GoAbroad Interview

Marta Cabrera - Assistant Director, Granada Center

Marta Cabrera

Marta earned her degree in Spanish and English from the University of Granada, and then moved to the United States to earn a master’s degree in foreign language teaching and a PhD in Spanish. She has taught a variety of courses at the university level, including courses at the University of Delaware and Rutgers University in New Jersey. Additionally, Marta participated in study abroad programs in Spain with three different universities, prior to joining Arcadia. She feels fortunate to be able to work with foreign students and help them discover her hometown of Granada. Even though she is based in Spain, her passion for traveling remains fully intact and she looks forward to every opportunity to explore.

What inspired you to get involved with Arcadia University in Granada?

After living in the United States for eight years, the decision to return “home” was a tough one. With the financial crisis and the unemployment rate in Spain, I wasn’t sure where this decision would take me, but I knew I was not ready to remove the work with undergraduate U.S. students from my professional life.

During the first few years back in Spain I did a variety of jobs (including English language teaching), but none of them seemed to be my thing. Little by little, I started collaborating with study abroad programs in Granada (starting with the University of Delaware and Willamette University) and really enjoyed that work. Then, the opportunity to be the assistant director for Arcadia Granada opened up, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

It took me a while, but finally all the pieces were in place, and I am exactly where I want to be. Being able to work with undergraduate students during their semester abroad in Granada is truly a dream come true.

Arcadia University study abroad students in Toledo, Spain
Marta and Granada students discovering Toledo

How have your past experiences with teaching Spanish in the United States helped you in your role as assistant director of the Granada Center?

My first study abroad experience was at the age of 13. It was terrifying to get on that plane, but then it was simply amazing. After that, I took every chance I had to live, vacation, work, or study abroad. I went to the United States for two years, and ended up staying for eight!

While I taught at Rutgers University (NJ), I had the opportunity to serve as the resident director of the Spanish House, an on-campus immersion program for students with a common interest in the Hispanic language and culture. Additionally, I participated in several summer abroad programs in Spain, and it was in these short, intensive experiences with students abroad that I realized how much I enjoyed sharing my own culture with the students, and being able to help them in their own personal growth, which was tremendous during these weeks. 

All these experiences have undoubtedly shaped and defined my career path. Teaching Spanish language, literature, history, and culture during my time in the United States greatly opened my mind on so many levels. At this same time, I was dealing with the same struggles, frustrations, successes, and achievements that my current students go through while in Granada. This helps me establish a connection with them from the first day. My experience in the U.S. also gave me a very valuable insight into the psychology and outlook of American college students, and the capacity to understand the interactions and cultural negotiations they undergo while studying abroad. 

How do you support students before, during, and after their program? 

The human factor at Arcadia is of the utmost importance. We are a team of enthusiastic professionals, passionate about our job and what it entails, and we strive to make our students’ experience abroad a memorable one. On the first steps of the application process, the program managers help students decide which program best fits their needs and meets their expectations. At that time, I help them with specific needs or questions about Granada. Before students arrive, they receive a lot of useful information and pre-departure orientations to prepare them for their time abroad. I am always available to answer their questions about the weather, packing, outlets, or phone cards. 

University farewell dinner for students in Granada, Spain
End-of-semester dinner with students

Once students arrive, it is my priority to make them feel secure and taken care of, while encouraging them to take risks, explore, leave fear behind, and go out of their comfort zone. We are available 24/7 in case of emergencies, discomfort, psychological issues, and anything in between. I oversee all aspects of the programming (housing, student services, activities) and personally help each student with their course choices. We help them interact with locals as much as possible (through volunteer work and language exchanges) and offer a range of meaningful and fun activities and excursions so that students can discover Spanish and the local culture.

All in all, the Arcadia difference starts from the moment the student inquires about a program to the minute they set foot in-country, and throughout their full stay. We genuinely care for each one of our students and are determined to provide them with the tools and guidance to make the most of their time with us. At the same time, we want them to be independent, get out and about, and discover the world and themselves through this journey. 

