Final Post

Hiking with the program in Cabo de Gata, our final trip together

Studying abroad truly has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I cannot speak enough about how special my program is, between the staff, my peers, and the beautiful city of Granada. I have made some of my favorite memories here that I will carry with me forever- from the craziness that is landing in a new country and immediately having to change my brain to Spanish-mode, to orientation and meeting my host mom and roommate, to traveling with my friends and program to Dublin, Lisbon, Sevilla, and more, and of course, to our farewell cocktail, dancing in the rain with all my amazing friends and professors. 

My amazing friends and I at our farwell cocktail

Being abroad has changed me in so many ways, some that I am even still discovering. I’ve grown so much in confidence and learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of. I am excited to return to Wofford in the fall and see how my perspective post being abroad influences my life there. I’ve learned social skills that I will carry with me long after graduation. I’ve learned about balancing a social life with school work. The biggest thing I’ve learned by far though is the importance of taking chances and making the most of every opportunity. I took a chance in coming here and met some of the most special people in my life. I took a chance and pushed myself outside of my comfort zone with each day I was here. And I can definitively say that I made the most of my time in Granada. 

View of the Alhambra at Sunset

Identity and Perception while Abroad

Me, my roomate, and my host mom out for tapas!

When I arrived in Spain, one of the first things my host mom told me was that I looked very Spanish. I have darker hair, I’m relatively tan, and pretty short- very similar to her and the general physical traits of a stereotypical Spanish woman. My roommate, on the other hand, is much taller and blonde with blue eyes, and my host mom immediately commented on how different we look and how “not-Spanish” she looked. My roommate and other friends who share similar physical traits to her have said that they definitely notice how people look at them differently and talk to them differently because they don’t look Spanish at all. It’s taken us all some time to get used to the way we are talked about as people who are clearly not from Spain, who Spaniards automatically assume don’t speak Spanish or understand it very well, when in reality, we understand the majority of what they are saying. 

Me and my friends!

After being here for several months, I also feel like I’m able to identify fairly easily when a person is a tourist, an abroad student like me, or if they are from here. Granada is home to a lot of students and study abroad programs, especially near the area where I live, so I always see students and hear English being spoken to and from classes. There’s a certain way Spaniards dress and carry themselves that is so different from Americans, that makes us so easily identifiable. Waiters will come up and speak English to us before Spanish and won’t speak to us in Spanish even when we say we understand. The couple of times I’ve been stopped for advice has been by tourists who don’t speak Spanish and need someone to direct them somewhere in English.  

My program exploring the Friday Mosque of Cordoba

That being said, my program has done a great job in encouraging us to have open conversations about stereotypes and the way we are perceived amongst students in our program as well as with local students and professors. We’ve talked about the stereotypes surrounding Americans and the way Americans perceive Spainiards versus the reality of the culture and people now that we’re here and experiencing everything firsthand. I am lucky because I haven’t experienced as many problems as a member of my identity group, however I have heard stories and seen firsthand how people of other groups have experienced issues and haven’t been as accepted. I think these conversations are so important and it’s so great that my program encourages these because it has helped me be more aware of the way I am perceived and the way I perceive others of different identity groups while here. 

My Top 5 Pieces of Advice

I’ve learned a lot over the course of my time abroad and of all the tips, tricks, and advice I got before leaving, these were some of my favorites and some of the most helpful;

  1. Keep a journal or sketchbook.

Bring a small journal to record some of your favorite memories while abroad. It’s easy to forget some of the special little moments, so having something to look back on later to remind you of all the amazing memories you made is the perfect little keepsake. I have a little sketchbook where I draw some of the places I’ve visited, write song lyrics I listened to that day, and keep ticket stubs and plane tickets in between the pages. 

Sketch and journal entry from my trip to Dublin

2. Don’t spend every weekend traveling. 

This one is hard, especially in a place like Europe where all of these incredible cities and countries are so close and relatively cheap to get to. That being said, all of that travel takes a lot out of you, so set aside weekends where you have no plans other than to relax and be with friends. Make sure to spend time getting to know your city and exploring things you might’ve otherwise never explored. Spend time getting to know as many people as possible in your program too (take advantage of the fact that you are in an incredible place with people from all around the world!). 

3. Don’t be afraid to do things alone. 

This is another hard one. You’re in a new place with a new group of people and obviously you want to get to know them and spend time with them too. But remember that it’s important to take time for yourself too. If that means taking a couple hours to explore a local museum or market or even just treat yourself to some ice cream and a walk around your city, make sure to take time to do the things you want, even if it means doing it solo. Some of my friends have even taken solo trips on the weekends and have said that it was one of their favorite experiences. 

