Golden days in Spain

I have had one of the best trips of my life in this winter of 2019. That’s all because of a 2 week program in the University of Navarra, Spain. My project was learning how to run and function basic robots using programming. It was essential to know about Python (programming language) to operate the robots. Our classed started from 8:30 AM and ended at 2 PM with a 15 minute break in the middle. After class, there were cultural activities which were very entertaining. In the first week, the professor of the university gave lectures on robots and the importance they will hold in our future. When we acquired knowledge about the robot industry, we were taught how to use python to operate the robots. In the second week, A professor from Denmark presented to us on advanced robotics and the way coding is used like a language.


During the project, aside from exploring the beauty of Spain I learned a lot about new gadgets and how they’re impacting our lives. I have gained vast knowledge about the robotic world and acquired programming skills from this brilliant course. From this project I can now perform efficiently and constructively in a professional event. I also got to know in detail about the work ethics that are required to be a good engineer. Plus, I had a great in-depth discussion with the professor on ROS and how the Artificial Intelligence can be used for the benefit of human beings. ,


 From learning Mobile Robotics to exploring the culture of Spain, I had many precious experiences throughout the course. I made new friends, experienced surfing for the first time, learned how to thrive in a foreign country by myself and most importantly, gained knowledge about the differences in work environment of Spain and Australia. I earned confidence to work globally and got familiar with the engineering workplace. To conclude, this course was a great learning opportunity for me and boosted my confidence to become a good engineer to work for the welfare of this world.

Rafiel Hisham

Bologna 2019

In June 2019 I set off to fly across the world to Italy to continue my studies of Italian Language and culture through the UTS BUILD winter program. This intense three-week language and culture course at the University of Bologna allowed me to expand my knowledge of the Italian language in such a short amount of time and immersed me within the culture of the city.

I set off from Sydney three weeks before the commencement of the course to go visit my family who live in Italy. After spending my time travelling around Italy with my relatives I caught the train to Bologna, where I met up with my friend from UTS who I was sharing an apartment with for the duration of the course.

The next morning was the first day of classes, kicking off with a speaking assessment to judge what level of Italian we already had. The first week of classes flew by and the next thing I knew it was our first weekend in Bologna. In true Italian style, my class decided to head out on the Friday night for some traditional Bolognese food; tagliatelle with ragù, mortadella and tortellini.

After sampling the food, wine and gelato and listening to some music across town it was time to start the second week. Although the intensity of the course was sometimes a little overwhelming, the fast pace of the learning allowed me to gain the most amount of knowledge possible in the short amount of time. One of the cultural activities we did during this week was my favourite by far: a traditional cooking class. As a class we made tortelloni (big tortellini) with ricotta, a salad with veal and a panna cotta with caramel.

Before I knew it the last week of the course had arrived and it was time to start studying for the final exam and making the most of the last few days before university in Australia started again. Making the most of the summer warmth, I spent my last days studying in the park and soaking up the sun. Unlike parks in Sydney, the park was filled with people playing soccer, basketball, frisbee, tightrope walking and juggling, with strangers encouraging me to give them all a try.

The last day of class quickly approached and it was time to say goodbye to everyone I had met. We went out in traditional student style watching a band play in one of the many parks of the city on our last night. After many hugs it was time to pack up and leave and head back to Australia. Although I was only in Bologna for a short amount of time, my experiences in this wonderful city improved my Italian language skills to a new level and I now have more cultural awareness of Italian customs and traditions.

Memories of the Alhambra. Universidad de Granada

You know that feeling when you just know that in that moment, you were supposed to be at that certain place at that specific time? Well that’s how I felt after a week in Spain.

Prior to my abroad experience I kept thinking “I shouldn’t be going on another holiday, it’s irresponsible… I need to start saving more money”  and “What if something happens to me while I’m overseas?!”. Of course I knew I was just being paranoid, but I couldn’t help how I was feeling. The day of my departure, I almost didn’t even make my flight as I was running late, maybe unconsciously on purpose.

