Posted on September 23rd, 2010
After almost 3 weeks in Granada, this city is starting to feel like home (at least as “homey” as a foreign city can feel…). I’m not used to (though don’t necessarily always enjoy) being woken up at 8 a.m by children arriving at the school across the street, yelling things in Spanish that my brain cannot begin to comprehend at that early hour. I’m used to using serious caution to cross streets (or for that matter, just walking down sidewalks) as cars speed by and don’t seem to obey the law about stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. The other day Sara and I were out for a run and almost got run over by a guy on a moped that crossed the street right after we’d gotten out of the way and went up onto the sidewalk. Speaking of which, everyone and their mother rides mopeds here (and I mean that quite literally. I’ve seen countless overweight, old women sitting upright and proper on their mopeds. It’s pretty hilarious). Also, Spain is a very fashionable country. I feel so unstylish walking around in my cheap-o flip flops when everyone else, namely women, is in heels and short skirts. One thing that has been sad though is that among all the high-heeled, dressed up people, it is not uncommon to see homeless people haunting storefronts, asking passerby for money. Mostly they are ignored, and it’s difficult for me, someone who was taught compassion for the poor, to know how to appropriately respond. There is one woman who must have a mental disability that I seem to see everywhere. Every time I pass her I’m not sure if I should give her money, not knowing where the money is going, or if I should simply ignore her, as everyone else does.
This past weekend, we had a Spanish-Muslim man come and conduct a seminar on Islamophobia. It was very eye-opening to hear him compare current day prejudices against and persecutions of Muslims, to the anti-Semitism of the early 20th century. Europe has shamelessly instituted some very harsh laws against immigrants, many of them being Muslim and/or Arab. Since this is a very relevant issue in both the U.S and Spain, this seminar was a great reminder that this is an issue that needs to be confronted and dealt with in a peaceful way.
On a separate note, a bunch of us went to a town called Salobreña on the Mediterranean coast on Sunday. It was such a wonderful escape from the city; from the loud cars and constant streams of people. The water was freezing, but beautifully blue and clear. The picturesque town is up on a hill, so you can see the sparkling white houses and shops from miles away. All the towns on the Mediterranean coast are like this: polished and white with brightly-colored trim and palm trees everywhere. I must admit though that it was nice to return to Granada in the evening, with its elegant buildings and streets that have become too comfortable and familiar.
We have a great cross-cultural group! Meeting together is always a thought-provoking experience- and sometimes a delicious experience too, when we have dinner together. I also feel like the group members are really willing to spend time together even when we’re not required to. I personally have been a part of two day trips to the beach, multiple excursions in search of the best heladería in Granada (my own opinion: Los Italianos is still winning) and an afternoon at a local park where a bunch of us acted like little kids (you see, there was this amazing spinning seesaw…) In addition, I know that other people in the group have shopped and gone to restaurants together, and even to a concert.
Now anyone back home who’s read this far is possibly wondering ¨are you all just having fun, or are you actually learning something?¨ Well of course we’re learning lots of things! Like the nuances of how Spanish culture is different from American culture, despite many surface similarities. When and how much do people usually eat and sleep? When and where do you socialize with your friends? Do you thank waiters and store clerks? When do you speak diplomatically and when do you just ¨tell it like it is?¨ All these questions and more have different answers in Spain than in the US, and in our day-to-day school and home life we’ve explored them all.
It could get overwhelming, if it weren’t for the Spanish people’s laid-back attitude. “No pasa nada” is many a professor’s or host mom’s mantra for reassuring a well-intentioned American who over-apologizes for their small cultural missteps. The phrase literally translates along the lines of “nothing happens,” but its general spirit reminds me of the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” I think this is my favorite way that Spain is different from the US!
We’re also learning a great deal in the academic sense. Moira’s classes challenge us to examine past and present Muslim-Christian interactions, and to seek ways to be a blessing to our host culture and learn from them. Also, most are taking at least one class at Centro de Lenguas Modernas, which is part of the University of Granada. They have month-long intensive Spanish language classes for non-native speakers, all the way from the elementary level to beyond-advanced classes for functionally fluent students looking to fine-tune their language skills. Some of us are in various levels of that program, while others are taking courses in Spanish on history and culture.
Even though the entire CLM program is huge (Wikipedia says 10,000 international students per year) our CLM profs know our names and teach us in classes of one to two dozen students. The building where I have my intensive Spanish is maybe about the size of EMU’s Campus Center, with beautiful Spanish architecture, and an elegant center courtyard that invites after-class discussion between classmates. It’s a very relaxed, friendly setting.
And I’ll spend more time there than most of my EMU group mates. I’m one of only two students in our group who took the option (open only to Spanish majors) of staying in Granada in the CLM program for the whole semester. From October to December I’ll have a 5-class weekly schedule that resembles college in the US- but with the added bonus of no class on Fridays!
José and I (he’s the other student staying in Granada) will reunite with the group mere days before we return in December. It’s a trade-off: while my EMU group mates will have adventures