Things I Learned From Studying Abroad In Spain

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None of the pre-departure sessions given by my university’s study abroad organization could have prepared me for the experience I’ve had while on exchange for four months.

Most people assume that a study abroad or international exchange will be the experience of a lifetime, full of new and exciting adventures that will forever be looked nostalgically upon as some of the best days of our lives.

But nobody can prepare you for the amount of curveballs that will be thrown at you, the unexpected challenges you’ll encounter, nor the countless lessons you’ll have to learn.

I’ve learned a ton of things in this indubitably exciting but at times overwhelming chapter in my life, and so I thought I’d share the top ten things (from the obvious, the difficult, the random, the philosophical, or otherwise) I’ve learned from studying in Spain this year.

1) The experience of studying abroad is different for everyone.

For some people, six months to a year living in another country isn’t the hugest transition for them; perhaps they traveled to a number of places during their childhood and early adult life, or moved out of state or out of country for university.

For others, their exchange might be the first time they’ve left their parents’ home, or even be the first time they’ve gone somewhere other than their home country.

No matter what your preconceptions are about studying abroad, no matter the things you hear, both spectacular and horrific, from other students or friends who have studied abroad, everybody experiences studying abroad differently.

No one study abroad experience is the same, but neither is a particular study abroad experience better than somebody else’s. There isn’t one way a study abroad experience is supposed to be. The best thing you can do is take advantage of the time you have while you’re abroad and make the most of it, no matter the ups and downs, challenges, or hardships that you face.

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2) You have more free time than you can shake a stick at.

Whether you’re taking just one class or a full course load (five classes), you will most likely find yourself with more free time than you have back home. And in Spain, especially, the university environment is pretty lax. There are no classes on Fridays, and there are constantly festivals and holidays and strikes that result in a day off from school, and many a day where professors just don’t show up.

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There will be plenty of days where you literally have nothing you have to do, which can lend itself to a number of things; an impromptu trip on your own or with friends to a new area of the city or a new site you haven’t been to yet; a tapas or ice cream run; or an afternoon or evening or sometimes even a full day inside, doing just about nothing.

So while some of your free days may end up being spent lounging for far too long in your room exploring social media or catching up on TV shows and movies, luckily, in a place like Granada, there are always things to do

3) Homesickness happens

Anyone who’s packed up their lives and moved into a student residence or an apartment in another city, state, or, in my case, country, will have experienced the phenomenon that is homesickness. Usually, after a brief honeymoon period of being in a new environment surrounded by new people just as scared and as hell-bent on making friends as you are, the euphoria fades, reality sets in, and you find yourself missing home. Missing your parents, missing your friends, missing your home, missing the familiar, the comfortable.

And when you’re abroad, like internationally abroad, somehow homesickness feels worse. Whether it be because you’re farther away, because you’re in a place where the language spoken is not your first language, or because you’re in a place that isn’t your home, and one that you’ve only had a couple weeks or months to adjust to, when homesickness hits it can be really tough. Even to the point where you feel down or low or even depressed and you’re not entirely sure why.

But what I’ve been told, and what I continue to tell myself whenever I find myself nostalgic, is that this is normal. Plus, I find that there are few things more special than being abroad and realizing just how wonderful your home is.

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4) Getting sick sucks.

Even regular colds can seem that much more debilitating when you’re abroad. Both physically and psychologically. Just like going off to college and getting sick for the first time away from home, getting sick when your family’s nowhere near you can be hard. And of course even the most benign of sicknesses often result in bouts of homesickness. See 2).

Also, sometimes, as happened to both me and one of my closest friends Lisa, you catch a bug or a virus that you’ve never had before and you have absolutely NO IDEA what it is, and you’re bedridden for a number of days. So not only are you incapacitated for goodness-knows how many days, there’s really not much you can do other than wait it out. Without family. Without the friends around who would normally come to your aid in a time like this. And yeah, it sucks.

But, just like all adversity in life, you get through it, and you get better. And life goes on.

5) No matter how careful you are, you end up spending more money than you intend to.

Food costs money. Lodging costs money, whether it be with a homestay family, in a shared student apartment, in student residence, or in a hostel. Transportation costs money. Cell phone plans cost money. International calling and postcard-sending cost money.

And when you’re going on day or weekend trips, unexpected expenses always arise. You were really tired that morning so you ordered that coffee at that train station. You forgot your water bottle, and the water here isn’t potable, so you had to spend that 1-2 euro on a liter of water. And then there’s the ever-so-occasional (or perhaps frequent) morning where you wake up and think to yourself, where the heck did that 30 euro go…and then you remember you were at a tapas bar or regular bar or discoteca (or a combination of these) the night before.

Long story short, whether you’re studying or traveling abroad, just like in real life, stuff costs money. And it’s all about budgeting, learning how to budget, and continuing to distinguish between a worth-it versus not-worth-it purchase. A cheap flight to the Canary Islands for a weekend? Worth it.

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A 30+ euro night out at a discoteca, buying shots for you and your friends and dancin’ it up like fools? YOLO, right? Maybe once or twice, sure, why not. But every other night? Probably not.

