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Dear Future Globetrotter

Flamenco show in Granada, Spain

Spain is amazing. Traveling is such an adventure. Studying abroad is a gift. I truly cherish the months that I have had the privilege of living in this beautiful country and all that it has taught me. As the semester comes to an end, a handful of consejos (advice) come to mind that I think are important for anyone about to embark on their own journey abroad. These are some things I have learned (in no particular order) during my time in Granada, Spain. Everyone is unique and has their own story, struggles, and journey abroad, so they may not apply to every person out there. But, I do think what I have observed and learned is very useful and I hope you find it to be as well.

1. Make every effort to get out of the American bubble. You are going to make new friends in your program and in your classes, and that is wonderful! But odds are most, if not all, of those people will be from the United States, which means you will mostly be speaking English and it will be more difficult to meet locals. This happened to me, and while I love the friends I’ve made, I didn’t meet many locals. It was a lot more challenging than I expected. I spoke English more than I imagined I would when at the start of the semester I really believed the majority of the language I used would be Spanish. All I’m saying is to find a balance and be intentional about meeting the locals in your city.

2. Don’t wait until you have the perfect friend(s)/group to do something you are interested in… Similarly, don’t be afraid to do things alone. The biggest example of this for me was when I took a solo trip to Manchester, England. I went for the sole purpose of visiting the Chatsworth House, which is Mr. Darcy’s home in the newest movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. I really hadn’t found anyone that was interested in going there, so I went alone. It was a very challenging experience but one I really cherish. I’m the type of person that loves to share experiences with others, so at times during the trip, I felt very alone. However, this also meant I got to learn even more about myself: what I like, what I don’t like, how I travel without outside influence, and so much more. It’s okay to do things alone and you’ll even grow from it!

3. If you’re abroad to learn and practice a new language, don’t shy away from continuing to speak in that language if the person you’re talking to responds in English. This happened to me far more often that I would’ve liked. It’s usually in situations where the person I’m speaking with is in a hurry and I’m taking too long to get my point across (like ordering food at a restaurant). It sometimes made me question my Spanish abilities. Were they switching to English because I wasn’t speaking Spanish well enough? I was there to learn so I wouldn’t let that stop me from speaking. Who knows? Maybe they want an opportunity to practice their English. Just keep practicing! You’re there to learn.

4. If you see something potentially interesting or are curious about something around a corner, through an archway, up/down stairs, go explore! You won’t regret taking those few extra steps and seconds to check it out. Even if it doesn’t end up being that noteworthy, you won’t leave the country wondering what could’ve been. Plus, you just never know what you will find!

5. Learn how to use public transportation systems; it’s a great feeling when you get it down. I still struggle with it at times, but Google Maps is a lifesaver. Keep in mind, some countries are easier to navigate than others with this mode of transport, but you’ll get the hang of it.

6. Front load the time you’re living in the country by doing a lot of activities, exploring, eating new foods, meeting locals and new friends. Time really does fly when you study abroad and you don’t want finals week to suddenly be upon you and you still have so much on the table. It’s not fun to be studying for finals and still trying to cram a few more activities in. It just it makes it hard to enjoy it all. I was a victim of this… the procrastinator in me really revealed itself this semester. Don’t wait!!

7. Just take it all in! Enjoy every second and find special moments in each day. I know this is very general, but there is so much to discover and take in. Make the most of your time!

Thank you for joining me this semester and for taking the time to read about my adventures! I hope that those who are planning to study abroad have a wonderful experience. And if you are still on the fence about whether you should go or not, I have one piece of advice for you: do it! You won’t regret it.

The Alcázar in Segovia, Spain

 

Picos de Europa, northern Spain

 


Camille Meeks is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Psychology and Languages & Literature with an emphasis in Spanish. Camille will spend the Fall semester studying in Granada, Spain through International Studies Abroad as a Truman Good Neighbor Scholar.

Disclaimer:  Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Transitioning from Newbie to Native (More or Less)

A pic of me on a side trip to Morocco and the Sahara Desert!

