I wasn’t sure what to expect from living in Granada, Spain. My preconceptions included beautiful beaches right outside the city, a huge palace right next to campus, and live music everywhere. I thought maybe there would be pomegranate trees everywhere, since Granada translates to pomegranate. It turns out, the beaches were farther away than I thought, and the giant palace was about two miles away from the Cartuja campus on the hill. There were no pomegranate trees, but pomegranates were printed on everything and they were sculpted in metal everywhere. Granada ended up throwing me lots of surprises and was not a place that I could have dreamed up.
It had it all. Big city, traffic, hiking, beautiful hills and night lights, a river, art shops, and the picturesque Albaicin, which is full of narrow cobblestone streets and white buildings. It had orange trees, fruit stands, statues, and protests, and an entire district full of beautiful, high-end stores. One area of town was entirely Moroccan. The blend of happenings in the city was amazing.
My GLI experience abroad took me to this beautiful place. My global theme is Public and Global Health, and as part of my experience I took a class called Antropologia de la Salud, or Anthropology of Health. This class focused on health disparities in both Spain and around the world, between different demographics of people, as well as different types of attention and medicine practices in various cultures. This gave me really good insight on how medical attention systems differ around the world and gave me the opportunity to really delve into health disparities. It also further proved just how much work the American health care system needs, given that it is completely unaffordable and unattainable for so many Americans to even receive care.
In Granada, there are a few different programs that as an exchange student you may enroll in. Two of them are taught in English, are off-campus, and are mostly Americans who want to learn Spanish. The third option is the one I chose, which was to directly enroll into the main University of Granada and take the same classes that the local Spanish students take, alongside them.
What this choice meant for me is that I had to quickly adapt to the language, accent, and slang to succeed. It was incredibly challenging, but it pushed me to listen closely, be a good student, and improve my fluency, which was my reason for choosing Spain in the first place.
I’ve studied Spanish for a long time and am a Spanish minor at UM, but part of the learning curve during this culture immersion was finding out that the dialect in southern Spain is difficult for even native Spanish speakers to understand. I picked up on a lot of differences between the central/southern American Spanish that I had studied and the Andalucian dialect, and learned from my Spanish friends that I apparently “talk like a gangster.”
I’d say that being forced to focus so heavily on my communication is a skill that translates really well into leadership. Not only was the language a focus area for me, but a lack of understanding made me use nonverbal cues a lot more and find alternative ways to express myself or ask for clarification. These are essential leadership skills, because as a leader you have to understand what is happening with your team on a deeper level than simply what is said – you have to read into what is left unsaid. It’s also important to really listen and be able to develop an effective response as a leader, which are two objectives that require more effort when becoming fluent in another language.
There were lots of culture differences between Montana and Granada. The biggest adjustment for me was probably the schedule. Spaniards stay out late every night of the week, and often they don’t even leave the house until midnight and then stay out until seven am. For several hours in the afternoon, everything is closed for siesta. Another big difference for me was social, as people here at home are much more willing to have a conversation with a stranger. In Spain, people aren’t as chatty with someone who isn’t part of their group. The culture obviously goes much deeper than these basic functional level differences, and I got the privilege of learning a lot about the history of Spain and how it has affected its people.
I took a History of Modern Spain class that focused on the last three centuries and gave me a lot of insight into the instability and politics that have shaped the country. I learned how big of an impact the recent dictatorship had on the way that present-day Spanish society functions, and especially how it affects women and education. I also learned a lot about Spanish culture from the friends I made there who are from Spain. Some things I was shocked to learn. For example, my friend Lucia explained to me that it’s actually rude to ask somebody what their job is, because the Spanish completely separate their work lives and personal lives, unlike Americans. If you do ask, it could be interpreted as you trying to find out how much money they make to take advantage of them.
Though I had to leave suddenly and early due to COVID-19, by the end of my experience I had picked up on a lot of these cultural nuances, and Granada felt like a second home to me. I was left with more questions though. Since I left so early, I didn’t get to do or see a lot of the things I had planned on. The palace I talked about earlier, the Alhambra, is a huge part of Granada’s history. I had booked tickets for about two weeks after I had to go home. I also only got to travel out of Granada three times: once for a hike, once to Cordoba, and once to Bordeaux, France. I would love to return to travel around the rest of Spain and visit the beaches, the islands, and cities like Sevilla and Barcelona.
So, I bid Granada a “see you later,” and hope that one day I get to return to revisit these unanswered questions and my pomegranate paradise. I’m so grateful that I got this opportunity to explore, learn, and better myself through GLI.