All this was put to rest as soon as I landed in Spain. Everything started falling into place. I smiled when I thought about how overly anxious I was just a few days earlier. My trip turned out to be one of the greatest summers and one that I will always cherish (lame & generic sentence, I know)!

I did some solo travelling before I arrived in Granada to study Spanish. Hostels played a major role in helping me to socialise. Some are really social while still providing a certain level of privacy, such as curtains, and same sex dorms.

I slowly made my way to Granada, passing through Albufeira and Seville on the way. For two weeks, we studied four hours a day from Monday to Friday. The beginners language course was harder than I expected. Our teachers started speaking in Spanish from Day 1 and pushed us to use as little English in class as possible. They were hard on us but I guess it worked. I picked up so much in such a short amount of time.

What I also love about Spain in summer is the amount of daylight that you get as the sun didn’t set until 9.30 pm. Every day, we would wake up and go to class in the morning, finish at 1 pm, and then go home to either study or have a siesta (nap). When the sun wasn’t as strong, we would start leaving the house again and meet up with our friends to go sightseeing or have some tapas. Here in Granada, they serve you free tapas when you buy alcohol. Needless to say we drank sangrias and beers everyday to get free food!

The city is even more famous for its medieval architectural masterpiece – The Alhambra. In busy months, this Moorish wonder is booked out for weeks in advance. The fortress turned palace is also just as beautiful from the outside as it is from the inside. Every other day, we would climb up the hill to a lookout, to view the iconic palace from afar and watch the sunset. Every time I saw the grand structure, I was just as impressed as the time before. Granada is honestly the most beautiful city I’ve been to so far in Europe. And I am so glad that I chose to spend the two weeks here.

Although everything worked out for me, it was not always smooth sailing. Fires broke out frequently as it was one of the hottest summers in Europe on record. I almost got pick-pocketed and indecently grabbed by an old man (both situations happening within 24 hours passing through Cordoba). Many other people had similar experiences. Some of my friends got pick-pocketed on busy subways, food courts, one even unfortunately got physically robbed and assaulted late at night, however this is a rare occurrence.

As my trip drew to an end, I looked back at my old self, just a few weeks earlier. Although everything didn’t always go as planned, I smiled again, as I knew that this trip was meant to be.

Vamos a la playa

Vamos a la playa!!! When I found out I would be going to San Sebastián I immediately thought of the cheesy 2000s song of that name. Googling the city came up with countless images of its pristine sandy beach stretching more than 3 kilometres. It looked so stunning I almost didn’t care that we were going in the middle of winter.  

Vamos a la playa were the only 4 words of Spanish I knew and they turned out to be useless once I arrived and realised that San Sebastián is part of Basque Country. They speak a completely different language from Spanish and the locals are proud of it!  

Apart from its beach, I heard that it was a city famous for its culture, nightlife and cuisine and boy did it deliver.

We walked the famous beach every day to get from our apartment to the city centre. 

Monte Urgull and Castillo de la Mota in the distance

Whilst it was stunning, the 2.5 km of wind and rain pulling you back as you’re trying to walk home at 5 am in the morning from the club was not so great. Despite the title of this blog, only one of us seven students braved the cold conditions for a winter swim. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Visiting during off peak season meant we had a chance to properly experience the city like locals and appreciate its charm free from the swathes of tourists that descend in summer. 

We attended TECNUN University de Navarra for a 2 week intensive program about machine learning and data analytics facilitated through Python. The first week we had classes at the university and the second week we were taken on 4 company visits (CAF, Orbea, IKOR & Danobat) where we could see how these technologies were used in industries. These visits were definitely my favourite parts and it was fascinating and exciting to understand how these processes were undertaken. Throughout these 2 weeks, the university also organised a bunch of different cultural activities for us. Whether it was visiting Saint Jean de Luc, a mere 30 minute drive to travel into the south of France, or visiting a cidery where you could catch your cider from barrels, to visiting the Guggenheim, there was never a dull moment. Except for Sundays. A note to future students: on Sunday the majority of places except pinchos bars and bakeries are closed, even grocery stores.

