I know that it is very common to hear "best time of my life" associated with one's travels, and although these are often exaggerated statements that result from the excitement and novelty of what one has just experienced, I would be lying if I said otherwise. My 4 months in Granada with IES abroad were truly the best four months of my life, in every sense of the word. The friends that I made in my program became some of my closest friends, and I still keep in touch with them daily.
I was able to live with a host family, with two young and very nice parents, a 9 year old boy and a 3-month old girl whom I loved as I love my real brother at home. I would always look forward to going home for lunch where I could enjoy a few hours of delicious and plentiful meals and the company of my 'family'. On the weekends that I didn't travel around Europe, I would play games with my 'brother'... It is so unbelievably lucky to be able to live with a family for four months and be able to call it your own.
My classes in Granada were great as well. 4 out of 5 of them were in Spanish, which not only allowed me to have a completely different educational experience, but also to greatly improve my language skills. The classes at IES were small and many were discussion-based, making it a fun and interesting environment to learn in. I also took a class at the University of Granada, where I was exposed to many Spanish and Erasmus students, and got to try out the 'Spanish' education system... although it is extremely different than what I am used to in the US (less structure to the class) I loved going twice a week and drinking my coffee outside overlooking Granada with my friends, before going to class.
IES was extremely helpful in all situations and I could not imagine having had a better time on another program. Indeed, IES staff was always there to lend a helping hand, whether you were sick or looking for something to do in the city. The staff and 'orientadores' planned many activities every week, that included everything from shows, dance classes, and hikes to wine and olive oil tasting. The 'orientadores' are Spanish university students who work for IES -- their presence in my life was incredible, I did many things with them every week, and some of them became my best friends in Granada. The program also had some of the best and most mind-blowing trips, including a weekend to Cabo de Gata -- a 'deserty' beach region, and 5 days in Morocco, in which we had the insane opportunity to live with Moroccan families.
Every day, I would go to my language class, then go out with my friends for 'tostadas (bread, tomato, olive oil and salt), cafe con leche, and fresh zumo de naranja. I would then go to my next class before going home for lunch, the biggest meal of the day. The food in my homestay was always delicious, and the quantities unbelievable ... but I was always able to finish my plate(s). This would be followed by a necessary siesta, which is the common thing to do in Spain before going to my evening class that ended at 8 (which didn't feel late at all, given that lunch was eaten around 3pm). After class, I would often go exploring the small streets of Granada, go shopping, and we would often end up at one of the miradors (viewing points), staring out to the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains that extended out behind it, while sipping on some tinto de verano. When the sun would set, we would go get tapas, where we could sit for hours just eating, drinking wine, talking, and enjoying life. Overall, Granada was incredible: the city was so beautiful, from the modern avenues lined with shops, the Arabic neighborhood that made you feel like you had been transported to a different continent, or the Jewish neighborhood where I lived that was covered in beautiful painted graffiti, to the flamenco and gypsy-filled hills of the Sacromonte. Everyone was so nice, so laid-back and so much fun to be around ... I couldn't have asked for a better semester.