Let’s be real: there’s a honeymoon phase to almost any new thing we do. Whether that’s starting a new job, new school, new hobby, or making new friends, there comes a point when you see the activities or the people for what/who they really are. You may still enjoy it, but you begin to know the true depth, see the flaws, and generally have a deeper understanding of reality as you become more accustomed and comfortable in that environment or with those people. I have definitely noticed a similar trend with studying abroad.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and for me, I even welcome it by embracing the sometimes uncomfortableness of the situation. When you reach this point, it is when you really begin to learn the culture and experience something new and beautiful.

For me, this process took over a month. I can’t pinpoint an exact day since it’s so gradual. But I do know that today, compared to when I first arrived in Spain, I am much more comfortable and feel like I blend in (most of the time) to the natives around me. Here is a simple example of when I first noticed this change:

In the busier, more crowded areas of Granada there are typically people stopping others to take a survey, sell a service or product, etc. They usually only target Spaniards, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t called out during my first month here as I probably looked so lost. However, one day a man stopped me in the street, and said (in Spanish), “Is your family missing?” There was definitely something lost in translation (because what I thought I heard could not have been correct…I still have a lot of Spanish to learn) and I repeated back to him with surprise what I thought he asked and he quickly said in English, “Oh, you’re not from Spain?” I replied that I was from the United States and he apologized for stopping me and moved on without a second thought. I, however, was so honored! It was so simple and kind of silly, but I was so proud that someone thought I was a local. Usually being stopped like that by people of the street would bother me, but in Spain it means that I come off as one of their own. I feel that in myself, as well. I am so much more comfortable here than I was at the beginning: I walk more relaxed and continually feel more at home.

Hiking in Alpujarra, Spain. If you look very closely you can see the Mediterranean Sea between the mountains.

As I have mentioned in past posts, I love traveling. But this is more than traveling- it is a learning experience. I learn more about the culture, the people, the history, and myself every day. It’s not all pretty, but it is the reality and that’s what I want to know. I don’t want a sugar-coated semester: I want raw and real. I want to understand the economic crisis of Spain and how that is making it difficult for Spaniards, especially young people, to find secure jobs, forcing them to live with their parents until they are 25-30 years old, for example.

But at the same time, I have loved learning about the good things that this country has to offer. Like the fact that most students pay less than $1,000 for college per YEAR as opposed to universities in the United States costing anywhere from $10,000-$60,000 per year, causing most students to be in extreme debt. The government of Spain understands the importance of education and it shows in the prices of attending university. Spain’s education system and general economy may have its own flaws (for example, the reason that college is so “inexpensive” is because taxes are much higher), but at least it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg outright to attend college. It’s all much more complicated than I know, but that’s pretty incredible.

There is so much more I could discuss regarding the culture and the people. It’s an intricate and complex country with a lot of history and depth. And I haven’t even mentioned what I have learned about myself and my own beliefs by being immersed in this culture. There are still things that I have discovered but haven’t fully grasped and can’t articulate quite yet. I don’t think it will be until I return home and have time to process the semester in its entirety that I will understand how this semester has impacted me. I am looking forward to those realizations, because I’m sure this time has affected me in more ways than I know.

Thank you, Spain (and all other countries I have been fortunate to travel to this semester), for welcoming me, teaching me, and showing me all that you have to offer.

The mosque of Cordoba (now a Catholic church).
La Plaza de España (The Plaza of Spain). A few scenes from Star Wars were filmed here!

Camille Meeks is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Psychology and Languages & Literature with an emphasis in Spanish. Camille will spend the Fall semester studying in Granada, Spain through International Studies Abroad as a Truman Good Neighbor Scholar.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

The Joys of Hiking

Tomorrow it will have been 2 months since I left the United States and landed in Spain! 2 MONTHS! I can hardly believe how fast this semester is going. Midterms are just around the corner and then after that it’s a mere 5 weeks until finals! When studying abroad for a semester, you think you have so much time, but in reality it really does zip by.