6) You sometimes lose almost if not all motivation to study and go to class.

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Here in Granada, we exchange students already have the luxury of three day weekends, with there being no classes on Fridays (at least in most faculties at UGR). Those three-day weekends are also so very easily extendable into four or even five-day weekends, if a trip seems timely at that point in time. Hence your four-day school week sometimes becomes a two to three day school week, and suddenly you’ve lost all focus as you find yourself in class flight-, hostel-, bus-, Lonely Planet- and blog- (in my case) searching, and then you look up and the prof’s done talking and your class is over and OH MY GOSH WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

(Note: I am not suggesting in any way that this is the scenario for every international exchange student studying here, I’ve just found this has been the case for me…on several occasions).

And then of course there are countless Erasmus events going on NIGHTLY, with enticing prices at popular places, and as you’re in Spain, these parties rage till the wee hours of the morning and then who the heck would want to go to a 9am or even 10am class when you don’t even get home from a night out until 6 in the morning?

While we are here for the purpose of studying, there is so much other stuff going on, so many opportunities to travel and sightsee and meet new people that at least for me, the actual “studying” and “going to school” hasn’t been at the top of my priorities list (for the first time in my life, I might add.)

7) The concept of being on time does not exist everywhere.

The concept of time in Spain is drastically different than what I’m used to in Vancouver and Seattle. Busses are often late. Class doesn’t really start right on the hour. Students show up late. Professors show up late. Actually, professors showing up 15-30 minutes late to lecture is normal…and it’s just as normal for them to carry on well past the class end time to make up for their being late.

Being on time for a social outing, whether it be for tapas, at a house party, or meeting up at a bar or discoteca, usually means arriving between a forty-five minutes to three hours late. There is a wide time frame during which it is acceptable to show up for things. And I’m the girl who’s always on time (in first year university they called me a keener…), so this whole “show up whenever” thing and “hope the party’s still going and hasn’t moved somewhere else” thing is new to me.

So let’s just say I’ve gotten used to the plans I make not actually happening or starting until a good deal later than the originally agreed upon time. And so it goes.

8) Keeping in touch with people back home can be difficult, and not always desirable.

Some friends will want to keep in touch with you regularly while you’re abroad, others won’t. You’ll want to keep in touch with certain people regularly, and you won’t want to with others. Whether it’s iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, SnapChat, Skype, or email, there certainly are easy and convenient ways to communicate with friends and family while you’re abroad. But the reality is we all have lives and sometimes someone’s first priority isn’t responding to that witty text, that long-drawn-out, dramatic Facebook message, or that supposedly hilarious SnapChat.

Furthermore, I have found that taking break from all methods of phone or online communication with people back home can be liberating. While updating your family or close friends on upcoming travels or new, exciting experiences can be gratifying, sometimes it’s nice to unplug and just live without the constant nag of technology.

When it comes down to it, if you’re on a study abroad, you won’t be gone forever. You will at one point in time return to your home, to your family and to those friends you wish you had stayed in better contact with. Nevertheless, more often than not, from that first hug after months apart, a lot of relationships revert comfortably to where they were, as if it had only been yesterday that you’d seen them last.

9) Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Yes, that’s a quote from the Seattle rapper Macklemore. But it has indubitably been the most important lesson I’ve learned over and over during the course of this trip.

My experience with the University of Granada, for example, was nothing like I expected it would be. With its massive size, its integral role in the city, and its illustrious history, I thought for sure my chance to study in its hallowed halls would be a momentous, irreplaceable one.

However, from the clerical problems I encountered in applying here, to the frustratingly slow registration process and dysfunctional bureaucratic system, to the sometimes lackadaisical classroom atmosphere, for me, UGR did not live up to its favorable reputation. And I’ve spent far too much time letting myself be disappointed about this. If I take a step back and realize at least I ended up in one class I thoroughly enjoy, from the lectures to the required reading to (surprisingly enough) re-reading the material and composing an open-ended essay on it for my final exam, then the unmet expectation I had of the supposedly stellar experience I’d have at UGR doesn’t result in as much as a resentment or disappointment.

An example of an instance where I benefited from this lesson learned would be my trip to Paris. I idealistically assumed that the second I got there I would instantly fall in love with the iconic French city. And you know what? I didn’t. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy myself there, but it took me until my last day there to realize just how dynamic of a city Paris is, to realize that I did indeed want to spend more time there to see if the city would charm me more. I kept an open mind, gave the city a chance, made the most of my experience there, and everything turned out alright.

The Louvre

Which brings me to the last and sort of all-encompassing lesson I learned from four months studying abroad in Europe:

10) One of the best things you can do to make the most of your study abroad experience is to keep an open mind.

One of my dear friends Mika, who studied abroad this past semester in Florence, mentioned this in one of her blog posts, and I agree 100%. Being open, keeping an open mind, is the best thing to do in almost every situation. Whether it comes to meeting new people, visiting new places, trying out new tapas restaurants in new neighborhoods, checking out a new bar or discoteca, or figuring out where to go on your next trip, the single best thing I’ve done for myself in these situations has been keeping an open mind.

