Studying abroad in Granada, Spain, last semester was one of the best experiences of my life. Getting to live in this beautiful city for five months with a host family, take classes, learn the language, and enjoy travel and time with the other students in my program was so rewarding.
As a Biology and Environmental Science double major, I loved the diversity of the area surrounding Granada, which is in the state of Andalucia. Because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, the region contains a vast array of different ecosystems. I was able to study these environments in a course called Ecosystems of Andalucia, which we explored on field trips.
My Spanish classes helped me to improve my Spanish skills and were a cool way to meet other students, especially because I was the only American in the class. It was crazy to meet people from all over the world just in this class and it was a great way to learn Spanish because that was the only language we had in common! I remember looking at people sitting on either side of me in class one day and one was taking notes of Spanish words with translation into German, while another was translating into Italian. Of course, many students were learning English as well as Spanish, so I wasn't at a complete loss. Although, I do wish I had learned more Spanish before I studied abroad so that I could easily communicate with more people.
I learned a majority of my Spanish, however, by simply being in this Spanish-speaking country. Not many people in Granada spoke English, so I was forced to learn the language very quickly just by taking the local bus, ordering food and drinks in restaurants, asking where something was located in a store, etc. It was frustrating at times but I still loved every minute of it. Our Arcadia program directors also set up intercambios for us, where we would sit down with a Spanish local who wanted to learn English and speak in both Spanish and English so that both parties would benefit from the exchange.
In addition to my classes, I was able to volunteer to teach local elderly people to speak English by conversing with them - it was nice to know I wasn't the only one struggling to learn another language! This was generously set up through the Arcadia program directors. We mostly talked about the differences between Spanish and American culture and the stereotypes of each, which was cool to hear from the local people. The two cultures are very different, but also strikingly the same, the main differences being the timing of everything (work, meals) and the emphasis on family life over work life.
I could go on and on about my life in Spain and Granada and all the different experiences that I had there, as every day brought something new. This experience was so great for my personal and professional development, as I learned how to deal with being thrown into a situation where I didn't know anyone and was able to make friends, learn the language, and make as much out of it as possible. Plus, I didn't only spend time in Granada. On weekends and breaks I was able to travel throughout Europe to visit eight other countries and more than two dozen cities, including lots of cities throughout southern Spain - but Granada will always be my favorite.