I can't say enough good things about Granada, Spain, as well as CEA's program located there. I originally was looking at Barcelona or Madrid, but costs drove me to search elsewhere, where I eventually stumbled upon the gem of Andalucía - Granada.
Granada was the last holdout of the Muslim Moors that had ruled much of the Iberian peninsula for centuries. Because of such, it still retains much of its original architecture, culture, and style. There are a few UNESCO World Heritage sites located in the city, the most famous being La Alhambra - the large Moorish fort keeping watch over the city. I could write an entire review-length description of Granada; I'll let you discover that for yourself and instead focus on the experience that is studying and living there.
Granada is a mid-sized city to most standards. It's about the size of St. Paul, Minnesota, the area I am originally from. Because of this, Granada lacks much of the fast paced hustle and bustle that more global cities such as Barcelona and Madrid are famous for. The citizens of Granada still adhere strictly to the siesta, and "no pasa nada" really means "don't worry about it", because timetables for meeting up are really anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours from the discussed time.
Granada is also home to the largest university in the Spanish secondary educational system. Because of this, the city is literally bustling with young people and students. There's no shortage of tandem-language partners, an you will not be limited to chatting and befriending only Spaniards - the European Erasmus program is subsequently huge in Granada as well, allowing for Europeans and citizens from countries form all over the world to call Granada their home, at least for the semester.
Because of this demographic, nightlife is absolutely amazing (seriously, I'd give it more than 10 if I could). Discotecas are plentiful, the weather is warm, the city is safe (police are everywhere), and the tapas are cheap. Tapas - can we talk about tapas for a minute? This God-sent idea exists for free only in Granada, and it's equivalent to an appetizer that's provided with your beverage. It's free. Literally, you buy a beer or drink, and they give you an ample amount of food to eat to accompany it for no extra charge. It is incredibly cheap to go out, eat, and relax in Granada. I spent more on my one week visit to Barcelona on food and outings than I did for a good three months in Granada! So many students I met studying elsewhere were so jealous of what Granada provided.
The CEA program is equally as fantastic. I arrived in Madrid very late; a huge snowstorm in Chicago slowed everything down. Subsequently, we missed our flight. However, before we could even put down our bags in the terminal in Madrid, the CEA staff had gotten us new tickets for the next flight, as well as organized the new pick up, family introductions, and any other issues that may have arisen. There are three options for living via CEA in Granada: a homestay with a Spanish family, the university dorms, or a group apartment with other students. I chose the former. My host mom was a single, older Spanish lady who spoke zero English, knew little about America apart from what the news showed, and had only recently gotten the internet, and only because she had to because CEA made her. It was perfect. If you want full immersion into the culture and daily challenges to your linguistic and cultural abilities, choose a homestay. Not only will it make you appreciate what you have in America (hot water whenever you want!), you will learn so much about Spain, the culture, and it's people via daily interaction and relationship building that few other opportunities can provide. The other two living options are fun as well; I had friends who did both and they had good things to say about them, but they were not provided with authentic Spanish cuisine every day - a true treat!
CEA's academics at the University of Granada are excellent. Like any school, you get out what you put in, and it is compounded by the fact much of your courses are in Spanish. Yet you can learn a lot, and many of the courses will transfer back to American universities. Taking around fifteen credits was comfortable and allowed me amble time to participate in class, bond with my professors, and still get homework done and enjoy Granada. Not all courses have to be grammar and verbs, either. From courses on art and music to the history of Granada and Spain, there are a plethora of courses for whichever topic you like. I myself am not a huge art fan, but I was truly amazed by the course "Old Art of Spain" and the professor who taught it (we're still friends on Facebook, by the way). Field trips are a lot more exciting when you get to visit the 500 year old monastery and palace five minutes from your school room.
Similarly, academic support via CEA is amazing. Though they try their hardest to match you with a course level that is appropriate to your language ability, CEA's staff keeps close tabs on your progress and, if you need help, will meet you wherever to help out with whatever course or theme you just can't seem to nail. I'm willing to say I got more support from CEA's staff in Spain than I usually do from my university back in the United States.
CEA has a handful of planned trips that they can take everyone on. We went to Sevilla, Morocco, and Malaga for some weekends, though they change and more can be added! CEA's hilarious staff lets you see parts of their beautiful country and others that the average traveler and student would pass right by. They truly were one of the best travel assets available to me while there.
CEA itself does not interact with you very much on a daily basis, but as describe above, they are always there for you and willing to help. They set up you for success; you make the experience yours. Granada, being the student hub it is, is also a huge spring break exporter. Student trips to Portugal, Morocco, and other parts of Spain and Europe and constantly being planned, advertised, and discounted. A weekend sangria cruise in southern Portugal is pretty much one of the highlights of my life, and it was all less than one hundred (100!!!!) euros, with transportation out of and back to Granada included. Granada also makes up in bus and train connections what it lacks in adequate airline connections (you are lucky to get flights to anywhere but the major Spanish cities). Similarly, the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains rest to the city's south, making ski and hiking trips less than an hour bus ride away. Beyond that, the sea remains, and a day or weekend excursion to the lazy beach towns are less than two hours away, and equally as cheap. I know of friends who organize "ski to sea" trips, all within a day or two! If skiing, hiking, or swimming isn't your forte, the mountains are a constant beauty to look at, and never cease to impress.
Granada is amazing. CEA is amazing. Together, the two can provide you with the study abroad trip of a lifetime. Don't let this opportunity pass - Barcelona may have the better football (soccer) team, but Granada has tapas, Andalusian flair, and a vibrant, growing nightlife that rivals that of other major European metropolitan areas. CEA successfully sets you up, as a presumably-American, to best experience this smaller, lesser known Spanish town in the most successful way that you personally can!