When it comes to people, no matter where they’re from, what their beliefs are, or what their cultural background is, more often than not they will surprise you, and you will surprise yourself with the diversity of people you end up meeting, getting to know, and even making long-lasting friendships with.

When it comes to seeing new things, you’ll never truly know how dynamic or interesting a sight is until you get there. And with an open mind, you’ll be surprised just what you take from each an every new sight you visit.

When it comes to seeking out new food and drink, well, that’s sort of a no-brainer. The more places you try, the more likely you’ll find the tastiest tapas and most refreshing and tipsiness-inducing drinks. From croquetas to berenjenas con miel and from the classic tinto de verano, the various Alhambra brand-drafts, to my new favorite, the tinto version of beer, clara con limón, Granada in particular has so much to offer in terms of food and drink, and some of the best things I’ve had in the past four months have been when I open-mindedly sought out new places or was brought somewhere new by a friend (stay tuned on a post all about FOOD!).

And last but not least, when it comes to traveling to a new place or a new country, no matter how much Lonely Planet researching you do or how many blog posts or new articles you read on things to do or can’t-miss spots in that new place or country, you’ll do yourself a great favor if you keep an open mind and rid yourself of any expectations prior to taking the trip. You’ll enjoy everything that much more, or experience less (or no) disappointment in the event that you aren’t blown away by or in love with everywhere you go (which will certainly be the case). 

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Photo cred Meghan Nolt

Granada was unlike any other experience I’ve had. I am endlessly grateful for every person I’ve met and every friend I’ve made, every place I got to see and new country I got to visit, and for the lessons I’ve learned and changes and improvements I’ve made for myself and my own life.

But I’m ready for a new adventure, a new journey to experience fully, live and learn openly, and embrace without any expectation, prejudice, or preconception. I hope at the very least to take these lessons with me, and always remember, when in a new country, a new continent, or a new environment, one in which you don’t always have control over how things will go:

when you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life

– Eckhart Tolle

With this thought in mind, along with all my other favorite quotes about life and happiness, I can’t help but add a number 11) to the list.

When an opportunity comes, seize it. Live in the moment and make the most of the moment you’re in. Life is short but sweet for certain, so live every day like it’s your last and reach for the sky because tomorrow may never come. The time is now. Chulla vida. 

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Oh, the Places I’ll Go (Part Two)

Four months have sure gone by fast. It’s crazy to think my time living and studying in Granada is soon coming to an end.

It’s been almost nothing like I’d expected it would be, but in a lot of ways it’s been more than I could have imagined.

Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

=> First of all, it was a dream come true.

Studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country had been a dream of mine since I was 12 years old.

In my sixth grade Introduction to World Languages class, Spanish was by far my favorite. While I found French and Japanese to be very confusing and extremely difficult to pronounce without feeling foolish, Spanish was easy. I could totally handle this!

I was sure I sounded like a legit Spanish speaker when I ran through the following phrase, over and over again, oh-so-proud of my pronunciation and the way the words just rolled off my tongue:

Quiero presentarte a mi amiga, Carmen.

I’d like you to introduce you to my friend, Carmen. Well, the facility with which I pronounced that phrase, on that day some nine years ago, sold me. I could totally see myself studying abroad in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country one day, and (hopefully) becoming fluent in Spanish in the process. I thought to myself, let’s do it!

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Fast forward to 2011, when I spent six weeks studying in Ecuador, followed by a week of traveling around Peru.

And by 2013, eight years of Spanish classes later (including AP Spanish and AP Spanish Literature at Roosevelt High School), I’m 90% of the way through my Spanish major at the University of British Columbia, AND I’ve spent a semester studying at the University of Granada in southern Spain.

I still find it incredible that the dream I first envisioned as a twelve-year-old has now come true for me twice.

 => Second of all, despite all the ups and downs and the occasional frustration or setback, there are so many positive things I’ve gained from this study abroad experience:

I’m basically fluent in Spanish; I have no problem ordering in restaurants, asking for, or even giving directions, and understanding my professors in class.

Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

Photo cred Sarah Capdeville

I’ve gotten to live in a place that is utterly surrounded by amazingness; the Sierra Nevada’s my backyard, I can see the Alhambra from my balcony window, and I’m no more than a 20-minute walk away from the quaint Albayzín, the stunningly-graffiti’ed Realejo, a number of hopping and oh-so-cosmopolitan plazas and cobblestoned-sidestreets lined with churrerías (yes, churro-restaurants) and eclectic tapas bars, and, of course, and endless amount of churches and other historic buildings.

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I’ve met people from all over the world; my homestay parents are Argentinean, my friends and other people I’ve met in hostels hail from the States, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, to name a few.

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Photo cred Lisa Thomson

And I’ve gotten to travel…a lot. In Spain, I’ve been to Córdoba, Sevilla (three times), Barcelona, and Madrid. Around Granada, I’ve been to Ronda, the Alpujarras, Salobreña, and Nerja. Outside of Spain, I’ve been to Morocco, the Canary Islands, Portugal, and France.