Anywhere you are – traveling, moving to a new city, at school, at home, it is important to find something that fills your heart and that makes you feel connected with your environment. For me this semester that something has been hiking. It never fails to make me feel at peace and rejuvenated. Granada’s population is more than 230,000 inhabitants, whereas my hometown, Liberty MO, has roughly 31,000. Not only is the population greater in Granada but also the city is much more condensed. You can easily see from the city by walking in 1-2 hours, but Liberty is much more spread out than that. Additionally, I live in an apartment, with my host mom and roommate, that is about the size of my main floor at home in Missouri. It gets to feeling a little crowded at times, in the streets and at my host home.

When I need some space to myself, hiking is a lifesaver. I don’t dislike the city or my apartment, but there is nothing quite like the silence, solitude, fresh air, and the openness and freedom found in the mountains. No traces of cigarette smoke or exhaust are smelled. The air is crisp and inviting. The view of the large mountains on the horizon and the tiny cars of the city in comparison remind you just how small you are, how small your problems are, and how much more there is in the world beyond your minuscule and often clouded perspective.

I can’t express how much I love the mountains and the joy that they bring me! There are no mountains in Missouri, which may be why I love them so much: it’s extra special when I am near them. I take every opportunity I can here to explore the vast trails of the mountains while I have them in my backyard. From my apartment to the start of the trails is about a 45 minute walk; at home it’s a 9 hour drive to Colorado to find the best mountains. I am so grateful to be studying where I am.

What I have particularly enjoyed is the two times my friend and I went hiking at 6:30 in the morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains. It is truly magical. For starters, the walk through the city to the mountains is quite tranquil: the only people in the street are those returning home after a night out at the club (it’s very common to stay out all night here… I can’t keep up!) When we get to the mountains, I love how the sun first lights up the surrounding peaks before fully revealing itself to you. After hiking for an hour or two, my friend and I are of course very sweaty. As we sit and wait for the light to break over the peaks, our sweat is drying and it is quite chilly. Through this experience I realized how often I take the sun for granted. As my friend and I were shivering from the brisk wind and cool air, we jokingly contemplated would happen if the sun just decided not to rise that day: we would miss out on the beauty that it brings with it and we would also still be very cold. When the sun finally shines over the crests, I instantly feel its warmth and began to thaw. Mmm, I could just bask in the sun all day. With the sunrise, the world rises around us. What a treasure is the new day that the sun brings. And in the mountains it is even more magical.

I didn’t expect to be able to write so much about hiking, mountains and nature, and I could definitely go on. However, I will conclude with a thought I had on one of my hikes. This activity lends itself well to somewhat cheesy (yet profound) metaphors for life, and I love that. Here is my most recent one:

When hiking, it’s okay, and even encouraged, to look back at how far you’ve come and all that you’ve passed through. But if you turn around and walk back the way you came, focusing too much on that path (your past), you will never know what views and experiences lie ahead, where life will take you moving forward. Occasionally when hiking, through the mountains and through life, you will get lost and you’ll be forced to go back and retrace your steps (to spend a short time in the past), but this is only so that you can find a better path forward the next time around.

Go out and experience the nature around you! Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.


Camille Meeks is a junior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Psychology and Languages & Literature with an emphasis in Spanish. Camille will spend the Fall semester studying in Granada, Spain through International Studies Abroad as a Truman Good Neighbor Scholar.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

The Countdown Dwindles & Adventure Begins

As I write this post, I am a mere 6 days away from departing on my flight for a semester-long journey in Granada, Spain. The excitement and anticipation are growing with each passing day, but so are the nerves, questions, and expectations. However, the emotion that best encompasses how I am feeling is alegría (joy)! I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to spend four months overseas in a country I have always dreamed of visiting. Now, not only do I get to visit, but I get to live in Spain and truly immerse myself in what I know will be a beautiful culture and all-around amazing country. Here are just three of the many aspects of this adventure that I am most anticipating.

