Valerie Westin, a psychology major and Spanish minor, went to Granada, Spain, as part of the IES Abroad Granada program. Read all about her experience below!
What was your favorite experience during your time abroad?
There are so many! From the late night tapa-hopping dinners with my friends to the unforgettable weekend trips to beautiful Spanish cities, every day was an adventure.
I would say that my favorite experience was just the general experience of living in Granada. I know that may seem like a cop-out, but it’s true! I was able to live and learn in a city that had so much history that I could not entirely comprehend it. The fact that I was a simple walk away from the Alhambra and various other ancient architectural structures always blew my mind.
There was also always so much going on. I would be walking to class and see someone Flamenco dancing on the plaza near my school, or see a group of people all dressed in matching costumes for no apparent reason. Granada was just always full of life, there was never a dull moment!
What classes did you enroll in? Which was your favorite and why?
I took a class required by IES Abroad (a Spanish grammar class) and some that counted toward my Spanish minor here at Miami.
Valerie Westin and her friends at Alhambra in Granada, Spain!
My favorite class was about the art and architecture of Spain. In this class we got to go on field trips to various locations in Granada (and a trip to Córdoba) and see the art and history that we were learning about for ourselves. It was great to learn about the city that we were living in, and we even got to see some locations that most Granadinos (people from Granada) have not seen. For example, my class was able to go in a room in the Alhambra that is not open to the public, but only to private educational tours. It was full of really old wall artwork that was hand painted by those who created the Alhambra. This class was like going on a VIP tour of the city, while learning and getting to understand the history behind everything. It was a history class like I had never had before!
What were some of the biggest cultural differences you encountered? How did you overcome them?
Valerie Westin in Cabo de Gata!
In Spain, the cultural differences were not too difficult to overcome. It was helpful that at the first two days of my program, they informed us of some of the differences that we would encounter, so that helped me to be prepared. Spaniards do not have as much of a “personal bubble” as Americans do. When I was walking on the street with some students from the University of Granada, they were both walking on either side of me, practically touching me with their arms, and my immediate reaction was to move further away. I did not realize that I had such an American “personal bubble” until that moment.
When you greet and say goodbye to Spaniards, they expect two kisses on the cheek. This particular aspect was probably the most different to me. I wasn’t used to getting that up close and personal with strangers, but I had to hide my discomfort in order to remain polite.
Is there any advice you have for people who study in your location in the future?
Valerie and her friends outside of their favorite tapas restaurant!
My main piece of advice for future study abroad students is to make sure to experience your home city. A lot of people from my program traveled to different cities every weekend, and they didn’t get the chance to experience Granada’s culture as much as I did. Take at least a weekend to explore the city; just walk around and see what you can find. Try different restaurants, leave the areas where the tourists congregate and really see what being a citizen of that city is like.
“Really getting the chance to immerse yourself in the culture is what makes studying abroad so worthwhile; you build a home away from home halfway across the world.”
Where was the coolest place you visited?
I really enjoyed my trip to Morocco. My study abroad program took a majority of the students from my program to Morocco for five days. Here, I got to live with a Moroccan family for two nights, ride a camel, and explore a few different Moroccan cities.
From this trip specifically, my favorite part was when we had the opportunity to travel to a rural Moroccan village and have a traditional lunch with a family who lived in the village. We had to trek through uneven paths and even got lost on the way, but nothing could have beaten that authentic couscous! I just knew that when I was there that it was not an experience that many people get to have. We were sitting in their home, asking them questions about their lives while they asked us questions about the United States (with a translator). I just loved how we really got to see the culture and veer away from typical tourist activities.
Is there anything else you’d like to share from your time abroad?
I had an amazing host family. I know that sometimes the thought of living with host families while abroad is scary, but it really enhances the overall study abroad experience. My host family owned another home in a village outside of the city, in the same village where a lot of their family lived. They took me there twice and I got to ride their horses, eat with them, and see what living in a rural village in southern Spain was like. They had a lot of farming artifacts that had been passed down the family, and they had the tallest tree in Andalucía! Besides my chance to go there, my host family was just generally a huge positive factor of my study abroad experience.