Studying Abroad + Granada + Traveling + Reflections

(beautiful photo of the Alhambra taken by my Granada roommate, Maria Pleshkevich)

Growing up, I had the privilege to join my yearly family vacations and because of that I’ve seen quite a bit of the U.S, the Caribbean, and Venezuela. Last year, I had the opportunity to leave this hemisphere, for the first time, and go to Europe and study abroad in Granada, Spain for a few months. From there, I saw most of Spain and visited Portugal, Italy, and Morocco. Later than year my travels continued when I went to Texas, New Orleans, and St. Thomas/Johns for the first time. It was more of the world than I’ve ever seen before and more traveling than I’ve ever done before (which mostly left me exhausted/grateful/broke!!/homesick). And I finally understood the wunderlust/travel bug I’ve seen blogged about a million times.

Going into that year of travels I was aware of the fact that I wanted to be intentional and thoughtful with what I did with my time because it really was for such a brief amount of time. I knew I only had four months in Granada and I wanted to really understand what it means to be a granadina.

I tried to walk around everyday and find something new, I drank local beer, I looked at every flyer/poster and went to random events, I attended civic center classes, I went hiking, I asked for personal recommendations from anyone I met, I went to intercambios and discussed nuances in culture in English/Spanish/French, I would try to find new cafes, consumed more art than I ever imagined, I would walk the long way home, and I would read in different parks. Granada was perfect in more ways than one, from the tapas to the random centuries-old history I would accidentally stumble upon. It would rain then promptly shine and I would sit in the generalife on the mountain-top and see the entire city and smell olives and oranges. I would savor every new café I found and gleefully pocket another wifi password. I would walk home and stumble upon a science fiction movie festival complete with a random spaceship display, a city-wide book festival/celebration, a nature photography exhibition, cruz de mayo, and a flemenco performance that celebrated gitano culture. It was a quiet thrill that was intimate in details and I would be incredibly excited whenever I would find another pomegranate detail somewhere unexpected.

Importantly, I tried very hard not to be another obnoxious American student. I spent more time in Granada than traveling broadly/briefly and I really strived to learn about everything it had to offer. It forced me to be still and patient and to confront my anxiety that stemmed from complacency and being homesick. I was truly and genuinely forced out of my comfort zone and as much as I felt uncomfortable and unwilling to get out of bed, I kicked myself into going for a walk, going to the bar and talking to strangers, forced myself to stay out (really really) late, spending an afternoon reading because I had no commitments other than coming home for dinner, and being okay with being alone. It was certainly a growing experience personally and it was amazing to deeply experience another culture.

Ultimately, I understood my desire to travel deeply rather than broadly and I loved it. When I did travel, I spent a great deal of time researching and asked for recommendations from friends/family/Facebook. Then I would create detailed itineraries that I still keep for reference and future sharing.

Due to the fact that my post-graduate job will not begin until September, I found myself with a summer of freedom and after a great deal of research, thought, and reflection…….

I booked a flight to Quito, Ecuador for 6 weeks this summer.

I am so excited/nervous/ready and it still does not even feel real, but here I go. In preparation, I am attempting to reflect on lessons that I’ve learned from Granada and Spain / learning languages / intentional traveling.

The following is a brief list of what I’ve learned:

Takeaways from Studying Abroad and Studying Abroad specifically in Granada, Spain

