes, I was always in a hurry to get back to my beloved neighborhood of El Zaidín. Carmen would be there ready to ask about the day and put lunch on the table. We would talk about our days and she would tell me about her life and we would exchange stories.
Carmen never failed to make something delicious and filling before siesta time. It took some time to master the art of the siesta, but those 30 minutes or so lying down became central to my day. I tried to make sure siesta time not asleep was free from homework and stress – I would watch TV, talk with Carmen, play with her grandsons, catch up with family and friends back home, etc. Then, it was back to class.
Some afternoons I was back at IES and others were spent at the Universidad de Granada. I took courses that ranged from regional economics to flamenco, art history to public policy, each course opening me up to not only new ways of learning but also to a deeper understanding of the place where I was. Some of these afternoon classes would also involve mini field trips around the city to take advantage of the opportunity to learn on location.
Aubrey: Evenings progressed from the first semester to the second quite a bit. Initially, as a rather introverted person, I spent evenings quietly completing my assignments and speaking with my family. Soon enough, though, I had rehearsals twice a week with the choir. Through that, I made friendships that meant more plans for tapas and the like. Second semester, I also had an internship at the Biblioteca de Andalucía in the cultural diffusion office, so I would return to the library for poetry, dance, story telling, music and art events. On Saturday evenings I went with the same group of friends I had met through a friend in the choir for tapas. I learned to appreciate how wonderful an unrushed stroll through the city or up to the Alhambra was with a friend.