Visit to Hondarribia, Basque town

Also a note to future students undertaking this course in winter: bring gum boots. It rained for a large section of our stay but the few days where the sun shone out were extra special. Although the beach that spans the coast is definitely the statement of the city, the winding side streets, classic architecture and amazing lookout also add to its vast beauty. A definite highlight was climbing to the top of Monte Urgull, the hill that towers over the city, and visiting the 12m statue of Jesus on the top known as the Castillo de la Mota.

The most memorable part of the trip was being lucky enough to witness the city’s annual drumming festival that happened to fall in the middle of our stay. It was 24 hours of drumming starting at midnight on Saturday where everyone gathers in the city plaza to watch an endless parade of people dressed in cook and soldier uniforms, young and old, drumming along with a marching band around the city. This festival is so significant that it is declared a public holiday and it was probably the coolest thing I experienced on the trip.

The crowds during the Tamborrada drum festival

I had a great experience during the program and can’t recommend it enough. I will leave you with the only words I managed to learn in Basque:

Eskerrik asko San Sebastián!

Valentina Antonatos



Un mes en España

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.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

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.

El Carmel Bunkers, Barcelona
La Pedrera, Barcelona

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.

A tapas bar near the Mirador San Nicolas, Granada

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.

La Alhambra, Granada
At the Sierra Nevada mountain range
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja, Costa del Sol
Real Alcazar, Sevilla

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.

2060 The Newton Hostel, Madrid
Palacio de Cristal, Madrid

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!

My GoPro footage from Spain

Written by Kate McGregor

Three weeks in Granada!

Having left a snowy Vienna, I arrived in Granada expecting a little heat as one generally associates with southern Spain yet was met with a mere five degrees. At this moment I realised that this experience was going to be slightly different to what I had expected.  

I arrived at my apartment hoping to dazzle the host, Raúl with the Spanish I’d learnt over two semesters at university. My, ‘Buenas Noches’ was met with a string of words that sounded like Spanish, none of which I caught. After seeing my face, Raúl explained (slowly) that he didn’t speak much English and asked if it would be okay if he explained the apartment in Spanish. To which I hesitantly replied “Sí” hoping I would be able to pick up enough words in each sentence to guess at what he was saying.  

Upon his departure, I began to question whether my two semesters of Spanish would be enough to get me through the next three weeks. My apprehension continued around 30 minutes into my first class. After struggling through the first 30 minutes of continuous Spanish, I noticed the shared look of shock in most of the class. 

Spanish study spot

Fast-forward two weeks and the difference in our facial expressions was undeniable. We settled into the four hours of daily intense Spanish and (mostly) understood everything our teacher was telling us about her plans for the upcoming Chinese New Year party in which she was going to attempt making dumplings. A strategy that has me thinking of the simple Spanish future tense whenever I eat dumplings. 

Centro De Lenguas Modernas

Towards the end of my time in Granada, I found myself speaking in broken Spanish with my fellow classmates. An idea that was far from what I could have imagined on the first night when I was trying to understand Raúl asking for my passport.  

My brief stay in Granada was one that drastically improved my Spanish but also my understanding of Spanish culture. Being home has been strange as I often catch myself wanting to greet and thank people in Spanish as this became second nature on my trip. Looking forward into the coming semester, I hope to continue my language skills both in and outside of the classroom. The opportunity to study in Granada was one that I will never forget and makes me even more excited for my In-Country Study in Spain in 2020.