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Photo cred Meghan Nolt

It all sounds pretty picture-perfect, eh? And I essentially do nothing but rave about it all in my blog posts.

Ultimately, while there have been a fair amount of ups and downs, highs and lows, disappointments and lessons learned (not to mention my recurrent frustration with the University of Granada’s administration), this trip has been a rewarding one, full of awesome memories and fun times, and most importantly, one from which I have made several lifelong friendships.

 => Last but not least, this trip has provided me with a starting point for an upcoming two-month adventure around Europe!

Starting Monday, June 24th, after ditching my giant suitcase in Madrid, with just my trusty backpack (thanks Mom and Dad!) I’ll be off to:

Central and Northern Spain

Original image found through a Google Image search.

Toledo; Original image found through a Google Image search.

I’m finally getting the chance to hit up the ToledoSalamancaSegovia triangle! There was an Erasmus trip to these destinations earlier this year, but as I’ve learned I prefer to travel solo or in a small group, I decided to hold off. Luckily I managed to work these three cities into my post-Granada itinerary! I am so looking forward to treading the cobblestone streets through three of Spain’s most iconic and historic cities! As you may know, I’m a HUGE architecture fan, and the architecture of these three cities appears to be simply oozing with…well, awesomeness.

Original image found through a Google Image search.

Original image found through a Google Image search.

From there I’ll head to San Sebastián, the most famous and well-loved destination in País Vasco (Basque Country), to indulge in some of if not the best tapas (called pinxtos in Basque), in Spain, luxuriate on the gorgeous beaches in the scenic Playa de la Concha, and wander the friendly old town and perhaps…attempt some Basque? We shall see.

From this point on, I may not return to Spain again until mid-August when I return to Madrid for my flight home to the States. I could easily spend the whole summer in this wonderful country, but there’s also so much more of Europe I’m dying to see.

From País Vasco, I jet off to…

Switzerland

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Original image found through a Google Image search.

The land of the Matterhorn, chocolate, melting cheese, skiing, and the United Nations headquarters. I’ll be meeting one of my dearest UBC friends in Geneva, and we’ll be spending a short jaunt in the towns of Fiescheralp and Zermatt. The former is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from the huge and famous Aletsch Glacier, which, weather-permitting, we’ll hike along and spend some time marveling at the Swiss landscape; and the latter is close to the Matterhorn (pictured above), which we hope to marvel at at on one of the many trails in the area.

After we part ways I’ll spend a night in the capital city, Bern, a UNESCO World Heritage site and, from the looks of it as I’ve gathered from my Lonely Planet, a insanely cute, quaint, and charming little town.

My time in Suiza (I prefer the Spanish name than the boring old English Switzerland) will be short (and, unfortunately, really expensive), but I cannot even BEGIN to express how excited I am to be there!

Northern Italy

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Original image found through a Google Image search.

A full-fledged, first-time-solo-traveling EuroTrip wouldn’t really be complete without at least a brief tour in Italy, now would it? Having spent two weeks in Rome five years ago, I thought I’d go somewhere new! I’ll be making stops in Milan, Florence, Bologna, and Venice, and oh my GOODNESS am I stoked!

The Balkans 

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Original image found through a Google Image search.

The last region I’ve got more or less worked into the itinerary of the first leg of my adventure is the Balkans. Ever since becoming an avid reader of the solo female travel blog Adventurous Kate, I’ve been DYING to go to Croatia. Also it just so happens the capital city Dubrovnik (pictured above) is where they filmed King’s Landing scenes in Season Two of Game of Thrones…I have to admit, that makes me giddily and childlishly ecstatic!

I also hope to pay SloveniaMontenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina a visit, again as per my inspiration from reading Adventurous Kate and other travel bloggers. From Plitvice Lakes National Park, the idyllic Lake Bled, the breathtaking scenery of Kotor, and the not-so-long-ago war-wrought towns of Mostar and Sarajevo, I am equal parts intrigued and THRILLED to be venturing to this fascinating region.

And from there on out…

Western or Central Europe…TBD

Switzerland, Italy, and Croatia were at the top of my list of places I had to see within the two months I have to travel around Europe. The list is dreadfully long, however, and so that’s why I’d like to ask for your feedback on where I should go next!

The list of countries I’d like to see in central (slash eastern) Europe are as follows: Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, and Germany.

As for western Europe, I’d really like to visit Ireland, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and (southern) France. But obviously I won’t have enough time or money to visit all of these countries. So I thought I’d enlist your help!

 => Have you been to any of the countries I’ve mentioned in this post?

 => Was there one you enjoyed the most? 

 => What do you think are the must-do’s and must-see’s in that country (or any of the ones mentioned in this post, for that matter!)?

I would be beyond grateful for any input you may have! 🙂

It’s been four months full of exciting experiences, but I think I’m ready for a new journey, a new challenge. Granada, it’s been real, but boy am I stoked to embark upon what will no doubt be an exhilarating adventure!

Photo cred Meghan Nolt

Photo cred Meghan Nolt

¡Uno, dos, tres; cinco, seis, siete!

