Homestay: Let me start by saying I love my homestay. I have a host mother Maria and together we live in a two-bedroom apartment near the heart of the city. I think we should be glad that CMC makes it a requirement that we have to stay with a host family. Truthfully it is the best cultural immersion you will get during your experience. You will practice the most useful Spanish at home and get to understand the cultural best through your very welcoming Spanish families. A few things to be aware of before you come. First a few Spanish only customs: most likely, you will not be able to cook in your homes. This is due to the fact that most Spanish moms feel that the kitchen is their space and as their guest, they should cook your meals (for us that means lunch), but don’t be afraid to ask what you can and cannot use when you meet your host family. For example I can use the microwave and the toaster oven in my home. This will be useful for those who want to save some money by not eating out every night, more on that later. Another Spanish custom is to wear slippers everywhere in your home. It is considered rude/dirty to have bare feet in your home. Socks are okay, but slippers are best. Also know that there will most likely be no air conditioner in your home and when it gets colder a small space heater is most common in homes. Be prepared by bringing comfy clothes for the home for both the hot and cold weather, both are kinda extreme. Finally some notes about the differences in Europe in general: Thankfully in Granada the water is good to drink from the tap because it comes from the local Sierra Nevadas, but water is scare in the south so be prepared to take very short and very cold showers. Also be prepared to pay a lot more for products that have American brands, so buy them at home if you have something you like (particularly hair care/hygiene items). Oh and if you like peanut butter a lot and cannot survive without it, pack a few bottles, because there is nothing really like it here and some people are not happy about it haha.
On the subject of food…be prepared to eat a lot of ham. If you don’t eat pork or have any dietary restrictions make sure you tell IES and tell your host family your preferences from the very beginning. I’m serious…tell them if you don’t like something because if not they will think you like it and keep serving it (one of my friends still hasn’t told her host family she doesn’t like fish). So in Spain they have this lovely tradition of a siesta… at first it will seem extremely strange to you that you have three or four hours to do NOTHING. I mean it, there is nowhere to go because everything is closed, but eventually you will come to love this time. It is perfect to catch up with family/friends from home or get some homework done, go on a walk, or take a nap haha. Be prepared for a very different eating schedule. This will be very drastic from CMC since you have a smaller breakfast before school and then you have to wait till 2:30/3 till comida (lunch) which is a huge meal consisting of a few courses and usually takes an hour or longer to eat. Dinner is also a very big adjustment. You are responsible for your own dinner. For the first month or so you will want to go out and try a bunch of different tapas restaurants. Lucky for you Granada is a special place that gives you a free tapa with your drink (usually wine or beer). I suggest exploring and looking for places outside the city center. This is great, but eventually you will realize that a tapa is not a true substitute for a meal, so then you will try a few actual restaurants where you get a full meal. This will also loose some appeal since it will get expensive very quick. So I would recommend doing a bit of everything and that includes grocery shopping and eating at home two or three times a week. Mercadona is the cheap market where I would suggest going first. You can save some serious money that way.
Most of your days will be spent in the IES center located in a great spot in the city. I won’t tell you too much since they will go over a lot in the orientation in your first few days. All I will say is that everyone is very nice and is there to help, so if you are having any problems or have questions, don’t hesitate to knock on anyone’s door. I mean this seriously. I was still looking for my summer internship when I got to Granada and I ended up asking Natalia, director of internships in Ireland for help even though I had never met her. She was extremely helpful and didn’t mind at all that this was an issue outside of IES.