1. Improving Spanish

I have been learning and studying Spanish since the second grade, but you wouldn’t believe that if you heard me speak. I am probably better at the language than I consider myself to be, but living in Spain will be the true test. I have always had a desire to become fluent in Spanish, but classroom learning simply doesn’t do it for me. I believe that immersion is the best teacher and I am looking forward to the improvements that will come, especially increasing confidence in myself and my speaking, writing, reading and listening abilities. One way that I will improve is through the housing that I’ve selected for the semester: I opted to live in a homestay with a Spanish family. I thought that this would be the best way to not only learn more about the culture and lifestyle of Spain, but also to essentially be forced to speak Spanish around the clock. It would be too easy for me to use my housing situation as an escape from speaking Spanish, so I chose the homestay as a catalyst for me to continue practicing, even when I am at the home, a place where I usually would let my guard down and relax into English speaking habits. That is why I chose to challenge myself in this way. I’m sure my expectations will be met!

2. Self-discovery and independent travel

I love traveling! If I could, I would make it my full-time job. I’m pumped for this semester in Europe where I will have the freedom to travel in addition to completing my coursework. This is the first time that I will be traveling outside of the United States alone. It’s intimidating, a little scary, but also exhilarating. I’ve heard from other solo travelers that this is an amazing way to really learn more about who you are. I don’t doubt that for a second! I have always been pretty sure of myself, but I am looking forward to learning more about who I am. There are things I haven’t yet discovered simply because I’ve never been in this situation before: I’ve never been away from my family for more than a few weeks at a time, never traveled abroad alone, and certainly have never lived my life using another language in every-day circumstances. All of these scenarios, and more, are sure to highlight many of my strengths (and weaknesses, also important to understand about oneself) that I had never realized I had. I fully expect to be stretched beyond my comfort zone, but I am embracing it. I know this semester will be a challenge, but I am up to the task, whatever Spain has for me!

3. The city, culture, and people

Okay, okay, I know that is three aspects in one post, but I can’t help it. How could I only choose three to discuss? I first fell in love with Granada when I read three simple words describing the city: eclectic, mountainous, historic. I read these descriptors in the International Studies Abroad (ISA) packet that contained all of the study abroad locations available to students. Surprisingly, I had never heard of Granada before researching where to study, but when I read those words I actually became misty-eyed. I felt so drawn to the city. For one, I love mountains. They are so majestic and they make me feel so small but in the best way. They seem to speak to me saying, “There is more in the world beyond yourself,” if mountains could speak, of course. My affinity for mountainous regions makes living in Missouri kind of a bummer, but that’s what traveling is for. Anyway, all that to say, I know this city, like most cities in Europe, will be lovely. I hear (and have seen through pictures) that the city of Granada is beautiful. Likewise, I hear that it is as beautiful as the people who inhabit it. Everyone I have talked with who has been to Spain raves about the kind and welcoming nature of Spaniards. Additionally, I love other cultures that are different from my own and I strive to experience them from the perspective of the locals. I am looking forward to experiencing the diversity that Granada has to offer by living in such an eclectic city with quite a rich history. I enjoy how traveling allows one to meet so many different people from all backgrounds, each with their own unique stories. I am excited to have the people of Spain as a resource to make my experience the best it can be. As a generally introverted and reserved person, I am not typically one to initiate conversations, especially with strangers. However, I want to use this experience to break that cycle since I desire to have an authentic Spanish semester.

Pictured is me wearing the only luggage I plan to bring: a 60 liter Osprey backpack (it’s much roomier than it looks)! I’m embracing simplicity this semester!

There is no telling whom I will meet,what I will discover, the experiences I will have, or the things I will see. The mystery and uncertainty going into this semester is what makes me so excited. All I know is that I will have breathtaking adventures, eat amazing food, meet incredible people, and walk A LOT (I really enjoy a good walk) all while gaining confidence in myself and my Spanish-speaking abilities. This is going to be a semester of learning and discovery. I may not know the details of all that I will encounter, but that is all part of the process. I have an open-mind, an open heart, and the flexibility I need to have a truly maravillosa (wonderful) adventure in Granada, Spain.


Camille Meeks is a senior at the University of Missouri- Kansas City studying Psychology and Languages & Literatures with an emphasis in Spanish. Camille will spend the fall semester studying in Granada, Spain through International Studies Abroad as a Truman Good Neighbor Scholar.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.