Living like a local in Spain for a year was an experience I will never forget.
- What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
My linguistics classes were very hands-on. We conducted surveys, made presentations to the class, and were expected to participate. There were lots more course options than UCSB offers, including topics that were really interesting to me, like dialectal differences across Spain, the Americas, or even within Andalusia. The literature classes I took, though, were monotonous two-hour periods of lecture culminating in a final pair of essays. Also, the University of Granada is a semester school, which makes a big difference on pacing. All my classes started off very slow, and then picked up in the last few weeks of the semester.
- What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class was about the history of the Spanish language. I have been interested in etymology since before I started college, and to my knowledge UCSB and most undergraduate universities do not offer in depth courses on the history of language beyond the introductory level. It was an eye-opening class that was very challenging but very rewarding (to anyone interested, take phonology first). As an added bonus, since we learned how to read medieval Spanish, it made the Medieval Literature class I took at UCSB much easier.
- Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience.
I did not intern, though others in my program interned at an English language academy. I did tutor, which led to some really interesting cross-cultural conversations with the people I was tutoring. It hit me on my way home from a session once how crazy it was that I had been conversing with someone on the other side of the globe, in a different tongue, whose thoughts about life would be completely cut off to me had I not learned Spanish and traveled across the ocean.
- How would you describe your host institution?
The University of Granada is spread out across the entire city. The campus I went to sits atop a hill, so I was treated to some beautiful sunsets framed by the Cartuja Monastery directly below it.
- Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
There are clubs and organizations, but they do not do tabling like they do here. You have to talk to people or pay attention to posters to find out about them.
- Describe your housing situation.
I lived in the center of town with 3 girls from a nearby province. It was a furnished apartment, though it lacked certain appliances. There was no dryer (very common) and no oven (also pretty common), but our clothes dried on the balcony in 2 hours, or within the day if we stuffed the clothing rack or it was cold outside, and we had a nice stove and microwave, so we were still able to cook. We had a beautiful view and easy bus and taxi access, plus two grocery stores within 5 minutes walking distance.
- Where did you eat most of your meals?
I ate out a lot. Many restaurants served as cafes during the day and bars at night. For lunch or dinner, if I ordered soda or an alcoholic drink, I received a complimentary tapa. Generally tapas were smaller dishes like a little sandwich or just some olives or bread. There was a Peruvian place near my apartment though that gave out generous meals with your drink that filled an entire dinner plate. Some places let you choose what you got; with others, part of the fun was seeing what they would bring you.
- How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
The average meal was around 3-5 euros. A big 2 course lunch called “el menú del día” was typically around 8-13 euros. Beyond food, budget for trips. While transportation in Europe is relatively cheaper than in the United States, the difference is not as dramatic as I was expecting and it was still fairly expensive to travel, especially since most trips required an additional 2-5 hour bus ride to Malaga or Madrid where the larger airports were located.
- Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
Being vegetarian or vegan in Granada would be difficult but not impossible. There are some vegan restaurants, particularly in the Albaycin neighborhood. However, the Spanish diet, especially in Granada, relies heavily on fish and pork, so it will be difficult to avoid. There are vegetarian options certain days of the week at the school cafeterias, and many restaurants have vegetarian options for tapas. Fully vegan options may be harder to find at restaurants that are not explicitly vegan.
- Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
My friends and I traveled to Nerja, a beach city in Malaga, Spain. I decided to order pulpo – octopus – and I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a full purple octopus, and it took me and the whole table by surprise.
- What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I miss Spanish hot chocolate. It was so thick and wonderful, and I have been hard pressed to find it anywhere else.
- Describe your host city.
Granada has lots of very different neighborhoods. There’s the historic center of town spanning a block or two; the Arabic neighborhood of the Albaycin with its quaint cobbled streets, steep hills and whitewashed homes; Sacromonte, an old gypsy neighborhood tucked into the mountains; and many more residential neighborhoods with their own personalities. It looks unassuming when all the stores are closed up for siesta, but the longer I stayed, the more charming the city became.