Solo breakfast in a cafe near my school

4. Ask questions.

Whether you live in a residence hall or a homestay, ask questions about the culture and the things people like to do. My roommate and I ended up exploring a lot of really cool places near our city because of this! We found some gorgeous beaches that were only 30 minutes away and this incredible hike just outside the city. You can even ask your program staff or people who previously went abroad to the same place as you. We even learned about a lot of things to do just by talking with other students in our program about what they did on their weekends.  

Nerja, a beach not too far from my city

5. Make a budget and try to stick to it, but remember not to stress too much if you don’t. 

I saved up money over the summer and worked the semester before going abroad so that I could be prepared and have money for things like going out with friends, traveling, and clothes and souvenirs. I had an idea in mind of how much I wanted to spend per week and what I thought was important to spend it on. That being said though, if I go slightly over budget one week or spend money on something I didn’t necessarily need, I try to remember that I’m going to remember these experiences more than how much I’ve spent or the guilty feeling I get after going off of my budget. I just adjust for the next week and pick my priorities.

Staying Healthy While Abroad

My Balcony

There are several habits I’ve developed to stay physically and mentally healthy while abroad. I’m lucky enough to live near a river, called Rio Genil, with a nice, long flat trail with a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I run there at least two times a week and walk there on other days. When I don’t have time for a run or a long walk to clear my head in between classes, I sit in the sun by the river and either draw, read, or tan. There’s a supermarket right next to where I like to sit, so my friends and I have gone and picked up some snacks there for a picnic before laying by the river to listen to music, relax, and take in the sun on the weekends. That has been one of my favorite things we’ve done on our weekends off in Granada. Being so close to the river is especially great because it reminds me of home. My house in Atlanta is less than ten minutes from the Chattahoochee river, so any time I’m home I go there to run and walk whenever I can. It’s nice to have something so familiar here in Spain too! Another great way to stay physically active are our weekly pick-up soccer games. I haven’t been going to those consistently, but they are a lot of fun and a great way to hang out with and get to know other students in my program. 

Drawing By The River

For me, staying mentally healthy typically involves some sort of alone time and connecting with family and friends back home. I try to call my family and friends as often as possible, but sometimes it can be hard with the time difference and how busy our lives get. If I don’t call them at least once a week, I make sure to text people to check in and stay connected with life back home. When I’m feeling a little homesick, these calls always make me feel better. I also have a diary that I write in. I started it my sophomore year of high school and try to add to it at least twice a month, if not more than that. If I’m not writing, then I’m either reading somewhere outside or drawing. I also have an amazing balcony in my room, so sometimes even just opening up the doors to the balcony and moving my chair in front is a nice way to change things up while I’m working. It’s definitely taken some time to find things to stay healthy and active and just like at Wofford, it can be hard to balance with everything else going on in my life. At the end of the day though, at the bare minimum, just getting some fresh air makes so much of a difference, even if it means just leaving a couple minutes earlier to get to class so that I can take a longer way to the IES building or staying after class for a couple minutes to sit out on the IES terrace. 

View Of The Alhambra From One Of Granada’s Most Famous Neighborhoods

Language Immersion in Spain

Beautiful hike just outside of Granada

I’ve been taking Spanish classes since sixth grade and have been around the language my whole life. My Mom and her side of the family is from Puerto Rico and everyone speaks Spanish to each other, but I never learned. Coming into this program, I felt I had enough experience to manage the basics in understanding people. I can write Spanish fairly well and understand at a relatively high level, however my ability to speak the language is significantly lower and definitely something I needed to improve. It was an adjustment just flying into the country and immediately having to revert my brain to Spanish mode, but after the first week, it got a lot easier to formulate my initial responses in Spanish, versus wanting to respond immediately in English. 

Museum just outside of the Alhambra

After several weeks, my confidence in my speaking abilities improved and I felt more comfortable communicating even if I was still making basic mistakes. For me, that’s been one of the most important aspects of the language immersion aspect of the program. At home, if I’m struggling with something, I can change back to English to convey whatever I am trying to say. Here, most people speak only Spanish or have limited understanding of English, which forces me to work to the best of my abilities to say what I want to with the vocabulary I know, regardless of how grammatically accurate it is. I also began to think about my basic routine in Spanish, rather than English. For example, if I needed to go to the store and had a running list in my head of things I needed, I would be running through that list to myself in Spanish rather than English. 