Orientation week is now underway for we international students at UGR (MUCH more entertaining when pronounced in a Spanish accent, “ooh-hey-ERR-eh”), and so far the most exciting social event I’ve been to was the salsa class last night at Pub Gavanna just off the Camino de Ronda, an easy 15 minute bus ride from my home in el Zaidín. I went with my friends Lisa and Ida Marie, from New Zealand and Denmark, respectively, and I think it’s safe to say last night turned into more of an adventure than we anticipated.

Lisa, la neozelandesa, arrived Sunday evening in Granada, and is my current compañera de piso, that is, she is staying in the other available room at Verónica and Fernando’s house. We discovered pretty much right away how much we have in common, and it has been really fun getting to know each other, exploring the city, and hitting up all the orientation events together. The two of us met Ida Marie, or just Ida, la danesa, on Monday when we went apartment or “flat hunting,” as Lisa refers to it, in order to compare prices, location, and convenience between our current homestay situation to pisos compartidos, essentially shared student apartments. Ida is currently living in the first place we checked out, and after we ran into her again at our first orientation meeting for the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (UGR’s Humanities department), the three of us have been sticking together.

Tuesday’s orientation meeting, while dry and boring at times, did help us to get our bearings in terms of this week of orientation activities as a whole, as well as introduce the seemingly long process of trying out and eventually matriculating at UGR. Frustratingly, we won’t be able to register for classes until Monday, February 25th, but the upside is we have all of next week to attend as many courses as we want, to size up and get a feel for the classes available to us, before we actually commit to them. I am quite excited to get back into the classroom setting, though; as fun and as exciting as these first few days have been, I feel after over a month of being out of school and work, I am ready to get back to the books, as they say.

Salsa night was organized by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), the European Union-wide student network, through which a decent portion of the exchange students came to study here at Granada in the first place (http://www.esn.org). Ida and I arrived early to find the pub was then closed, so while we waited, it seemed only natural that we go for tapas. We ran into some other international students who like us, had arrived early, and the five of us headed into the first tapas bar we could find, a casual little place called La Gamba Alegre. We ordered sangrías and then we were asked which tapas we wanted with those, and so Ida picked two off the day’s menu for us, albondigas and a type of fried shrimp, the name of which is currently escaping me. And I am most happy to report that my first taste of sangría and tapas was most pleasurable 🙂

Las sangrías en la Gamba Alegre (I was too eager to try the tapas, so didn't manage a picture, sadly).

Las sangrías en la Gamba Alegre.

While I didn’t manage to get a picture of the tapas, as we were too hungry and eager to try them, I do remember them fondly enough to provide you with a brief description. An albondiga resembles a meatball, I’m guessing of pork, onions, and other spices, a bunch of which were served to us with a thick, gravy-like, spice-laden sauce over fries. The fried shrimp, or camarón frito (which had another name at this particular tapería (tapas bar), was just like it sounds: shrimp that is cooked, then deep fried, but the surprise was the tangy sauce underneath the deep fried shell, which was then dipped into a delicious garlicky, yogurt-based sauce. So delicious. We washed that down with our sangrías and the accompanying baguette slices, and at that point paid a mere 2 euro each and headed to Pub Gavanna, whose doors at that point were finally open, and a large crowd of international students had gathered inside.

The class, while relatively simple and rudimentary, was a great deal of fun, reminding me of the salsa classes I had the opportunity of taking in Ecuador (at our hostel in Baños and at a studio in Cuenca). Despite the the constant repetition of “¡uno, dos, tres; cinco, seis siete!” from the ESN leader teaching the class (the counts or rhythm of the basic salsa steps, básico), Ida and I in particular enjoyed being dance partners for the brief introductory class. The best news of all? That class will continue to be offered every Tuesday for the rest of the term, free of charge for UGR’s international students. So that fulfills my desire to pursue some form of dance while I’m here. And the classes are supposed to get progressively more challenging, which should be fun!

And then began our mini tapas crawl; Ida, Lisa, and another girl Lisa met while flat hunting, Ilaria (from Italy), and I set to walking around el centro until we came upon a decent enough tapería. We stumbled upon this quirky, seemingly local joint called El Bar Soria, where we ordered cervezas and the brusque but efficient camarero (waiter) brought us a delicious tapa.

La cerveza del Bar Soria

La cerveza del Bar Soria

Baguette, brie, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower seeds. Can you say rico?!

Baguette, brie, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower seeds. Can you say rico?!

Our final stop of the night was Masquevinos (“más que vinos,” which literally means “more than wine”), a more upscale, Italian-inspired restaurant and tapería, at which we ordered their tapas special of a glass of vino tinto (red wine) followed by two tapas, all for the ever-so-appealing price of 3 euros.

El grupo al lado de la pizzara afuera de Masquevinos

El grupo al lado de la pizzara afuera de Masquevinos

Primer vino tinto en Masquevinos

Primer vino tinto en Masquevinos

Lisa y Ida con la primera tapa, pan con aceite de oliva y jamón ibérico (bread with olive oil and cured ham)

Lisa y Ida con la primera tapa, pan con aceite de oliva y jamón ibérico (bread with olive oil and cured ham)

Las chicas con la segunda tapa, what was called conchillito (if I remember correctly), essentially fried, fatty, chewy and crunchy chunks of pork. Delicious.