- Was it easy to get around?
It was easy to get around since Granada is fairly small and mostly flat. It does get hilly in the neighborhoods leading into the Albaycin, and the hill to campus was about a ten minute climb. Buses came around fairly often though, and weren’t too expensive, though they were often extremely packed. Taxis were also surprisingly economical. If I was running late for school and couldn’t wait for the bus, a taxi ride only cost about 4-5 euros. Taxis to the airport tended to be a little shy of 30 euros, and airport shuttle buses cost 4 euros.
- Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
I felt safe. Families were out late at night because they didn’t even have dinner until around 9 or 10:00pm, and then many people liked to stroll the streets afterwards. There are some neighborhoods to be wary of at night near the Cartuja campus (equivalent of Letters and Science), but during your orientation you will find out which neighborhoods those are. They are fine during the day, but not neighborhoods you would necessarily want to live in.
- What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
Granada has processions throughout the year in honor of its saints. Sometimes I happened across a long line of people parading solemnly up a street with music, costumes, and a representation of the saint hoisted on people’s shoulders in the middle of the crowd. I also went to a soccer game, and it was the fastest 90 minutes of my life. I don’t usually watch soccer, but it was really exciting, and the stadium was small enough that you could see the players well even from the higher rows. I highly recommend going to at least one game.
- Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
The Spanish are very direct and typically just say “Give me this” rather than asking. In fact, asking, “Can I have this?” at a restaurant was a confusing question – of course I could, but did I want it? It was much clearer to say outright, “Give me the Spanish omelet (please).”
I also got used to a kiss on each cheek to say hello or goodbye.
To my Spanish roommates, sitting next to someone only to not talk to each other for two hours while you watch a movie was just silly. The TV was always on but only as white noise to conversation.
- How did you handle culture shock?
I continually reminded myself that the reason I was in Spain was to learn about Spanish culture. As I adjusted to Spain’s direct communication, I found out just how indirect I can be, but having the right attitude helped a lot. I had a lot of friends that were international students, so sometimes we had fun gossiping about the crazy locals, too.
- What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
People are so open. The greeting of a kiss on each cheek took a while to get used to but it’s a nice gesture. Everyone says hi (literally “See you later”) on the streets, especially in the towns outside the city.
- Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
For Semana Santa (spring break) a friend and I planned a weeklong country hopping adventure spending our nights on buses and our days in new cities. We ended up exchanging stories with an Ecuadorian woman over Sacher cake in Vienna, witnessing a Christmas service in the Berlin bus station, spending an afternoon at the second oldest theme park in the world in Copenhagen, and meeting a tour guide in Munich from the same part of Spain that my program was in. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done and one of my favorite memories from my time abroad.
- What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
I panicked about a month before I left, worried that I might get stuck not understanding absolutely anything at all. The accent was definitely challenging, but it was manageable. I understood all my professors, except one, in a class that was outside my major and designed for 4th year students that had spent their entire high school years studying the topic. I promptly exchanged that class for a class in my major and suddenly I could follow along again. Sometimes I didn’t understand my roommates, but they were patient, and in the end I learned a lot from them and was able to converse with them at relatively normal speeds.
- What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge abroad was living in an apartment for the first time, compounded by the fact that I barely spoke the language of my housemates and didn’t understand their culture at first. This became easier as the year went on, but it took some getting used to.
- How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I became friends with people from all over the world, which brings foreign news stories closer to home because I know people affected by that news. It was also my first time living outside of a suburb. Before my time abroad, I thought I would be overwhelmed living in a city and didn’t think I could live anywhere outside of California for weather reasons alone, but living so far away from home showed me I could make a home anywhere.
- What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
Learn the names of the provinces or equivalent around your host city. You will feel more oriented when you arrive, and it’s an opportunity to dive into your host country while you’re still stuck in the US. Especially if you go on an immersion program, find something to listen to ahead of time in the accent of the place you are going. This not only gave me a head start on the accent, but was also a way to see my progress after I had been abroad for a while and is now something I turn to when I get homesick for Graná.