Another amazing hike with views of the city

Now, after being over two months into the program, I feel like I talk faster and more confidently, my vocabulary has improved, and my grammatical mistakes are not as frequent. Even when I do make those mistakes, I notice them and, for the most part, am able to correct myself or notice what exactly was wrong grammatically about what I had said. One of the most rewarding moments was when my host mom told me that my Spanish had improved since arriving and that I was beginning to talk as fast as a Spaniard. It was so great to hear from someone who speaks the language fluently that I was doing better and it was noticeable. 

Trip to Seville

View from the Cathedral

One of my favorite parts about my program are all the excursions we have built in. So far, we’ve taken trips to Ronda, Setenil, Cordoba, and, my favorite of the trips we’ve taken, Seville. We were in Seville for one night with our program and then my friends and I decided to extend our trip an extra night. With our program, we went to the Cathedral, the Royal Alcazar Palace, and Plaza de España. My friends and I loved exploring the Alcazar and Plaza de España especially. It was gorgeous to see the architecture and the enormous size of both. When we were at the Plaza, it was sunset and there were people playing live music. At one point, my friends and I just stood on a terrace overlooking the Plaza and it really made me appreciate everything we had been experiencing and how surreal it was to finally be in Spain after so many months of planning and talking about studying abroad.We also saw a flamenco show in the evening, which was incredible. It was my first time ever seeing a show and it was amazing to sit and have that experience with my program. I also have two Wofford friends who are studying abroad in Seville this semester so I was able to see them and meet their friends from their program. I really enjoyed being able to meet up with them and share stories about our times abroad and connect over the things we miss about Wofford and home. On our extra day, my friends and I went to Las Setas, a famous architectural structure just outside of our hostel. We went to the top for the most amazing views of the city at sunset!

Honestly though, the best part about this trip was getting to spend time with my new friends here in Spain. I felt like over the course of that trip (with our extra night especially) we were able to really bond and connect and form our group. It was one of the first times we all really hung out together and we all talked about how much closer we felt afterwards. For anyone else studying abroad or thinking about studying abroad, I definitely recommend planning trips with your friends or extending a program trip if you have time. It’s such a great way to really connect with people and have new experiences in incredible new places. 

Plaza de España

A Day in the Life

Church Outside Of The IES Building

My day usually starts around 8 and is very similar to my mornings at Wofford. I get up, get dressed, and have a quick breakfast at my homestay. My first class of the day is Spanish. At IES, everyone takes a Spanish class in the morning, four days a week. My class starts at 9 so I leave around 8:45 for a short walk to the IES Center. The buildings along my walk are gorgeous and it’s usually sunny, so it’s been a nice way to wake up and kick off my mornings. I get out of class at 10:40 and then on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I don’t have class again until around 4:30. I usually have to be back at my homestay around 2 for lunch with my roommate and host mom, though, so I like to take advantage of this little window by going to cafes to get a small snack or a hot chocolate, going on walks, runs, or going shopping for some necessities. My host mom, roommate, and I usually sit at the dining table for a long time after eating, just catching up and talking about our days. Outside of class, this is probably when I get to practice my Spanish the most.

View From One Of My Walks With Other IES Students

After lunch, it’s time for a “siesta.” I either take a nap, get some of my homework done, or relax in my room. It’s a good time to reset before my next class. My classes don’t get out until 6:30 on some days and 8:30 on other days. This has been a bit difficult to adjust to because I’m so used to having free time earlier in the evening, rather than in the middle of the day. Once I’m done with my final class of the day, I usually head back to my homestay to eat dinner with my roommate. Dinner is not included in our homestay, but our host mom leaves us lots of space in the fridge and cabinets to store food for dinner. Occasionally, we’ll go out for tapas instead with a small group of friends at a nearby restaurant. After dinner, I go to my room, do a bit more work, then go to sleep around 11:00-11:30. 

Stall in Pop-Up Market Near My Homestay

Food in Spain

A Spanish Breakfast

A major difference between Spain and the U.S. (outside of the language, of course) is the structure of meals here. Breakfast is usually very light- fruit, yogurt, toast, and tea or coffee. Lunch isn’t usually eaten until around 2 and it is a much heavier meal, similar to what we would do in the U.S. for dinner. People often return home for lunch from school or work to eat with their families. Around this time you’ll see lots of people walking the streets, but right after, there will be no one out for several hours. While in the U.S. dinner is the most important meal eaten with family, in Spain, it’s lunch. My host mom typically cooks lunch for my roommate and I. So far, we’ve had chorizo with lentils, pasta with salmon, a roast with pork, potatoes, and other vegetables, bocadillo, and paella. After lunch, my host mom has given us a variety of desserts to try as well. One of my favorites that I’d never heard of or seen before was mandarin orange slices with honey and cinnamon. 

