Category Archives: Spain/Morocco Fall 2010

Final reports from Spain

Spain/Morocco 2010-11For the past three days, our group has been on a trip to Toledo.  In Toledo, we were able to see remnants of its Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish past.  Toledo was a city of immense intellectual knowledge when it was a part of the Islamic empire and continued to be when the Christians reconquered the city.  In addition to this more positive look back into Spanish history, many of us discovered some of the more disturbing parts of Spain’s past when we visited a museum about the torture devices used during the Inquisition.  The items on display there made me wonder how someone could have used those horrifying instruments on another human being.  Luckily, Toledo’s winding cobblestone streets and Christmas lights helped comfort me as I tried to focus on happier things.

Now that we are back in Montoro to finish our last week in Spain, the realization of how little time we have left here is finally hitting us.  While the prospect of seeing our friends and family again is exciting, it’s going to be sad to leave here.

-Kate van der Zwaag

'Nagy' with his sword It’s amazing how when people say time goes so fast, I never believe it’s true.  And then I find myself in my last week of a 3½ month cross cultural, and have to face the reality that it’s over.

This past week, as with most of the weeks on this trip, has been interesting.  Group dynamics always prove to be a source of interest, and it’s through our challenges with others in the group that help our relationships to mature.  It’s scary thinking that soon I will be interacting with others outside this group— people who used to be similar will now feel foreign and different, but I’m hoping that feeling won’t last long.

Our past three days were spent in Toledo, which is an awesome town.  They are world renowned for their sword making, and the better parts of my days there were spent with ‘Nagy’ and Ben talking about how sweet the swords are.   We also got to visit the torture museum there, and while being disturbing, it was also fascinating in the fact that people could have actually used these devices on someone.  It’s sad and sickening to see, but it’s real and is still happening, even if it’s not in the public eye.

Coming back from Toledo, we got a shock when we heard there was a landslide in our town that caused a road to be out of use.  There had been lots of rain, and the river rose considerably (as I depicted), and has certainly done some damage.

All in all, an interesting week.  There is excitement in the house for going home, but wanting to enjoy our last days to the fullest. Six days and counting.

-Jesse Weaver

Reflections on life in Morocco

Spain/Morocco 2010-10I am thankful for opportunity—a nicer way of saying I am thankful for wealth. I guess it is not such a bad thing. Without it, this cross-cultural experience would not happen. Morocco is 126th out of 177 countries on the list of the Human Development Index which is based on life expectancy, literacy, and income. I wish I could say this low mark is not correlated with the level of happiness, but the number of homeless beggars and street fights I have seen would suggest otherwise. That being said, Morocco is richer in some aspects—such as hospitality and spirituality—than what I am used to. Money is a strange thing; we use it to go places to learn from people who don’t have much of it. In one of our classes on gender roles in Morocco our professor said to have a voice one needs education and money; it also helps if you are male.

I am thankful I am a man. I am aware of the disparities between men and women in western societies, but they really seem minute when compared to most of the Islamic world. Only within the last ten years have Moroccan women been given the right to divorce their husbands, have custody of their own children, and share ownership of property. I am glad I do not, like the girls in our group, have to wear long djellabas, long dresses, to try and disappear for fear of being harassed. I am able to walk by myself at night if I want to. Women in Morocco, according to our professor Fatima Sadiqi, have power but not authority. Authority is sanctioned power. Another professor of ours Dr. Fatima Amrani, made the case the Koran has been misinterpreted, or even fabricated, by male religious authority figures over the years to control and silence women. Many improvements have begun recently, for the rights of women in Morocco. No matter how many rights are gained, I’ve always thought myself lucky that I will never have to give birth.

I am thankful for a loving host family. My host mom laughs like my real mom. My thirteen year old brother Akram can be a handful (he is in our room now, playing with Jesse’s camera) but life would be dull without him. I am thankful for ignorance, probably in more ways than I want to know. The specific case that made me think of this was LAeed, a Muslim holiday when every family sacrifices a sheep. Our sheep went from breathing to on the dinner table in a matter of a few hours. If I had to watch the animals I eat die every time, I think I would eat fewer animals.

I am thankful Coca-Cola is sold worldwide.