Las chicas con la segunda tapa, what was called cochinillo (if I remember correctly), essentially fried, fatty, chewy and crunchy chunks of pork. Delicious.

Our night ended with a gorgeous (albeit freezing) paseo home around midnight, with a clear sky, and crisp, cold air, down Reyes Católicos and la Carrera del Genil, my (almost) daily walk home to Calle Primavera. A few shenanigans may have ensued, including tap dancing on the cobblestone and marble paving of some plazas, as well as swinging around lampposts, but all was in good, tapa-high fun.

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Said shenanigans.

I am very much looking forward to our next tapas adventure, which looks to be tomorrow night, in a ruta de tapas organized by the ESN, which should prove to be fun and hopefully introduce us to other exchange students!

This morning was our “official welcome” to UGR held in the beautiful auditorium at the Parque de las Ciencias, a museum-like, Seattle Center-esque place that we got to explore afterwards for free, including the human body and brain exhibits, a birds of prey program, and a special exhibit in commemoration of the success of “Etcétera,” a puppeteer company I believe to be based in Granada, that has been performing and producing a variety of puppet shows for thirty years. I was skeptical at first when I found out this was the current feature of the museum, but I am glad our group chose to go to the guided exhibition; it was a very entertaining display of some of Etcétera’s shows and puppetry.

The entrance to the human body exhibit/installation

The entrance to the human body exhibit/installation

Pausing to grab a shot by the elephant, in honor of our dear homestay brother, Alejo (who calls elephants "ellie," based on a cartoon character from one of his favorite shows)

Pausing to grab a shot by the elephant, in honor of our dear homestay brother, Alejo (who calls elephants “ellie,” based on a cartoon character from one of his favorite shows)

Probably the most impressive puppet show display, of a story derived from El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Cervantes

Probably the most impressive puppet show display, of a story derived from El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Cervantes

Y el personaje del ingenioso hidalgo mismo

Y el personaje del ingenioso hidalgo mismo

And some of you may be aware of my delight in this famous work of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a classic piece of Spanish literature I have read abridged versions of in several of the Spanish classes I’ve taken over the years. With this in mind, you’ll understand how fascinated I was when Óscar, the Etcétera company member who gave the presentation of the puppetry exhibit, when introducing this particular section of the exhibit, said, “y éste espectáculo se trata de la historia de el ingenioso don Quijote de la…./and this piece is about the story of the ingenious don Quijote from…” and all of the elementary school kids hollered, “¡LA MANCHA!” I had known to some extent the renown of Cervantes’ work, but I did not know that kids knew of the story from such a young age.

This second appearance of don Quijote de la Mancha since I’ve been here (the first being the statue of him in the Cervantes neighborhood bordering el Zaidín), then, makes me remember the quote we were asked to memorize and always repeat in my grade 12 AP Spanish Literature course. In response Sancho Panza’s attempt to show Quijote how he has misinterpreted a situation and mistakenly gotten it into his head that he is a caballero andante, a true knight, the proud, self-assured Quijote replies in rebuttal:

Yo sé quién soy, y sé qué puedo ser.

For some reason, those words have always resonated with me. I know who I am, and I know what I can be. It’s a thought that gets me going, reminds me of the ability I have to be whoever I want to be, to experience what I want to experience, and live life the way I envision.

He might’ve been crazy, but I think don Quijote had a point. In the end, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a true knight, or that his horse Rocinante wasn’t some powerful warhorse, nor that the love of his life, Dulcinea del Toboso, was a figment of his imagination. He made the most of his reality, the reality that he perceived and believed to live in. He knew who he was, and knew who he was capable of being, and he went for it. And I hope to do the same here in Granada, to take advantage of every opportunity, to make the most out of every situation, and to live the Spanish life here al máximo, to the fullest.

Y así comienza la aventura nueva

Three flights, a couple movies, a bunch of Downton Abbey episodes, several Coke Zeroes, and some 20 hours later, I arrived yesterday in Granada, Andalucía, Spain, around 4am Seattle time (1pm, or 13:00 in Granada), wretchedly exhausted and sleep-deprived, but both thrilled and in awe to be in this beautiful country for the first time.

After just over a day here, I think it has finally sunk in. I am in Spain. I live in Granada. Crazy stuff.

I flew US Airways on the first two flights (Seattle to Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia to Madrid), followed by Iberia for the third leg of my long journey (Madrid to Granada).

All three flights were relatively smooth and hassle-free, the Philadelphia flight notable for the complementary (that’s right, FREE) movies AND meals (just when I thought all airlines were charging for these sorts of things now). I was stoked to be able to fulfill my original pre-departure checklist item of seeing Argo, which I thought was fantastic (even though I really should’ve heeded my mom’s advice and taken a sleeping pill on that 6.5 hour flight…).