 – Katherine

¡Hola España! Living and learning in Granada, Spain

Huerta de Los Angeles – the building where my classes were located

As I disembarked from a tiny plane that had just travelled 45 minutes from Madrid, I arrived in Granada, the place that I would call home for the next 3 weeks. Having just travelled for more than 28 hours I was welcomed by a fresh cool breeze, unsurprising given that it was in the middle of the European winter.

I remember feeling very excited and slightly aprehensive as over the coming days and weeks I would be completely immersed within Spanish language, culture and society and I undertook an intensive Spanish course at the Universidad de Granada.

While I understood that I would be communicating solely in Spanish in the classroom, I did not have a prior understanding as to how much I would be speaking outside of the classroom. To my surprise, delight and slight concern I would come to realise that the family that would host me during my time in Spain, spoke very little English, meaning that our conversations were solely in Spanish.

While this scared me at first as I hadn’t properly spoken Spanish since last at Uni in November I was quickly surprised by my ability to communicate with my host family about a range of diverse topics and ideas. My host family was a single mum who is a freelance artist, with a studio close to where my classes were held.

As I am sure is synonymous with the experiences of most people who are learning languages, it is scary when you think that you should always be using the correct grammar and conjugations of verbs that you have learnt when in the midst of real life conversations. However, as I quickly found, while it is of course important to try and use the correct conjugations of verbs, for the most part, grammatical mistakes here and there do not significantly impact on a meaningful conversation.

This realisation was just one of many during my trip to Granada, and I am sure over time I will come to realise further how seemingly mundane experiences have helped to shape my overall experience. I have come back to Sydney looking forward to future international opportunities available through Uni (including my ICS next year to Colombia), as well as utilising a wealth of new skills and outlooks.

Written by Yasmin Johnston.


At La Alhambra, a palace inspired by Islamic architecture
A view of the Albaicín neighbourhood

Meanwhile, in sunny San Sebastian…

Over the past winter holidays, I had the amazing opportunity of visiting San Sebastián, Spain alongside three wonderful engineering peers. It was a two week engineering pro gram at the University of Navarra. The four of us from UTS had been split up into two of the three available courses, one focusing on drug development (biomedical engineering), and the other focusing on robotics.

After finding out that I had been accepted into the program, I was both very excited and anxious. I had many concerns regarding accommodation and transportation, as I had never travelled to Europe prior to this. However, this anxiety was largely alleviated very soon after, as I was able to meet the three other students that would be joining me in Spain through the mandatory workshop. We managed to coordinate our flights and accommodation, finding a great airbnb apartment within 10 minutes walking distance from the campus!

The two week course itself was structured very well. Each day, we had class from 9am till 1:30pm, with a lunch break in between the two sessions. The classes were run by Dr Jacobo Paredes, Mr. Javier Aldabai, and Dr. Kiana Aran. These three professors were very knowledgeable and helpful, being highly qualified professionals in the field of biomedical engineering. We had lectures, computer labs and biomedical laboratory experiments for each topic we had covered. As well as this, we were assigned fun challenges such as designing a pill with various enzyme specific coats, with the objective of reaching a specific part of the body. These exercises really allowed us to consolidate what we had learned, as well as allowing for creative freedom. The professors placed a strong focus on discussion, which I very much enjoyed. They had allowed all of us to share our ideas and encouraged us to think outside the box. It was very exciting to learn that Dr Kiana and Dr Jabobo had actually worked together on a drug mechanism known as MucoJet, which was very recently FDA approved and funded!

While the content we were learning was really interesting, the course structure had also allowed for a lot of interaction and socialisation with other engineering students. Us UTS students were joined by 30 other American students, with the majority of them coming from the University of Michigan. During our scheduled dinners and city tours, we were all able to interact and share stories. I can’t promise that I have nailed the American accent, but I have many new funny phrases under my belt that I was very excited to learn.