-Jordan Shetler

So far I have had a great experience living in Fez. At first I felt a little uncomfortable and overwhelmed living with a Moroccan family. It took some time getting used to eating without utensils, community showers, and living with twelve people in a tiny apartment. Throughout our stay here I have learned about the generosity of Moroccan families. Our host family gave us the only bedroom in their house and have accommodated to our needs in many other ways. Over the past five weeks we have all grown closer and we feel like part of their family. Daily our mother reminds us that she no longer has four children but six. Also, they have included us in their family gatherings and we have met most of their family friends. We are even part of their family shopping trips in the Medina. With our limited Arabic vocabulary it is hard to communicate, and we often feel like helpless children. We have learned to communicate with our hand and have gotten good at playing charades.

Not only have we grown more comfortable with our host family, but we have adjusted to living in the Medina. No longer do we wake up to the 5am call to prayer and we are used to quickly getting out of the way when a horse comes up behind us in the narrow streets. Even though our stay in Fez is coming to an end, we are still keeping busy on the weekends. This past weekend we took a day trip to a lake and a forest outside the town of Ifrane. First, we enjoyed the beautiful fall scenery of Morocco while walking around a small lake. Then we went on a hike through a forest looking for wild monkeys. Near the end of our hike we saw the monkeys swinging from tree to tree and sitting on the branches.

After we saw the monkeys we had a picnic lunch in the cold and rain. Last we drove to a forest where many tourists go to see monkeys. At this forest we got to hand feed them bread and peanuts. They were not shy at all and one monkey even clung to my leg until I fed him. It was interesting to see some of the wildlife that exists in Morocco. Now we all look forward to our Moroccan style Thanksgiving meal and our trip back to Spain.

-Valerie Landis

Festival of Sheep

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 9Like every other weekend we went on a trip to somewhere in Morocco. On this trip we went to Meknes and Volubilis. We stopped first at Volubilis which is the site of the largest Roman ruins in Morocco. An earthquake destroyed many of the walls but the arches and floor mosaics still remain. The Romans chose the spot for a reason; it was beautiful. We spent the rest of the day in Meknes. We went to a mosque, one of the only that will allow non-Muslims to enter. The other main important place in Meknes is a massive granary monument. It was apparently used for the King’s army horses that saved Morocco from invaders.

While that trip was an interesting part of our week, the highlight was the Festival of Sheep. This festival is extremely important to Muslims. The point of the festival is to sacrifice a sheep for the family like Abraham did, instead of sacrificing Ishmael. In the Muslim version of the story, Abraham was about to sacrifice Ishmael and not Isaac. Each family buys at least one ram (with all of its teeth) and sometimes a cow or goat in addition. Our family bought four sheep for the day. We will spare all the gory details, but our family did kill each of the sheep on our roof while we watched. Throughout this week, everyone will be eating basically all parts of the sheep. For the first day, we ate the liver and the heart, wrapped in stomach lining and the encasing of all the organs. We were surprised at how good it was in a sandwich with homemade bread. It was really fun to spend time with our host family, and everyone was really excited for the day. It reminded us of our Thanksgiving celebration. In fact, it wasn’t all bad as we thought it might be.

During the day it is normal for people to go and visit friends and family in their homes. Because it’s a holiday, people dress up in traditional clothes, especially when going to the mosque. People came to our house and it was really neat to see how the community works together. At one point during the day the neighbors came over with a man who was crying. He couldn’t afford to buy a sheep for the day. Because this holiday is so important, it is a big deal not to have a sheep and he felt terrible about it. So our family gave the man the extra sheep that they had bought the day before. We were really touched by this. We thought it is an example of how generous our family and people here are.

-Malea Gascho and Rebecca Martin

Meeting the host families in Fez

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 8On Saturday we met out host families here in Fez. I didn’t realize how nervous I was until our names were being called and the group was dissipating quickly. Carrie Schlabach and I met our host brother, who miraculously spoke some English, and headed off to hail a taxi. Our bags were put on the roof of the taxi and we were off through windy streets to our new home for the next five weeks.

That night we had dinner with our host parents and our three host siblings; Yasser, Hanae, and Ayoub. Eating here is completely different than in the States. Nobody has their own plate or set of silverware, but instead there is a main dish with many small dishes surrounding it full of food that we grab with our fingers or with a small bite of bread. Another difference is that you do not use your left hand to eat, so tearing pieces of food can be somewhat challenging. Our family always makes sure that we get enough food and that we enjoy what we have been served.