My Host Mom’s Paella

Dinner is eaten around 8:30 and is generally lighter than what we have in the U.S as well. In Spanish culture, it’s not traditional to host people inside your house, like it is in the U.S. Typically, people meet out on the streets to talk and hang out or go out to restaurants or cafes. A common thing to do for dinner is to go and get tapas with friends. Tapas are small bites that come in a variety of forms. Some of my favorites have been “tostada con carne,” or bread with meat, “croquetas,” little fried balls of meat, cheese, and a mashed potato type of mixture, and “patatas bravas,” fried potato slices with a sauce on top. With these tapas, you can get a drink, like a beer or glass of wine for around 3 euros. Getting tapas for dinner has been one of my favorite things- it’s such a great way to meet other people in my program, explore the city, practice the language, and immerse ourselves into the culture.

Churros with Chocolate (One of my Favorite Desserts)

My First Week in Granada

Church Near My Homestay

It’s only been a few days in Granada and I’ve already been having an amazing time. While waiting in the airport for one of my flights, I met a girl who was from the same program as me, which helped ease a lot of my stress about arriving in a new country, in an airport I’d never been in before. Navigating the airport in Madrid proved a bit difficult, so I was especially grateful to have her there to go through it with me. In line to go through Customs, we ran into two other girls- one from our program and one from another. The four of us were able to hang out and get to know each other before our next flight, making the transition into a new country a lot smoother. While waiting at our gate to board, more than ten other IES students showed up. It was great to finally meet other students face to face and get to know some of the people I’d be spending the next few months with. It was also nice to hear that we shared a lot of the same fears and reservations about adjusting to the language and our new environment. Upon arriving in Granada, I took a taxi to my homestay, which is located on a gorgeous street near the center of the city. I even have a little balcony in my room that overlooks the street. 

A Building Part Of The University of Granada

Shortly after arriving, my homestay “mom” and several IES “orientadores,” students from University of Granada working with IES to help welcome and immerse us into the city, organized a little visit for other nearby homestay students and I to a local cafe. The orientadores took us on a walk nearby and we met up with other students staying in one of the residence halls. It was so fun finally getting to hang out with fellow students in Granada and explore the city together. It also helped me manage the jet-lag that I had been fighting since landing. Although it’s only been a short amount of time, my transition into this city and this culture has been made easy by the support of IES and the orientadores, my homestay “mom,” and all of the fellow students.

Fuente De Las Batallas (Fountain Near My Homestay)

Pre-departure Thoughts

Before we get started, I wanted to introduce myself real quick! My name is Mariella Stine and I am a sophomore. I am from Atlanta, GA and I am double majoring in Spanish and Studio Art, with a minor in Creative Writing. This semester, I will be studying abroad in Granada, Spain from January through May through IES. 

If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’ve always loved to travel. There’s just something so special about going somewhere you’ve never been, seeing things you’ve never seen, and experiencing an entirely different culture than your own. That being said, I’ve never traveled alone before. I’ve always had my family to fall back on when things get difficult or problems arise that I don’t necessarily see a clear solution to. Then, add in another language entirely and things get just a little bit more complicated. While I have been studying Spanish since sixth grade, going to Spain, where I know I will be fully surrounded by the language, unable to fall back on my English, is definitely nerve-wracking, especially when I am participating in a program where I know no one. But ultimately, one of the reasons why I am able to be here, sitting in the airport waiting for my first of many flights, is because of the support I’ve had along the way from both the staff at IES Granada and Wofford’s International Programs Office. Being able to ask all of my questions and schedule as many appointments as I needed to answer those questions and work through any concerns was extremely helpful and reduced my stress greatly throughout the whole process. Resources like Orientation with IES and the Study Abroad Alumni Dinner put me in direct contact with students who have participated in the same program as me. Hearing all about their incredible experiences while abroad made me feel more excited than anything. Even hearing about the not-so-incredible experiences was reassuring, knowing that I would be able to get through those if they arise because someone else before me has too. 

It’s all of these experiences that I will inevitably have that I am most looking forward to while abroad. I want to grow as a person and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I want to be more independent and confident. And of course, I want to make the most of each and every opportunity I have. Wish me luck!