Finding Common Ground: Morocco

One of the reasons I chose the IES Granada program was because, due to its close proximity to the African border, the director of the program carries out a five-day excursion to Morocco for the students! This trip is great for several reasons – it gives students an opportunity to travel to another country with their program (everything is planned out for us), and we are able to learn about a completely new culture. At IES this semester, I have been taking a course titled “Islamic Civilization in Spain and North Africa” – and the trip to Morocco was a perfect opportunity to see and compare the Islamic communities of Spain and Morocco.

Unfortunately, on the way to Morocco, I started becoming very sick and almost didn’t make it on the ferry to Morocco. However, friends helped and I made it. The first few days I wasn’t able to do much. I was bummed that I was bed-ridden in my Moroccan homestay and couldn’t go to the excursions planned out for us – like a discussion about immigration and migration, and a visit to the hammam – the communal Arabic baths that local Moroccans use for maintaining hygiene. On the fourth day, I felt so much better – and was so glad that I had at least one full day to explore the culture!

We boarded the bus and headed to the Rif Mountains, a mainly mountainous stretch in Northern Morocco. When we arrived, we took a short walk to a rural home.There, we were greeted by a family  – a husband and his wife, and two small children. They welcomed us into their quaint home and served us an abundance of food – all that was grown, cultivated, and cooked by the father and mother. We learned that the father grows everything that they eat – barley, chic peas, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes – the list goes on. I was extremely impressed that the father sustains his family solely through his own agriculture. We also learned the mother is an amazing cook – she creates all of her breads and pastries by herself using the stove that’s outside their home.

They served us tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and a huge platter of couscous – which is a wheat topped with vegetables. After lunch was served, the husband and wife sat down. Our group was able to have a conversation with them about what rural life in Morocco is like. Our translator, Nada, was able to allow a  perfect question-and-answer forum for each side. Our discussion ranged from health care accessibility, technology, education, and a typical day in the Rif Mountains. We learned that the closest hospital is 45 minutes away in Chefchaouen, so rural families must plan several days ahead transportation to the city if they need more intense care. The local school is about a kilometer away from their home. They explained that just like how we have carpooling in the U.S., they do too. One family will walk the children to school, and the neighboring family will walk the children home.

We got to ask them many questions, but my favorite questions that one of my classmates asked was how they met. The husband laughed when the question was asked. The story went like this: He and his friends went wedding crashing. At the wedding, he saw a woman that he though was absolutely beautiful. He thought that day, “She will be my wife.” That evening, he learned what village she was from. The next day, he went to the supermarket that her father owned and where she worked. He picked up a Coke, took it to her cash register, and bought it. He then asked her for two glasses. He poured the Coke into two glasses and he insisted that they must have a date right there in the grocery store. At first she resisted, but finally she gave in. That day, he asked her to marry him. They have now been married 11 years!

I loved hearing this story because it reminded me that despite the differences I think of when comparing my American life to their Moroccan life, there is a sense of humanness that persists no matter where you go. Their love story is not too different from others that I’ve heard. Their daily struggles are not that different from stories I’ve heard in the U.S. And I think that once we see that there are many things that “aren’t that different” from people who we think are so different from us, we will be able to see how much humanity has in common and how that commonness can work for the better good.

I quickly befriended the wife. While there was a large language barrier, I was encouraged by her consistent smile and that when she was asked what she loved about rural life, she answered, “everything”.

The outside of the family’s home. The husband purchased the property and built the home himself. They have been living in this village for 7 years.

Here is our small group taking a photo with the husband and wife on their BEAUTIFUL land!

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Three weeks in…

It has been merely three weeks since I’ve arrived in Granada. Sometimes, it seems like it has been one elongated second that I have been here. A short period of time where I haven’t experienced nearly a fraction of what the city has to offer. Other times, though, it seems like I’ve been here a lifetime. I’ve acclimated to the pace of life here, and I’ve learned my way (for the most part) throughout the city. But my point is, within the experience of studying abroad, the time one has in their chosen city is finite. It’s fixed, and it’s not something that we can make longer. There is a deadline, a specific date when we fly back to the U.S.. When we must pack up all of our gifts we’ve purchased, the knowledge we’ve grown into, and the moments that have been created over the 4 months in Granada. And while my four months have barely begun, an important thought to remember is that we must take our time here for what it is – and flourish in the time that has been given to us.

