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.

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