I decided to study abroad in Granada by the recommendation of a friend who had gone with ISA two years ago. It was a spur of the moment decision for me, but it was the best choice I have made in college, bar none. As a homebody, I never pictured myself enjoying an abroad experience, but my time in Granada completely flipped my world. I spoke no Spanish going into the program, but the on-site staff, other students with ISA, and the incredibly friendly locals were beyond supportive and happy to help as I was learning the language.
Of all the cities that I visited in Spain (including fan-favorite Madrid), Granada proved to be the ultimate destination in my opinion. The city is large enough to provide endless attractions and entertainment, while maintaining a very warm, welcoming environment rarely found in areas with such large populations. Never once did I feel overwhelmed by the locals, the size of the city, or the tourist population. Granada provided an authentic Spanish experience, free from obnoxious tourist attractions, where I could soak up the culture and lifestyle of the average citizen. The city was remarkably clean and had the classic Spanish essence of cobblestone streets and breathtaking architecture. At nights, the streets were lit in a very romantic way that provided just enough light to see the plants hanging from endless rows of balconies leading to fountain upon fountain within plaza squares. Pictures of the cityscape will be etched in my mind forever. Atop the city, overlooking the land, is the historic Alhambra. As Spain's last moorish stronghold, the Alhambra and surrounding borough provide a glimpse into history in a pleasantly aesthetic way. This palace can be seen from nearly all locations throughout the city, and a trip to the top results in one of the most phenomenal views in the world.
City life is tastefully active, with the majority of transportation being your own two feet. ISA does a fantastic job ensuring that your host home is within manageable distance from your classes, so I was never stressed over time or effort in my commute. Though it can be tiring, walking facilitates familiarity with the city and opportunity to enjoy the local scene. After classes, my schedule was wide open, and the pedestrian friendly city always had something new for me to see. Granada is famous for free tapas (essentially appetizers) when you buy a drink. As a self proclaimed foodie, these enhanced each day as they gave me an opportunity to literally taste the culture. Granada is also home to vast expanses of locally owned shops, restaurants, and other businesses that make the city unique from any other. Personally, my favorite shop was a heladería (ice cream shop) near my house where I befriended the owner to the point that he knew my order and cut me deals on his decadent creations.
ISA also provides opportunities to venture outside of the host city for no additional cost with the planned excursions. My excursions were to Madrid, Sevilla, and Toledo. Each trip was well coordinated, making travel a simple treat for all of the students. We always stayed in nice hotels in the center of the cities so that navigation was easy and convenient, and the staff was more than knowledgeable on the attractions. Granada's close proximity to the coast also allowed for multiple weekend trips to Spain's painfully beautiful beaches, where some of my best memories were made. Though I did not have time to go, the city is also very near Morocco and the mountains which are both great destinations that fellow ISAers highly recommended.
One of the most memorable parts of the ISA experience is the opportunity to live with a host family. I was placed in a home with a middle aged married couple who showed nothing but the utmost affection for me and my two roommates. My host mom spent a great deal of time cooking every meal with care, and saw to it that all of our needs were met (laundry, food, travel coordination, etc.). Both parents were a terrific resource, as they showed us around the city, introduced us to family and friends, and suggested their favorite activities in Granada. The house itself was extremely close to my classes (8-9 minute walk) and was kept clean throughout the duration of my trip. My host family encouraged my Spanish speaking and I accredit most of my current abilities to the time I spent with them. Now, a year since my program, I still keep in contact with them.
As for relationships, the most enjoyable and memorable part of my experience in Granada, without a doubt, were the friends that I made. I was apprehensive about traveling abroad on my own, but the friendliness and outgoingness of all my companions made friendships a breeze. I made two friends in particular with whom I spent every waking moment, and it still was not enough. I am still in constant contact with both of them and am currently planning an opportunity to see one of them (back in Europe.. woo!) this summer. As an alumni of study abroad, I now realize that no matter where you choose to go, the best part of your experience will be the relationships that you build while you are there. That being said, Granada is an awesome place to do that and I can't wait for the opportunity to return!