Sunset in Philadelphia before boarding US Airways 740 to Spain

Sunset in Philadelphia before boarding US Airways 740 to Spain

It was dark when we landed in Madrid around 7 in the morning, and as I walked around the long windowed hallway down to customs, I surprised myself when I teared up. While most of the past couple weeks preceding my departure were shrouded in my disbelief and bridled (as opposed to what should’ve been UNBRIDLED) excitement, my touch-down in Madrid (like the prompt delivery of my visa) was another confirmation of my dream of studying abroad in Spain was well on its way to coming true.

Despite my vigilance in keeping track of my passport, and my obsessive checking of the visa printed in it (note again this recurrent disbelief of mine in concerning the reality of this trip), the customs agent neither said a word to me nor did he even check for the visa. So apparently in the end Spain does not go to the same lengths in checking for student visas upon one’s entry into their country as they do in enforcing strict application requirements. But what the heck.

At baggage claim, I waited in vain for my giant suitcase, somewhat frustrated with my overflowing purse and awkwardly-stuffed (but beautiful and new) Go-Lite backpack. Eventually the conveyor belt stopped, and it took my first usage of Spanish with the lost baggage claim booth staff to discover that I could retrieve my luggage in Granada, unlike what the US Airways agent back in Seattle had told me. The patient Spaniard also instructed me on how to get to Terminal 4, from which planes of Iberian Airlines depart.

Unlike the train system I’m used to at SeaTac, an outside shuttle system in in place at Madrid-Bajaras Aeropuerto Internacional. This was particularly exciting for me because to board this shuttle, I had to physically go outside the airport, that is, leave, the airport; which in my book means I have now been to Madrid.

The shuttle to Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas

The shuttle to Terminal 4 at Madrid-Barajas

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Madrid…ok, so more like the outskirts of.

The video feed on the screen behind the driver also showed a tourist commercial…featuring the members of the Real Madrid squad, which of course I was childishly psyched to see. “Visit Madrid,” each one of them said, from Ronaldo to Özil to Ramos and Benzema, in their respective foreign accents. I was already planning on returning to Madrid anyways, but still…I think I became that much more convinced after seeing this video. How cool it would be to see a La Liga game…

I got to practice my Spanish again at Terminal 4, with the Iberian Airlines agent at the check-in and another one at the customer service kiosk midway through gate K. There was an annoyingly long layover, through which I tried to stay awake by watching Downton, as I didn’t want to fall asleep and by some really bad luck have someone jack my luggage. The specific gate number (K60, K70, etc) had still not been confirmed by the time I was supposed to board, so after talking to the agent I continued to check the screen for any updates on where my flight, Iberia 8058 to Granada, was departing from. At one point it had been listed as delayed until 13:19 instead of 12:05 (trying to adjust to the 24-hour clock here), so I figured it was safe to continue watching a Downton episode on my laptop, pausing every 15 minutes or so to check the screen just in case.

This obsessive-compulsive behavior in effect saved me; I looked up at the screen, and in horror saw the words last call on the “Status” column. Luckily the designated K68 was some 50 feet away, so I rushed over and was the last one to board the bus, which drove us out to the tarmac to board the small Iberian jet.

There may have been a few more tears in my eyes when I sat down in my aisle seat next to a friendly-looking Spanish woman, in my panic about nearly missing my flight and my (almost) inability to shove my Go-Lite pack into the overhead compartment (and of course my debilitating sleep deprivation), but I closed my eyes during take-off, and when I opened them again we were landing. So I guess I got some sleep during my flights…

It was sunny and breezy on the walk outside to the tiny little Granada airport, but I found my baggage easily and chose to catch a cab rather than lug my luggage (whoops) onto the much cheaper city bus.

Something about the amicability of my cab driver and the gorgeousness of surroundings rejuvenated me. I am not quite sure how long the cab ride was, as I was too distracted by our animated conversation, and the beautiful landscape passing us by. I gazed in absolute wonder out the window as we talked, like a child on Christmas, most particularly stunned by the beautiful snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the distance, of which I have a great view from behind our apartment complex on Calle Primavera in the Zaidín district of the city. I wish I had taken out my iPhone in the car and snapped a picture, but I was too tired and too in awe of it all for it to cross my mind.

What greeted me when the cab driver pulled up outside the orange-ish bricked apartment complex on the Calle Primavera? An adorable payaso (clown) of an almost-two-year-old, Alejo, and my homestay mom, Verónica, from one of the second story balconies. Fernando, Verónica’s husband, arrived shortly after, and both of them were, and continue to be, so warm, welcoming, and attentive. They gave me the tour, and I was thrilled to discover that the second-story balcony is in fact in my room. How cool is that? And there’s a view of the city too…I could not be any luckier.

The apartment complex on Calle Primavera, district of Zaidín, Granada (8 Feb 2013)

The apartment complex on Calle Primavera, Zaidín, Granada (8 Feb 2013) with the Sierra Nevada in the distance

Our portal, or entrance into one set of many sets of complexes within the overall apartment complex

Our portal, or entrance, into one set of many sets of complexes within the overall apartment complex

My super comfortable cama

My super comfortable cama in my awesome but often chilly bedroom

My balcón, that's right, my BALCONY

My balcón, that’s right, my BALCONY

For lunch we had a sort of vegetable-based stew, with chicken, tomatoes, carrots, peas, and olive oil, with cheese sprinkled on top. It felt like good, old-fashioned, home-cooked comfort food. I’m not sure if it’s a typical Spanish dish or not, but it sure was tasty; Verónica and Fernando are originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, so perhaps it’s something they picked up back there? I keep forgetting to ask them.

