A Trip

View from Mirador de San Nicolas

Catedral de Seville


IES Granada wants you to stay close. One of the first things they tell you in orientation is to not travel too much in your free time; according to IES alumni, their biggest regret was jetting off every weekend to a nearby European metropolis, and not fully integrating themselves in the Granada community. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to on the program has at least some plans to travel elsewhere during the semester (I myself am going to Paris for our Día de Andalucia four-day weekend, and then Italy for 10 days during Semana Santa). But I think this sentiment resonated with people. After all, we’re only here for four months. The Louvre and Grand Canal will stay in place forever, but your time as a student abroad is fleeting. So while wanting to take advantage of your time in Europe and cross some landmarks off your bucket list is perfectly fine, don’t forget about the reason you’re here—catapulting yourself from your comfort zone by immersing yourself in a foreign culture.


However, IES has some plans to get you out of your neighborhood. There are several trips that you take during this program—cities and towns that wouldn’t make Conde Nast’s Top 20 European Hotspots, but are culturally rich and refreshingly secluded so as to provide you with an experience you wouldn’t get if you decided to trek Spain yourself. So far I’ve been to Ronda, Setenil, Seville, and Cordoba; Morocco and Cabo de Gata are right around the corner.


Ronda is unlike anything seen in the U.S. Situated atop an enormous cliff, this small town has a rich history dating back thousands of years, most notably as a refuge for Muslims after the Spanish Inquisition. That same day we drove another hour to Setenil de las Bodegas, a beautiful small pueblo of about 3,000 inhabitants. Many houses are carved into the sides of rock walls, everyone steps outside at night for drinks or dinner, consistent white stone structures emphasize the uniformity—the town’s antiquity is palpable. It is also very hilly and tight (there are people who do drive cars here, but I can’t imagine how), and the view atop an old bell tower is phenomenal.


Our next small trip was an overnight visit to Seville, a big city contrast to the small pueblos of Ronda and Setenil. Seville boasts the third largest cathedral in the world, one of the most awe-inspiring encounters of my time abroad so far. In the U.S. we may be used to tall buildings, but this was a BIG building. And not just an unnecessarily tall skyscraper hosting office buildings, the Seville Cathedral is a public structure of which every inch can be explored, colossal in scale and historical lavishness. Adorned throughout the cathedral are giant paintings, intricate architectural accents, and even the burial site of Christopher Columbus, which brings me to another point. Columbus is still a widely celebrated figure in Spain, and most people have no knowledge of the grisly aspects of that historical saga. At our orientation they even tell us that unless you are part of that academia, you will simply see him as the man who discovered the Americas. Memorials to him can be easily found throughout Spain, including a grand statue of him on my walk to class. It’s an interesting cultural difference between Spain and the U.S. to say the least.


One of the experiences I am most looking forward to on this program is our week-long visit to Morocco, where we will be staying with several host families on a farm and visiting tons of historical sites I’m sure. Cabo de Gata is a coastal town and since we visit there during our last week I think that might be a simple, relaxing farewell to Spain before we take our finals and head back home. I hope this has answered some questions about traveling abroad. IES makes sure that even if you don’t travel on your own, you will be traveling. Our instructors have been helming this program for years, finely tuning each visit so it runs like a well-oiled cultural machine. I will definitely be writing about Morocco (that will surely be the highlight of this blog, I will make it the internet event of the year). Next post I think I’ll talk more about Granada as a town. What it’s like living there, what people do, etc. It’s starting to get really nice outside so I want to take advantage of sunny weather as soon as possible. Until next time…

5 Mindblowing Facts About Studying Abroad in Granada That Will Make You Say, “Wow, Those Facts About Studying Abroad in Granada Blew My Mind”

You actually have class.

It didn’t really dawn on me until I woke up at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning that my adventure in Granada would actually consist of going to class and learning stuff. I think everyone at least somewhat imagines study abroad as a four month break from school in an exotic location of your choice–I certainly did. But don’t cancel your plans yet, it’s not that bad. My schedule consists of five classes, all taught in Spanish, at IES: Spanish, Islamic Civilization in Spain Since 1492, Islamic Art and Architecture, Cross-Cultural Psychology, and History of Spanish Cinema. The classes are all great so far but for me the most important aspect is just improving my Spanish, and having 5 hours of class in Spanish each day is certainly making me a better listener and speaker.


Dinner is always an adventure.

Granada is famous for its tapas, little appetizers you get for free when you order a drink. Going out for tapas is the most popular way of getting your late night meal here (usually around 9 p.m.), and if I have to see one more message in our 80-person IES group chat asking “Anyone wanna go out for tapas?” I swear I will make fun of them on my blog. But really, it’s great. I’m gonna get some as soon as I’m done writing this post. But the best food in Granada has got to be the Middle-Eastern food. Spain is separated from Morocco by 9 miles of ocean, so the Arab population in Granada is huge. And when the ham and bread don’t cut it, I’m always happy to spend three euros on any of the hundred shawarma places near me.  


Only two types of dogs exist in Spain.

In all my walking the past couple weeks I have kept a watchful eye out for the local dogs, and friends, let me tell you, there are only two. You will either encounter tiny dogs with sweaters, or big dogs with Gucci collars. 100% serious, no cap, honest to God these are the only dogs in this country and I challenge anyone reading this to prove me wrong.


Spanish college students have the endurance and energy of a Navy Seal.

I’ll just say it: two-and-a-half years at Whitman have killed my appetite for nightlife. I’ve gotten so used to the school shutting down at midnight that I just accepted an early bedtime on the weekends. But the Spanish youth are a different breed. From everyone at my residence I’ve talked to, it’s not uncommon to wait until 2 a.m. to start their evening and go until the sun comes out, after which they’ll either sleep during the day or go to class on no sleep. I understand now why all the interest house language assistants are dismayed by Whitman’s relative tranquility compared to the continent that never sleeps.


American culture is ever-present.

I read a travel blog post a few years ago that said if you travel to Europe you should avoid wearing white sneakers because no one in Europe wears those and that is a dead giveaway that you’re an American. Well, readers, imagine my surprise when I stepped off the bus in Granada and half the people I see are wearing white shoes. I don’t think the author of that blog was lying at the time, but since they wrote that fashion and cultural trends in America have undoubtedly further spread through Spain, blurring the line between the two cultures. Younger generations especially like to flaunt their American-ness with their Wu-Tang shirts, Air Force Ones, and Supreme hoodies. In trying to hide my American-ness, I might really be exposing it.