So, what exactly have I done in my three weeks? Have I flourished in the experience? Or have I been more absent than I should in my daily life in Spain? My answer: a mixture of both. One lesson that I’ve picked up on is that when acclimating to a new country, it’s necessary to experience the things that the country has to offer without draining oneself completely. I have seen many things, yes, but I’ve rested too.

In my three weeks here, I’ve hiked on the coast of Spain at Cabo de Gata, a national park. I’ve watched live flamenco shows in Sevilla. I’ve experienced language barriers daily – the largest being trying to explain to a woman in the salon how I wanted my eyebrows waxed. I’ve celebrated the festival of the Patron Saint. I’ve found some favorite places – like quaint libraries and bookstores, vintage thrift stores that reveals small pieces of culture and history of Spain, and I’ve even found small pieces of things that remind me at home (a TexMex restaurant called Cantina Mexicana that has become a regular Thursday night outing for my friends).

Another thing that I have appreciated thus far is finding a solid group of people to experience all that Spain has to offer. I am so enjoying finding the small places, places of value, with others who are just as interested to acclimate in language and to grow in cultural competency.

My final reflection today is this: Do we have a fixated amount of time here? Yes. Is it best to be aware of that time? Indeed. Because with that time, we are able to see our progress and growth throughout the four months. And as I end on thinking about how time is indeed precious, I am surely glad that my time here has barely begun.


Sevilla, Spain

Ronda, Spain


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Poco a Poco


Views from Plaza Nueva   

El Mirador de San Nicholas

El Mirador de San Nicholas

The first day I arrived to Granada, I was unsure of what to expect. But as soon as I walked into my homestay and met the family I would be staying with for the semester, I was greeted with one phrase: “poco a  poco“. This phrase is pretty simple – it signifies learning and growing little by little. The concept of continuous growth, no matter the specific amount of growth at each time, is something that I believe will carry me through during my time working on my Spanish language skills and acclimating to Spain, and the culture of Granada, specifically.

Every day, I see how the phrase, “poco a poco”, is integrated into the city that is Granada. Each day, I have the opportunity to learn, see, experience, and take in something new. As I work to become fluent in Spanish during this semester, I am aware it’s a goal that will come to fruition immediately. Goals like this flourish little by little, poco a poco. It will come as I take classes in Spanish about religion, and history, and culture. It will come as I frequent coffee shops where the waiter begins to know my name. It will come as I sing karaoke at hole-in-the-wall bars with Spaniards. It will come as I make mistakes with the language, and as I laugh off my mistakes as I learn.

Poco a poco, little by little, I will grow throughout my semester abroad.

Our class hiked to a beautiful view of the Alhambra, a signature symbol of Granada.

Our class hiked to a beautiful view of the Alhambra, a signature symbol of Granada.


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Onto the Next One: Granada, Spain

It actually happened. I, Emily Griffin, blinked my eyes and somehow ended up as a junior in college and have started a new adventure that I’ve been thinking about since I started my college experience at Wofford. I’m headed to Granada, Spain for 4 months to begin my study abroad adventure. Right now, I’m headed to Boston. From Boston, I will go to Madrid, and from Madrid, I will go to Málaga, a city outside of Granada. Later this week, we will bus to Granada.

I’ve had more emotions today that I thought I would have. I have always been extremely independent, and I have always been ready to do things on my own. I also love to travel, so I thought my packing up and departure would be nearly emotionless. And while I am ecstatic, I mean, literally over-the-moon ready for my new adventures abroad, there are a few things I will miss about the United States, and particularly, the South and Wofford College:

1) I think it would be a disrespect to the restaurant if I didn’t say I’m going to miss Chick-fil-A. The chicken minis are just too good to not think about their absence in my life until December.

2) Family and friends back home. My oldest sister is having a baby next week and I’m sad that I’m just merely missing that life event.

3) The community at Wofford – a place where you always see a familiar face and can receive help when needed.

and, 4) How helpful and loving people of this nation are. As I leave the United States in the wake of a natural disaster in Texas and Louisiana, I’ve been reminded that while I have certainly been discouraged by our current political climate and by the atrocities that happen around the country daily, I am still in a country where so many people choose to be good to others. A country that cares for others in times of need. This makes me sure that there is more good than bad in both this nation and the world.

I am eager to see how people care and love for each other in Granada, as well.

I am so ready to share my experiences to those back in the U.S., and I cannot wait to see all of the good and beautiful things that Granada has to offer.





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