Daniel Forbes studies economics in the Walton College of Business but took one semester to explore and learn in Spain. With many exciting, and occasionally awkward, encounters Daniel returned with a greater sense of self.
I have been back from Spain for quite a while now, but the details of my experience are still fresh in my mind, and I hope that I have gained a little more perspective on my journey and the impact that it has had thus far on me as a person and my academic career in general.
So I am going to quickly try to give a whirlwind tour of my time abroad and then end with some conclusions I have made about my adventure. I began my trip on January 5th, while most students were still enjoying their particularly long winter break. The plane ride was a grueling affair that included two layovers and one delay, but I was running off of adrenaline and felt wide awake when I arrived in Madrid. My program included a three-day orientation where we explored Madrid and Toledo while our counselors prepared us for our semester stay in Granada. Toledo was especially fascinating to me, because I was able to see many of the places I had studied during my second semester of H2P.
The orientation was a great way to ease into the culture, but nothing prepared us adequately for meeting our host families. Host families are a somewhat deceptive term, because the majority of students stay with a “Señora” who is a retired or semi-retired widow. Getting off of the bus, we were supposed to kiss our Señoras once on each cheek. Unfortunately, I forgot whether you are supposed to turn your head to the right or the left first (it’s right by the way), and I almost bonked heads with my host during our first meeting! However, things improved quickly, and I found that living with a Señora was a rewarding albeit stressful experience.
The first month in Granada, I participated in an intensive language program to help acclimate to the language and brush up on my rusty speaking skills. I would spend the morning in a beautiful old building with a small class, and then have the afternoons free to eat lunch with my family. This schedule afforded a ton of free time to explore the city, and visit its many hidden restaurants and flamenco bars. The weather was very pleasant and sunny for January, but it was a tad bit colder than expected.
Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time visiting “La Alhambra,” which is the Muslim fortress that Granada is most famous for and, also, Spain’s most visited monument. I was most impressed by the extensive canals and fountains that ran all throughout the fortress. Water represented wealth to the rulers of the Alhambra, and they liked to surround themselves with its opulence. The frescoes of geometric patterns are also amazing, and show an attention to detail that cannot be matched in modern constructions. This fortress still dominates the skyline of Granada, due to its position on top of a hill. Its picturesque presence was strongly ingrained in my mind, and I imagine it will remain clear for many years to come.
Muslims ruled most of present-day Spain for nearly eight centuries, and their influence can still easily be seen in Granada. The Albayzín is an ancient neighborhood that exemplifies this tradition. I enjoyed many evenings exploring its twisting streets and narrow alleys. It is also home to many teahouses and bazaar-like shops.
But back to school stuff. After I finished my intensive month, I started taking a normal schedule of five classes per week. These included such topics as Spanish Literature and Spanish Civilization and Culture. The classes were challenging, but I found that staying out in the city was an excellent alternative to spending time in the library going over notes. I feel that as long as you are immersed and speaking Spanish, then you are basically “studying.”
Our program organized “Intercambios,” which are parties where you look for language partners. I started to meet with two girls who were about to start study at the university. Though there were a couple of awkward and often rather comical mishaps, we got along just fine. They helped me significantly with my Spanish, and I hope I did the same for their English.
Another opportunity for community engagement was through my church in Granada: Iglesia Evangélica Bautísta. Participating in the youth group, I met many Spanish students my age, and formed new friendships. It was awesome to play basketball, go sledding, eat meals, and hang out with a group of “Granadinos.”
My program had excursions that enabled me to see not only Madrid and Toledo (as mentioned earlier), but also Seville, Ronda, Malaga, los Alpujarras, and Cordoba. All these cities were amazing in their own right. Furthermore, Spaniards are passionate and sometimes religiously devoted to their holidays. During La Semana Santa, an Easter celebration that spans the entire week and includes huge processions, I was able to travel to San Sebastian, Santiago de Compostela, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Valencia. These cities gave me a wider perspective of Spain, and helped me see the astounding contrast that centuries of uninterrupted civilization can give relatively close regions.
My last month was spent studying for exams and saying goodbye to all the friends I have made. I feel that one of the hardest parts of studying abroad is leaving everyone behind. You want to take everyone from Granada and place them in Fayetteville and vice versa. However, it is encouraging to know that there is more than just the city and state where you grew up in. There are so many opportunities across the world waiting to be discovered.
Fortunately, the end of my program was not absolutely abysmal. I spent the next 10 weeks traveling to 15 other countries across the European continent. However, that journey would be way too much to describe in a single blog post!
During my time in Spain, I learned many things about myself and the country where I was staying. Many of these lessons are somewhat personal and are not applicable to every student. However, I will say that studying abroad really is eye-opening, horizon-widening, and every other adjective you typically hear to describe it. It’s all true!
Though I will really miss Granada, I am glad to be back in the States. I believe that you have to go out and see new places in order to truly appreciate (and even comprehend) the opportunities you have in your own country. I would like to end by saying thanks to my friends in Granada and the University of Arkansas for helping me have such a wonderful experience, giving me a new way to look at things, and awakening bright expectations for the future.