Overall, I found the two week course to be such an amazing and memorable experience. It went by way too fast! Before I knew it, I was back at the airport, ready to embark on my 30 hour adventure home.20180626_143414.jpg20180625_182757.jpg20180625_143646.jpg

I was so honoured and proud to be representing UTS overseas, especially having discovered such amazing peers through this program! I would definitely recommend this to everyone, as I am sure I will be babbling on about this for years to come.

Thank you so much to UTS build for giving me this opportunity, and I hope I’ll be able to do something as amazing as this again soon!

Amy Sorattanachai

Ola: Tecnun University San Sebastian

So a bit about myself; My name is Carolyn I am of Burmese background and migrated to Australia when I was 2 years old. So basically raised in Australia and English was my first language. I am bilingual and speak Burmese however not fluently as I wish I could. I am an engineering student in my final year, hoping to pursue a career in construction engineering and management. I have a loving family and I am the eldest of 3 children. Family is a big aspect of my life and without their continual love and support I would not have be here today. After doing my HSC, exam stress caused me to have epileptic seizures and damage to my frontal lobe impaired my speech and thinking. However I recovered and started my engineering degree in 2011.

Six years later (slowly making my way) I am at the end of my degree. My main drive in the past six years was to prove to myself that I could do it. Now that I’m close to finishing my degree I wondered what my purpose after the degree was. I had been to graduate interviews where I was stumped by the question “What is your passion?” On the surface it is easy to say money is my motivation however I don’t think that has ever been the truth. It may sound naïve but I’ve always wanted to make a difference and help others. I started the BUiLD program hoping I gain leadership skills and confidence in myself as a leader in the field of engineering. By going to Spain I hoped to put myself out of my comfort zone and maybe regain my purpose and passion for engineering.

On the first days of travelling by myself the language barrier and having to communicate to others who did not speak the same language was the most challenging. I wished I was multilingual and knew basic phrases of Chinese and Spanish. Another challenging aspect was being by myself. I was lonely and homesick and wished I had someone I knew with me. Also having no choice but to stay in a hostel with bed bugs was probably the most depressing part of the first few days. However Spain was beautiful. History and architecture have always interested me and Spain was full of both. The gothic architecture and the way the city was planned out were amazing. I loved walking down the streets imagining the stories and the lives that were lived in those streets. I felt overwhelmed with how creative human beings were and the man made beauty we are capable of. This brought me to my religious roots and reminded me of how we were created to be creative.

At the University Program in San Sebastian I met students from UTS and students from Universities in the USA. Our timetable was filled with Tapas tours, hikes up mountains and learning about the Basque culture. Our course was on Engineering Across Cultures and the lecturer was Greg from the University of Michigan. I learnt the importance of understanding a culture before implementing designs for the country or area. For example, I have always looked back at Burma and wondered why the transport system was so terrible and why they couldn’t just simply just implement systems used in Singapore or even in Australia. I realised each culture and country have different ways of life, beliefs and history and what may work for one country may not work for another. I felt a certain duty as an engineer to realise this and integrate this thinking towards the way I design and work.

For our main assignment we were to come up with a cultural case study for San Sebastian and an engineering idea that might benefit the San Sebastian community. Our group came up with an App that would connect tourists with local tour guides. We came up with this idea due to our interviews with locals that were concerned that the younger generations might miss out on international globalisation due to the fact that they don’t speak fluent English. Also due to the violent history due to racism we saw that it was important for the San Sebastian community to connect with others and have peaceful relations with international communities. I believe our idea was what the culture needed. At first we came up with beach lockers and night transports however we realised these were more of a tourists problems rather than a locals problems therefore we listened to our interviewees and what was important to them.

After the two weeks in Spain I have more of an appreciation for engineering and the opportunities that I have. I have always wanted to make a difference or build something that has value. During the daily grind of university and trying to get that competitive graduate position I may have forgotten why I have chosen this career. I realised I want to be a part of creating buildings that have significance to others where it may be a house for a family or offices where people start their businesses. I would like to thank BUiLD UTS for this opportunity. It will be one of the most memorable experiences in my life.