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Tales from abroad: Granada

The view of Asilah, Morocco from Stephanie’s travels. (credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Goldfein) The view of Asilah, Morocco from Stephanie’s travels. (credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Goldfein) The author rides a camel while in Morocco. (credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Golfein) The author rides a camel while in Morocco. (credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Golfein)

When I first got to Granada, it was a bit overwhelming. My host family did not speak a word of English and they spoke very, very quickly. Needless to say, it took some getting used to. My host family consisted of a mother and her three children, all of whom were in their twenties and living at home. At first this was a bit weird, until I learned that compared to the U.S., there are not many countries that expect children to move out of their houses the minute they hit 18 years of age. Fascinating. But then again, a 29-year-old woman still living with her mother is still a little too strange for me to fully support.

We visited the Alhambra, which is the last remaining Arab fortress in Spain from before the Christian Reconquista. It was really interesting, since that is where Granada gets its prominent Arabic culture and is what the city is known for. From the top of the Alhambra, you can see the entire city of Granada and distinguish its different sections, from the Gypsy caves to the center of the city.

Orientation consisted of three hours of class a day for two weeks of a Spanish language immersion program. Orientation also allowed us to get used to a very odd eating schedule and the way of dress, in addition to learning our way around Granada while still taking some sort of class. This new lifestyle was definitely hard to get used to, considering it was difficult to simply find a person to whom I could speak English.

Orientation ended with a four-day trip to Morocco. We started with the port city of Algeciras — which would make you want to go right back to where you came from. After staying there for one night, we were off to Morocco.

The first place we visited once we got to Morocco was a women’s shelter, which takes in uneducated, troubled, divorced, or abused women. This shelter teaches them a trade — working with textiles in this instance, which is a large market in Morocco — and provides them the opportunity to get a job in that particular trade. We had lunch and discussed many of the women’s views on women in general, marriage, and modernization, topics over which even the program participants disagreed enormously.

Clearly, there was a lot on the agenda. Staying with host families in Morocco was interesting because our host mother didn’t speak a word of English or Spanish (only Arabic and French), which created some difficulty when trying to communicate. Mostly, it was a two-day game of charades.

There was a lot of traveling, but Morocco was a beautiful and very accepting country, especially to a group of American students. The students we spoke to repeatedly emphasized that Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States as a country, and was the first to have a U.S. embassy outside of the United States. It was as if they were trying to convince us that they were good people and didn’t dislike us, despite a few prejudices some people in the U.S. share. It was comforting that they were able to look at a group of American students and just see us, not what our country represented, whereas in America, we tend to do the complete opposite.

Some people in other programs made vows to only speak Spanish whilst there; however, with my busy schedule on top of the fact that no one in my house spoke English, this vow seemed redundant and unnecessary.

The most shocking part of living abroad was the difference in what was considered “newsworthy” compared to that of the U.S. Conflicts like the one between Morocco and the Western Sahara, which would not even be mentioned in most newspapers in the United States, were front-page news abroad.

I highly recommend studying abroad when given the option. I got to live in Spain and practice Spanish while traveling every weekend to various countries including Ireland, Italy, Austria, Morocco, and Portugal. I surfed for the first time in Lagos and played ultimate Frisbee in a foreign country. It is definitely an experience that I will never forget.