I wanted to go abroad for as long as I remember. I've been studying Spanish since I was seven, and wanted a fully immersive experience to strengthen my grasp on the language, understand another culture, and see other parts of the world.
Why did you choose to study abroad with IES Abroad in Spain?
I knew I wanted to go to Spain, and I decided to study in Granada because it's a smaller city. It was nice to be in a city that size because I could truly get a feel for it and all of its different neighborhoods in the short time there, and there was less influence of the English language so I was forced to speak in Spanish all the time, but it was still sizable enough to have a lot of life and excitement at any time of day. I mean any time; the discotecas don't usually get busy until 2:30 a.m.
What was your favorite part about Granada?
One of my favorite parts of the city was that it's in a very mountainous area, making it incredibly picturesque in every part of the city. Every day as I walked home to my homestay I would look up at the end of the street and see snow covered mountains in the distance. This kind of terrain also provides for some of the most incredible views I have ever seen.
What do you think made your experience studying abroad in Spain unique?
I had an internship with a researcher at the University of Granada working on a study about breast cancer and nutrition. It was an interesting experience to see what the Spanish work life is like.
What surprised you most about Granada?
How very much of a walking city it is. Most people don't use cars at all, though there are taxis, but most of the time it's not worth using them. Buses are fine, especially when you're going to one of the neighborhoods on the edge of the city, but most of the time it's easier just to walk.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They were always there for support, to answer questions, and to offer guidance. There was one time that a group of us had Seder plans that fell through the day before Passover, and in a panic went to the staff for help. The director of the program helped us tremendously to plan our own Seder and put it into action. It wouldn't have happened without the help and support of these great staff members.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I had put more emphasis on living in the moment and enjoying being abroad, and less on trying to cross off all of the items on my to-do list.
Describe a typical day in your life in Granada.
Get up and eat breakfast with my U.S. roommate and host mother (and dog!), go to Spanish class, then either other classes or my internship all morning. Then I'd return home around 2:30 p.m. for lunch with my host mom and roommate, take a short siesta until 4:30 p.m., and head back out to class.
After class ended, I'd maybe hang out with some of my friends in one of the many plazas, go on a run by the river, do some homework, or any combination of those. At night, I'd head out for tapas at one of the MANY tapas bars around or shwarma with my friends for dinner.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Trying all of the tapas bars I could, traveling to other cities around Spain, seeing the local sites, working on my blog, and going to cafeterias and getting cafe con leche.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived with a host mother (and dog) and one other IES Abroad student (we had separate rooms). I really appreciated that my host mother was warm and friendly and always there for me when I needed her, but let me have my space and be independent.
In general, how difficult was it to communicate with locals?
At first, very. The Andalucian accent is quite difficult to understand because the ends of their words often get cut off. For example, instead of muchas gracias it sounds like "mucha grathia." I've heard it said that if you learn to understand the Andalucian accent, you can understand almost any accent throughout the Spanish-speaking world (I'm not sure I believe this, but it makes the point). After a month or so, however, you learn to expect and understand the words the locals say and are able to grow in your Spanish competency.
What is one thing every participant should know before studying abroad in Spain?
It's as exhausting as you think it will be to get used to the constant use of Spanish in everyday life, but as the weeks pass by and you improve with the practice, it gets much easier and less energy consuming.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Granada?
I have two. Don't bother bringing heels. Granada is a walking city, especially at night, and wearing heels to go out is completely impractical. You have to walk 15 to 45 minutes usually to get to any sort of club (and then stay on your feet for a few hours when in the club) and the streets are almost entirely uneven cobblestone. When going out to a bar, no one cares what you're wearing, so it's just not worth it.
Secondly, bring things you plan on leaving there (i.e. toiletries, old shoes/clothes, etc.) to make space in your suitcase, and make SURE you have enough room in your suitcase for all of the great souvenirs you know you're going to want to bring home with you.
Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in Granada impacted your life?
My time abroad gave me a great opportunity to really think about culture, the impact the U.S. has on so much of the world, how much privilege we have living here, and the concept of language. It has impacted the way I think about all of these things and analyze the world around me.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before studying abroad in Spain?
That each city in Spain is different, and it's really worth spending your time experiencing Spain as a whole, instead of other places throughout Europe. In other words, take advantage of studying abroad in Spain and don't try to study abroad in all of Europe.
Would you recommend IES Abroad’s program in Granada to others? Why?
Granada's beautiful, lively, and exciting, the staff members are great, and IES Abroad was very present in making sure we got the most out of our experience. It was overall a hugely positive experience.
If you could study abroad again, where would you go?
Buenos Aires, Argentina. I thought about going there for my study abroad experience, but in the end decided I really wanted to go to Spain. Now, I'd love the opportunity to see another Spanish speaking culture and be able to compare the cultures of these cities across countries and even continents.
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah is currently studying at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she is majoring in biology and minoring in psychology, chemistry, and community and global health. On top of her interest in science, she has been studying Spanish most of her academic career. Sarah loves to travel, and she had already visited eight countries before her study abroad trip to Granada, Spain.