  • There’s a lot to see where you are.
    • In the city, different barrios, in the immediate region, and in neighboring towns (for example, Andalusia).
  • Study abroad students (and myself included) tend to really glamorize study abroad with perfectly curated photos/albums/posts.
    • I had huge expectations of wild travels and crazy fun and perfect pictures. I definitely did experience those things–but not constantly. Don’t buy into the need to always take perfectly posed pictures and Instagrams instead of ~living in the moment~. Don’t buy into the fact that studying abroad is going to be “the best time of your life”.
    • I know plenty of people (including myself) who were homesick and wanted to leave and hated the places/people they were stuck with and you know what–that is okay !
    • I remember seeing so many envious posts and pictures with captions that proclaim that studying abroad was the “best time of their life”. So, when I went to Spain and found myself sad/complacent/homesick/anxious and realizing that I didn’t think this was the best time of my life, I was even more sad because I felt alone in this struggle (and I felt even worse because I knew how much money my parents spent for me to be here). But here’s the thing–there are plenty of people who feel the same way and that’s okay. Study abroad can definitely be the best time of your life or just a fun time or even just a good experience and that is valid.
    • (Also, on the low, you don’t want it to be the best time of your life at all, because you do at the end of semester/year, need to come back home and readjusting could be even more difficult.) (But also, you can always go back to volunteer/travel/intern/work/Fulbright/woof/etc.) (But you know, it’s not your real life–but it can be.) (I don’t think I’m making sense but I’m just trying to stress that you should have fun and learn but recognize that you do need to come back to reality of working/personing/doing actual schoolwork eventually) (Wow, that sounds worse, I’m done).
    • It is a learning and growing experience no matter what 🙂
  • Plan! Plan your trips so you can maximize your time and minimize your money and get the most out of everything.
  • Blablacar.es and Airbnb ==> leads to more interactions with other tourists/locals/travelers.
  • Ask for recommendations from friends and from anyone
    • I really sought people out and harassed them for their advice. When I went to Barcelona I messaged EVERYONE I knew who travelled or studied abroad there and created a compiled list of advice/places/restaurants and more that I continue to share with anyone I know who goes there. I’ve done this with most major cities I visited.
  • Walk and find something new everyday
    • Make it into a challenge for yourself!
  • Use your time wisely, it might be your last time in awhile that you’ll have this freedom/time/opportunity.
  • Figure out your comfort zone and be real with yourself.
    • I thought I could do solo trip and I found that when I spend a lot of time alone I become incredibly lonely and complacent. Therefore, I found a travel buddy and a great friend!
  • Unfortunately, I have no tips for disasters! I lucked out and didn’t miss a flight/bus/ride or anything. (But this is not the norm! I was just crazy careful and so lucky!!)
  • Take pictures of posters/fliers and go to the events (and try to go alone so you are forced to talk to people!!)
  • Write everything down and keep tickets/cards/receipts–keep a notebook/scrapbook
  • Give yourself time to breathe and relax. You don’t need to travel every weekend or go out every night because it can be exhausting/expensive.
    • Don’t rush and burn yourself out. Be kind to yourself. Get sleep. Spend a weekend at home or in the park
  • If you’re in a homestay be a kind guest. Talk to your host mother/family. Ask to help with chores. Be tidy. Be respectful. Don’t be loud if you come home late. Make conversation and ask questions.
  • Spend your money thoughtfully
    • What’s important to you? Drinking? Food? Souvenirs? Trips? Clothes? Experiences?
  • Be careful. Ultimately, you’re alone and your friends/family/and those who actually care about you are not around to take of you. You’re in a foreign country by yourself without your roots and support system. Don’t count on your new study abroad friends to safely drag your intoxicated butt home. Just be careful, smart, and don’t get into any regrettable situations (drinking too much, losing your passport, losing your wallet/purse/backpack, getting convicted of a crime…ya know).
  • Also–underrated fact. Study abroad friends can become real friends and best friends. I am constantly so grateful for the people I’ve met and whenever we get together I can’t feel my cheekbones because I laugh so much.
  • Definitely go abroad–it is truly remarkable to experience another culture. But if you can’t or can’t afford to, look into shorter term opportunities to study abroad/travel.

Short List of observations on Spain and Granadinos (after a year of reflecting)

