I landed back in Sydney on Friday night, headed to work on Sunday and was back at uni on Monday. Not even a week home after 6 weeks abroad and it’s as if I never left. Travelling has a weird way of interrupting your perception of time. It feels like forever and simultaneously is over in the blink of an eye. Towards the end of January, I headed to Spain for the BUILD abroad Intensive Spanish Language Course at the University of Granada. It was an experience where I not only improved my Spanish skills but met so many incredible people and explored so many beautiful places.
Before the course
Before heading to Granada, I spent a few days in Barcelona. In the infamous ‘Pickpocketing Capital of the World’, it was safe to say I had concerns about my belongings and safety as a solo-traveller. To my surprise though, I felt calm and safe in this tourist haven. My preconceptions were proved wrong and whilst I was wary of people, I also felt adequately prepared to face anything. Barcelona is an impressive city, filled with thousands of years of history. I could understand the romance and beauty that the city has to offer and the tourist traps that deter others. Being in a new city alone was liberating but also lonely at times. Putting myself out of my comfort zone and making new friends certainly made my time in Barcelona more memorable.
Studying in Granada
Granada is a city that is distinctly different from Barcelona. On a base level, it is significantly smaller geographically and has a more local feel. The city is known for its Arab influence, exemplar in the main tourist site, La Alhambra. It’s a place that I quickly fell in love with. Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada and not far from the coast, with its antique architecture and free tapas, there’s almost nothing not to like. I loved the spontaneity of my life there. During the week, we had classes in the morning and the afternoons were free to explore the city . On the weekends we would venture out to nearby cities. I was able to going skiing on the Sierra Nevada mountains, layout on the beach at Nerja on the Costa Del Sol and explore the history filled streets of Sevilla.
Adjusting to the Spanish schedule, living with new people, going to a new school, speaking predominantly Spanish; it was all so different to my life in Australia in a good way. I loved being pushed out of my comfort zone, making new friends and discovering all the things that were different about our lives. Whilst speaking Spanish was definitely daunting and embarrassing at times, I can’t express enough how beneficial it has been to learning the language. I feel much more confident speaking now and it comes more naturally to me than before. The program also helped me to discover what my strengths were in learning a language versus others. Having a very small class meant that we were able to utilise each others strengths in speaking, grammar and listening. Our teachers could not speak much english and we had people from China, the USA and Sweden in our class, so we often had to be creative and find other ways to explain difficult concepts to our teacher and other classmates. Classes were also less structured than Spanish classes in Australia. Often someone would ask a question and then our teachers would tell us a long anecdotal story and start teaching us about something completely off topic. Sometimes this was a little disruptive but it also meant that we learnt about key cultural insights to Spanish life or colloquial sayings and so on. It was a little difficult to meet locals at first but once we did, it made our time in Granada so much more authentic.
After the course
After a beautiful but busy month in Granada, it was time to leave. I headed to Madrid before heading home. Madrid surprised me as I did not expect it to be such a cultural, artistic and trendy city. Not only does it have the classic Spanish, historic tourist spots and European architecture but it is filled with hipster haunts like the areas of Malasaña and Lavapiés. If you like vintage shopping, modern art galleries and kitschy trinkets, it’s the perfect city to visit. It honestly surprised me as I did not expect Madrid to have this effortless and cool energy. Again distinctly different from everywhere else I’d visited before, it was awesome to see another side of Spain before heading home.
Now that I’ve returned, I am straight back into my life as it was before and in some ways it’s like I never left. Despite that, I am so satisfied with my decision to take this course and spend a month on my own overseas. I developed my Spanish skills and I feel more prepared for my ICS next year in Argentina. I have made new lifelong friends from all around the world. I got a chance to live in a different country and learn about cultural differences that I did not expect to face. It may be a cliché but it was a truly unforgettable experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Written by Kate McGregor