Alright, so I wish being abroad just meant living in a great city and traveling around. But of course the ‘study’ part is in the name. Thankfully IES does a pretty good job of balancing the work and learning with your free time. Most students do not have a Friday class (the only exception could be your university classes). The classes are also interesting, or at least I think so. The truth is, the classes are what you make them, the same as anywhere else. There are kids that don’t do the reading or the homework and complain the classes aren’t interesting… but I picked Granada because it also interested me academically. So here are some of my recommendations, and don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions about professors or classes. Art history is a must!! There a bunch of different sections because it is one of the most in demand classes. There is no better way to get to know the historical parts of the city than to take this class. The class takes you on fieldtrips and weekly walks. It is always nice to get out of the classroom and see the city. I also recommend taking a class with Javier, he is the director of the IES program. He is teaching a theater class this semester and it is one of my favorites. He is really interactive and the class includes a creative project at the end. It is a great way to try something different if you are interested. The other class I recommend is the Econ class on the European Union. Professor Cuenca is great, really easy to understand and you learn a lot of useful information about both the EU and Spain as well. I am actually taking this class at the University of Granada rather than at IES. Which brings me to the next section…
University of Granada (UGR):
Since most CMC students will take a UGR class I will just tell you what the orientation won’t tell you. It will be difficult to find a class. It is a fairly complicated system. For those planning on taking multiple classes at UGR be warned that you will have to take classes in the same facultad. Meaning you can’t take an art class and a religion class. You have to stay within the same faculty. Also the classes aren’t scheduled at a convenient time to go along with IES classes. You will most likely have to take a night class or skip lunch once or twice a week. I myself have to skip comida with my host mom on Monday and Tuesday to make my lecture. It is quite annoying. My only advice is to try and pick a class off the list that IES will post which has classes other IES students have recommended. The list is fairly limited, but you should find something and the list basically guarantees that the professor will understand that you are an international student.
I know everyone wants to get better at Spanish, and everyone will. But the truth is it is harder than you would imagine. I know I have gotten much better, but that is due to talking with my host family and speaking up in class. Most of your friends will be IES students and after a very long day (most days start around 9 and end around 6 or sometimes later) most students give up and end up speaking in English quite often. I myself find that even when I talk with my friends from IES in Spanish, it is never as educational as talking with a Spaniard. Therefore I recommend really getting to know whatever Spanish speakers you can. Everyone will be assigned an intercambio, which you should definitely talk to since they are people who want to practice their English and therefore both of you feel a little uncomfortable speaking. I also recommend getting to know your orientatador. This is someone who is a UGR student who IES hires to show you around your neighborhood and do fun activities throughout the semester. Marta is my orientadora and she is awesome, we have gone to concerts, yoga, salsa dancing, dinner and all kinds of random things.
I have been traveling a lot…Right now I am on a plane coming home from Germany and the Czech Republic. So if you have any specific questions or want recommendations then let me know. But as a general comment, I would say to figure out what you want from your experience. Do you want to travel all over Europe or do you want to focus mostly on Spain or Southern Spain or maybe you just want to stay in Granada and enjoy everything it has to offer. Regardless of what you decide you should try to plan ahead as much as you can. Look at your semester schedule when you finally get it. You should have some random holidays, which can turn a weekend into a four-day vacation. Here are some things to keep in mind: Traveling by plane is fastest since there are tons of cheap airlines. However, you will most likely not find the best prices going out of Granada since the airport is TINY, so you will need to take a two hour bus to Malaga (the trip is 10 euro each way) so budget that in. Also most cheap flights go in the morning so you may run into a problem getting there early.. some choose to sleep in the airport and some stay in a hostel in Malaga the night before. Both have been done and both are slightly inconvenient. Also be prepared to have only one carry-on bag. Look up the baggage rules for Ryan air and see how tiny the carry-on has to be. Either buy/bring a bag that fits the rules or be prepared to drop 15 euro on checking a bad (and do it before had, if not its double at the airport). If you want to avoid the hassle of a plane, trains and busses are easier, but not that much cheaper, they also tend to take triple the amount of time. So I would suggested the farthest you go by either would be Portugal and within Spain. There are tons of websites to help you. I use Skyscanner for flights. Ask Jeff at IES for a list that students recommend.
Okay so I think I have covered just about everything. I know I have rambled on a bit, sorry about that. Let me know if there is anything else I haven’t mentioned (though I doubt there is anything left haha). You are going to love being abroad, and Granada is a wonderful place to spend a semester.