My STEP project consisted of a study abroad program through International Studies Abroad (ISA) in Granada, Spain during fall semester 2017. It mainly consisted of living with a host family and taking core classes for my major in Spanish at El Centro de Lenguas Modernas at La Universidad de Granada.
I feel that through my experience in Granada, my view of the world changed in many positive ways. One thing that changed my view is that I realized just how profound of an effect the Spanish have had on the world throughout history, especially with the conquest and the discovery of the Americas. Also, my understanding of their culture became much more advanced because I got to learn about their culture and history in their own country which is still saturated with remains of numerous historic cultures and religions, and this allows people to see very accurately how they interacted with each other and influenced what is now Spain centuries later.
A key experience that I had over the course of the semester was that I was able to live with a host family. This really allowed me to get an intimate feel for what everyday life in Andalucía (the southern, more traditional region of Spain where Granada is located) is like. My host family consisted of my host mom and dad, and I lived with another student in the program who is from Pennsylvania. Additionally, since my host parents didn’t have kids, their brothers and nieces and nephews would come to visit rather frequently and have lunch with us a few days out of the week, so I got to know their relatives as well (lunch is the bigger, more important meal of the day for Spaniards; most comparable to how we view dinner in the United States). Spanish families are very close knit and affectionate, so it was quite comforting for me because my own family is this way and it helped me feel a sense of belonging.
Additionally, I was able to travel to various other key cities within Spain on the excursions that were included in the program. One that stuck out to me a lot, however, was when I went to Sevilla and Córdoba. These two cities are extremely important in Spanish history and culture. In Sevilla, I learned that it was the main entry point for all of the crops and goods, especially precious stones and metals, that were brought back to Spain from the Americas during Columbus’ expeditions. Given its inland location on the Guadalquivir River, it provided a highly secure place to keep all of these materials safe from being attacked by other European powers of the time. On the other hand, Córdoba has an ancient mosque that still stands today from the Arabs that once ruled the Iberian peninsula (the other popular tourist attraction is the Alhambra in Granada, which is an old muslim palace from when the muslims ruled the peninsula). However, this mosque was eventually taken over and added onto by Christians, so this structure is very captivating for historians because you could clearly see all of the blending of ideas and beliefs from the two religions. It was also interesting because my professor talked about this mosque in my Islamic Culture in Spain class. Although, in essentially every major city in Spain, there are still well preserved remains from the times of the conflicts between Jews, Muslims and Christians that had all been on the Iberian Peninsula.
Lastly, an experience that I had that helped me learn more about the different cultural backgrounds in Spain was my independent trip to Barcelona that I took. Barcelona is one of Spain’s largest cities and it is also in the region of Cataluña, the northeastern part of Spain. As has been in the news lately, there has been a political referendum in Cataluña because there is a distinct cultural group living there called the Catalans, who have their own language and identity, in addition to being Spanish. During my time in Barcelona, I was able to see first-hand how Catalan is different than the Spanish language, even though they are strikingly similar as they are both romance languages. Additionally, I was able to see the Sagrada Familia, a very famous basilica in the city of Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudí, a famous architect from Cataluña who had numerous projects around Barcelona. I learned that Gaudí designed the Sagrada Familia to be very symbolic of the Catholic faith, and this is significant to Spanish and Catalan culture because the grand majority of people in Spain are of this faith.
Over all, the transformation that I experienced of my world view is valuable for my life because I can use it to benefit in my future goals. It is beneficial for me because I am also studying International Relations in addition to Spanish, and I hope to work for the government and maintain the great relationship that the U.S. has with Spain, so having this cultural experience will allow me to be more effective in this. I find my experience to be quite valuable for me since I would one day like to be a Spanish teacher, and the experience of studying abroad in Spain will allow me to be a better teacher because I will be able to use all of my experiences and interactions that I had in Spain to teach my future students more accurately about the country and paint them a better picture of how diverse the culture is and how it is different from Latin American countries even though they all share a common language.