Despite my overwhelming urge to sleep, I went with Verónica on a walk through the city, passing through areas I cannot wait to revisit and explore more thoroughly: the Albayzín, an older, cobblestoned neighborhood with narrow and sloping streets, and the River Darro, the man-made river running east-west, the easterly part of which the renowned Alhambra majestically overlooks.

It sounds dramatic but my heart literally stopped when I looked up and saw it, high upon a steep hill above this dried out river and stray cat-haven they call the Darro. It blows my mind that it’s just there. The thirteenth-century royal residence of the Islamic Nazarí dynasty. To see a monument I learned about and did a group presentation on in my “History and Culture of Spain” course at UBC this past semester, was truly remarkable. I cannot WAIT to actually get up there and take the tour. It will be euros well spent, so I’ve heard (and 100% believe to be true).

We looped back to our home on la Primavera, where I organized my room and somehow managed to stay awake until dinner…at 9pm my time. At that point I’d been up around 36 hours, so after showering (in a shower with EXCELLENT water pressure…the little things, people!), I took that sleeping pill and quite literally passed out.

12 hours later, I woke up to a simple breakfast of toast with cream cheese and jam; there is a LOT of bread in the Spanish diet, assuming Fernando and Verónica eat similarly to native Spaniards. There has been a small basket with slices of fresh baguettes at every meal, which my homestay parents have fed to Alejo in excess, torn up and eaten, and used to scrape up leftover sauce, like the stew of lunch and dinner yesterday, and the salad dressing from today’s simple salad of lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes, along with unseasoned but DELICIOUS cerdo, or pork.

After planning out my bus routes, with a 2004 map of the buslines Verónica gave me, Transportes Rober online (Granada’s transit website), and a second city map we obtained from the tourist office on yesterday’s walk, I visited the Universidad de Granada (UGR) Campus de Cartuja, their northeastern campus, by catching the C bus from the Andrés Segovia stop in el Zaidín, to the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras stop. It’s pretty convenient that each faculty has both its own building AND its own bus stop…the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras (the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature) is the building in which my classes (starting February 18th) will take place.

UGR's Campus de Cartuja

UGR’s Campus de Cartuja

The Facultad de Filosofía y Letras building (photo found online)

The Facultad de Filosofía y Letras building (online photo)

From there I bussed down to the Campus Fuentenueva, another UGR campus further west along the Avenida Constitución, which runs into the Gran Vía, two of Granada’s busy main streets. Some of the orientation events next week take place there, so I thought I’d venture there as well, relishing my Crédibus card, a reloadable card Verónica let me borrow which gets you discounts on the bus fare, from the usual 1.30 to .70 euros. With that discount, that’s about 94 cents CAD. So between Vancouver, San Francisco, and Granada, Granada is the winner in bus fares…and for some reason that’s really interesting to me.

From Fuentenueva I followed the Gran Vía, the Calle de los Reyes Católicos (the street named in honor of the famed “Catholic monarchs,” Fernando e Isabel, who took back Granada from the Moors), and the Carrera del Genil, a gorgeous walkway from los Reyes Católicos to the Darro. During this paseo, or walk, again in gorgeous sunny and crisp weather, I did make more of an effort to take pictures. And it was truly chilling every time I wandered briefly off the bustling Gran Vía onto a narrower, cobblestoned side street, when the noise abruptly dissipated…and then I realized it was around 15:00, the time of the siesta, the activity or “national sport” of napping, something which Verónica confirmed for me is still exercised by most Spaniards. So between the hours of 14:00 and 16:00, or even as late as 17:00, according to Verónica, people take their siesta (nap), most stores and restaurants close, and the city is almost entirely dead. But that did make for more relaxation and reflection during my picture taking.

La Catedral

The MASSIVE Catedral

La Catedral, otra vez

La Catedral, otra vez

La Carrera del Genil

La Carrera del Genil

La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Angustias, of the Virgin Mary anguishing over Jesus' death

La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Angustias, of the Virgin Mary anguishing over Jesus’ death

And later this afternoon, I went on my first run through through the city. Following the advice of two of my closest friends who spent the last semester studying here, I headed for the river and ran along it, crossing over it and back to make a loop out of it. It’s so nice to run in the late afternoon without the darkness of early evening settling in. And Granada’s weather is literally my FAVORITE running weather: sunny and clear, but cool and crisp, so you don’t get too hot or uncomfortable.

So I think it’s clear based on the length and enthusiasm in this entry that I am quite content and at peace with where I am. After all this talk about this study abroad venture and over a year of preparation, I am here. I am in Granada…

…actually, I live here. And that, my friends, is a truly miraculous fact. Y así comienza la aventura nueva…and so the new adventure begins.