Why should students choose Granada for study abroad over more popular cities like Barcelona? 

Arcadia offers three different programs in Spain. While Barcelona has no requirement of Spanish and a focus on business, economics, and European studies, Toledo is for advanced students who go into full language immersion. I see Granada as the medium, both in size and in what it has to offer.

Arcadia Granada offers an amazing study abroad experience for those who wish to venture into the local culture and history first-hand while improving their language skills (no matter their level). Students will develop an in-depth appreciation and understanding of the richness of Spanish culture, history, and way of life through the many lively excursions and enriching on-site study experiences offered by Arcadia.

Exploring Scotland
Lost in wanderlust - somewhere in Scotland

What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying abroad in Granada?

Go for it! Get ready to take risks, make mistakes, and challenge yourself. Bring an open mind and do not be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. That’s where true learning, the one that sticks with you, truly happens. Be prepared to change; you will not return home the same person you were. 

Get out and about! Do not sit in your room all day watching films on your laptop. Take every opportunity you have to meet people, talk to locals, ask questions, try new food, discover places, learn new words, travel, and try anything in between. Time will go by very fast and it is always better to try something you might not like too much than regret not having done it.

Remember this is an amazing, unique opportunity that not everyone has, so if you do, make the most out of it!

What makes Granada a unique place to study abroad in Spain?

Granada encapsulates the many layers of Spanish history, from ancient civilizations to modern times. Walking through its crooked, labyrinth-like streets means literally stepping into its rich, complex history and discovering the legacy of many different cultures at your fingertips. 

Granada is a unique, extraordinary city, and objectively one of the best destinations to study abroad. It is a safe, friendly, and manageable university city with a fascinating cultural mix. Students go into almost full immersion, as they have many opportunities to interact with the local community, while experiencing not only the typical southern Spanish culture but the influences from North Africa. It is a perfect place to experience Spain and its multi-faceted culture, while improving Spanish, no matter the level of proficiency.

Marta Cabrera at the Arcadia University Granada Center
Marta at the office

Geography and weather are also privileged in Granada; it is half an hour away both from the coast and the mountains (Sierra Nevada ski resort), and there are plenty of opportunities to travel nearby (to amazing cities like Sevilla, Córdoba, or Ronda). The tapas culture (free food served with every drink) makes Granada even more attractive. All in all, it is an outstanding, lively city which offers a great quality of life, especially for students.

The city is very open and welcoming, and students often mention how comfortable they feel navigating it after just a few days. Granada truly becomes their home away from home. After a semester with Arcadia Granada, you will be forever changed, and will carry this city in your heart, feeling forever connected. 

Why do you enjoy working for Arcadia University in Granada?

Being involved in study abroad and international education with Arcadia is an opportunity for never-ending growth. I keep learning so much from my students and myself. I have learned to appreciate the differences in all of us, and our common traits. My “wanderlust” and my curiosity to learn about other cultures and peoples have definitely increased. I keep discovering amazing places in my hometown (where I work) and learning about my own culture thanks to my job. Just like the students do not return home being the same person they were, I am changed myself by sharing and partaking in their daily discoveries, amazement, and achievements while abroad. 

I also enjoy the fact that there is no typical day at work. I love the multi-faceted nature of this profession and the many challenges that it presents. The opportunities to travel are definitely a plus!

Are there any exciting new projects in the works for 2017 that we should know about?

Actually, in 2017 we will be revising the whole Arcadia Granada program in order to make it even more attractive and complete. We are designing a core course that will be linked to most of the activities we do with the students, to ensure these are culturally and academically relevant and meaningful. We will add some new excursions and the possibility to be involved with local non-governmental organizations, not only through volunteering (like we already do), but as a means to understand the richness of our history and culture, and the heterogeneous socio-cultural landscape of recent times. We are hoping to implement these changes by spring 2018, so stay tuned!