  • No pasa nada
    • The first thing I was told when I arrived was that people often say “no pasa nada” which means whatever/no worries/it’s fine.
    • I soon found out that people actually do use this phrase all the time.
    • How people use this phrase but completely and entirely embody it.
  • The friendliness and generosity of people
  • The casual poverty
  • The amount of actual (500+ yr) history that was scattered everywhere !!
  • Quality of food
    • Vegetables and produce that really taste like it is supposed too…
    • Simplicity of recipes, the lack of sauces and other things. Most meals just had salt/olive oil and it was spectacular but simple.
  • The actual care and interest for the environment / medioambiente
    • The lack of dryer machines because you can just hang your clothes to dry !!
    • Prevalence of recycling and initiatives to help the environment.
    • Time that is spent outdoors
    • Little to no air-conditioning
    • Often times, I would be in a museum or car (places/things that do have AC) and it would be very hot out and the AC wasn’t used because it was thought to be wasteful which was so refreshing/cool to hear!!
  • Commercials
    • There were no regular commercial breaks during TV programs–just 1.5 commercial breaks which I know that I preferred.
  • Things (food/drinks) I grew to love:
    • Cafés y tapas
    • Tostadas
      • especially tostadas con tomate (sounds weird but delicious)
    • Local beers–aka Alhambra beer
    • Jamón ibérico everything (was very taken aback by how much there was. There usually was a leg in every store/restaurant window).
    • Chorizo
    • Paella
    • Olive oil on everything.
    • oh god, basically everything
  • The actual desire to learn (multiple!) languages
  • The actual desire to share languages, customs, and cultures
  • The actual desire to listen
  • Politics
    • Another big mess
  • Intercambios
  • Calling everyone guapo/a, hombre, tío/tía.
  • Living in the past
    • Something I’ve observed is that due to the long and grand history of Spain, the Spanish people tend to be stuck in the past. Interesting compared to how everyone I know here (maybe it’s a NYC thing) is so concerned about the future).

Intentional Traveling

  • Plan ! Research ! Think ! Ask ! Record !
  • Give more than take.
  • Plan! Plan your trips so you can maximize your time and minimize your money and get the most out of everything.
  • Blablacar.es and Airbnb ==> leads to more interactions with other tourists/locals/travelers.
  • Try to volunteer (altruistically and authentically)
  • Talk to strangers because it can very much lead to fun/random adventures (but again, be careful..)
  • Ask for recommendations from friends and from anyone
    • I really sought people out and harassed them for their advice. When I went to Barcelona I messaged EVERYONE I knew who travelled or studied abroad there and created a compiled list of advice/places/restaurants and more that I continue to share with anyone I know who goes there. I’ve done this with most major cities I visited.
  • Think about how you want to spend your money–local business, alcohol?
  • Don’t visit the same place/restaurant twice. (But I’m also guilty of that)
  • { Will add to this }

Language Learning and Improvement (mostly concerning Spanish)

  • Listen to podcasts everyday
    • Test yourself by thinking about what you understood. (I listen to Radio Ambulante and Buenos Dias America).
    • Repeat phrases you hear to engage in active listening.
  • Read everyday to understand the rhythm and flow of a language.
  • Read OUT LOUD to understand the rhythm and flow of a language.
  • Subscribing to newsletters in different languages and listening to the news in different languages.
  • Following CNN en Espanol or NYTimes en Espanol or Buzzfeed en Espanol and different Spanish news sources on Fb/Instagram/Twitter. Additionally follow Spanish speakers on twitter/fb/insta as well.
  • Utilizing Quizlet
    • Write down every new word you learn and every word you don’t know and look it up.
    • Create lists of new words and review them often. Use the app on your phone when your bored
  • Go to intercambios (and go alone so you’ll be forced to talk to others)
  • There’s other apps like Duolingo and Memrise
    • I don’t really like them but they’re there.
  • Stick to that language as much as possible. Avoid native language speakers of your native language. Try to make friends.
    • (I’ve been told that getting a bf/gf/significant other helps with learning a new language. Idk, I did not do that, but I hear that it does help !)
    • Make friends and make those friends help you make other friends. Get invited into their circle and go to their dinners/parties. Try not to be intrusive but a welcome addition.
      • You’ll actually learn slang and how to talk more colloquially.
  • Greet everyone! Try to often engage in conversation with random people/waiters/bartenders/people at the bar.
    • (Also, I’ve been told that tinder or dating apps is on the low a good wait to meet people for friendly/language sharing exchanges. Again, didn’t do this but it seems worth a shot).
  • Review grammar and find grammar books that you can use everyday.
    • If you learn a new grammatical structure or word or phrase make sure to use it in context in conversation that day so that you cement what you’ve learned.
  • Write down everything! Force yourself to write in the different language.
    • If you journal in your native language–switch languages. If you tweet, use another language. If you blog, use another language. You get the idea..
  • Focus on skill improvement
    • Figure out what you need to improve on like speaking, your accent, vocabulary, casual conversation
    • Focus on it–get a tutor, find an intercambio buddy, rent books or listen to podcasts and focus on actively improving that skill everyday.

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