As I am now reaching the halfway point of my program here in Granada, I’m excited to introduce myself to all of you readers and future Arcadia students! My name is Melanie Vines, and I am a junior at the University of Alabama. My major is environmental engineering, but I am here this summer to finish my Spanish minor and to immerse myself in a new culture. I chose the Arcadia program in Granada initially because it offered the classes I need to finish my minor (just two electives rather than language instruction), and I liked the idea of being in a smaller city that is easy to explore on my own and where English is not so readily spoken. I could not be happier with my choice. Granada is such an enchanting city, and I swear every single street is pretty enough for a postcard. With its winding calles and stunning architecture, I could just roam the streets and little shops forever.
Fun fact: people tend to forget that “study abroad” includes the word study. I am currently enrolled in two 3-credit hour classes, which effectively break down into four 1.5-credit hour classes with a different professor and final exam for each class. It seems like a lot to handle in the course of only four weeks, but it’s definitely not too much if you are interested in your classes. Personally, I’m a bit of a history and culture nerd, so I’m in love with my History of Spanish Art and Islamic Culture in Spain classes. For me, the grades I make here affect my GPA at home, so I really do need to put in the work. It’s difficult to put in your best effort, however, when you’re trying to savor every moment in a new country. For instance, I am writing this blog on a Friday night while also studying for an exam on Monday and preparing for an Arcadia excursion to the coastal town of Tarifa this weekend. With so much going on, it is easy to become overwhelmed. However, most classes assign little to no homework, and the professors really encourage you to spend your spare time interacting with the Spanish people and immersing yourself in the language rather than being holed up in the library not talking to anyone. While seemingly overwhelming at first, my classes have definitely been a really encouraging and positive experience so far.
When I’m not in class, I’m either exploring the streets of Granada, eating helado, hanging out with my wonderful host family, or traveling on the weekends. This past weekend (my first in Spain), my roommate and I visited Córdoba and Sevilla. I am wholeheartedly a Type-A personality who likes to have vacations planned months in advance, so planning a trip on the fly was definitely a new and terrifying experience. Having reached the end of my first week, I was also beginning to panic: My Spanish still isn’t good enough, I still can’t understand the taxi drivers, I haven’t bought all the souvenirs I want, I’ve barely seen any of this beautiful country, etc. The culture shock was getting to me, and for the first time in my life, I was beginning to feel homesick. I was struggling with constantly learning my way around new places, planning my weekends with short notice, and having difficulty comprehending a language I’ve studied for the last 7 years. Instead of getting the most out of these new cities, I really just wanted to sleep.
However, I pressed on and saw everything I wanted to see in both cities, and I don’t regret a thing. From this experience, the most important piece of advice I have for students coming into the program is this: Slow down and breathe. There is no need to panic. Culture shock is perfectly normal, even if you’ve traveled a lot before, and I was definitely trying to fit the entire Spanish experience into one week. It was extremely overwhelming. I cannot stress the importance of realizing that you have so much more than just one week to see everything. I have since learned to plan my trips a little further in advance to keep from panicking, and that it’s okay to just go home and take a siesta after classes sometimes. You’re here for at least a month. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.
Once I took a breath and calmed down a bit, I was able to fully enjoy my short trips to Córdoba and Sevilla, two gorgeous Andalucían cities. The Mezquita of Córdoba is a must-see attraction with its fascinating mixture of Muslim and Christian architecture, symbolism, and history, and Sevilla is enchanting with its lively personality and enchanting flamenco street performances. I have always been the kind of person to dwell on recent mistakes or to stress about what comes next instead of living in the present moment. Over this particular weekend, I was personally struggling not to freak out over our nonexistent schedule. However, Spain is slowly teaching me to focus on the beauty in front of me, the flavor of the food, the details of the architecture, the story within the history, the rhythm of the flamenco troupe. The beginnings of this lesson allowed me to fully enjoy my time in Córdoba and Sevilla, and I will take this lesson with me throughout the rest of my journey.
I still have over two weeks left in Spain, and I intend to make the most of it (but not all at once)! I am in love with this beautiful country, and I cannot wait to tell you more about it. Stay tuned for more adventures!