Spending time with our family thus far has included watching American movies with Arabic subtitles and laughing together over our difficulties with communication. I have been told multiple times that I am one of the family. “I have five children,” my mother will say, “Yasser, Hanae, Ayoub, Carrie and Alyssa. You are all the same to me.” I feel completely comfortable with all of my family members after only this short period of time with them. Their hospitality is much to be thankful for.

Now on to our weekly schedule. On Tuesday we started Arabic class, which we will have four days a week for two hours every day. I can already tell that we are going to learn so many helpful words and phrases, and this makes me excited for future conversations with my family. Once a week we have an internship of sorts, some of the options being going to an orphanage, learning how to write Arabic calligraphy, and preparing and cooking a typical Moroccan meal. Each week we will sign up for one of the activities that we are interested in, knowing that in the weeks to come we will have the ability to experience each of the options if we so desire. This week I will be going to a nearby orphanage to play soccer with the children, and I couldn’t be more excited to bond with these people from a completely different culture and language than my own over a good game of soccer (despite the fact that I can’t wear my athletic shorts!).

Though there are many differences and possible struggles that I will face, I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to study abroad in Morocco. I have always been intrigued by the culture and the language, and now that I am here I’m trying my best to absorb everything that I can. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed in a house that I’ve only known for a few days. The sounds of the television and my Moroccan family speaking in Arabic are in the background, and all of this brings a huge grin to my face, I can only imagine what these next five weeks will bring.

-Alyssa Weaver

Reports from Fez, Morocco

Spain/Morocco 7Overwhelmed. If you asked me a few days ago when we first arrived in Fez how I was feeling, that would have been my answer. Morocco is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and Fez is a mass whirlpool of activity. In the stream of constant vendors and narrow streets, you can find anything from knock-off converse sneakers to camel heads. But that’s how the city is built-basically like a large market, or medina. This medina happens to be the largest one in the world of its kind. Basically, just imagine the set of Aladdin and multiply it by about a million, and there you go. Also, keep in mind that we live in this medina. Needless to say, Alyssa and I have gotten lost to and from our house on more than one occasion. Although, people here are more than willing to give you directions. Sometimes, they’ll even walk you there.  We’ve definitely been shown kindness from strangers a lot and for that I’ve been very thankful.

My host family is amazing; Alyssa and I are one of the lucky ones whose family speaks pretty good English, but unlucky in the fact that we have squat pot, instead of full functioning western toilets. It’s alright…we’re learning techniques and we’ll be pros by the end of this. Plus, it’s all part of the experience, or that’s what I keep telling myself.

Despite all the differences in culture, there have been places where I have been able to find some common ground and small comforts that I have realized I have missed since being here. For example, we went to McDonald’s today after class, and it was awesome! Normally, I don’t really eat at fast food places, but just the fact that they are selling Big Macs here in Morocco, like they do back home in the U.S. feels comfortable and familiar when most other things scarcely ever feel that way here. McDonald’s is the place to go to get taxis when we go home from school, and usually it takes forever to get one to stop. It’s been a bit frustrating but so far we haven’t had to wait for more than half an hour, though, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this “guestimation” increases in the next few weeks.

One of the highlights of my time on cross cultural is just the group bonding I feel we’ve all done. For the last two months, these fellow EMUers have become my family. They cry, I cry type of thing. It’s been great getting to know everyone better, and I can only look forward to how these relationships will be strengthened by the time we fly across the pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean) back to campus.

-Carrie Schlabach

Selah, Malea, and Alyssa This week in Morocco has been fun and interesting. My roommate Val Landis and I have been able to get more comfortable in our host house. The language barrier is still a huge damper on conversations but we manage. The younger girls help us with our homework and often try to quiz us on our vocabulary.

A huge learning experience is meal time. The most interesting meal of the week is on Friday. For lunch on Friday we have cous cous. Everyone gathers around the small table, all thirteen of us around a typical American coffee table sized table. The cous cous tagine in the middle, Val and I were given spoons, while most everyone else used their hands. They all reached over one another and packed cous cous together like one would a snowball. These cous cous balls were aimed toward their mouths but for the most part cous cous was being flung every different direction. To Val and I this seemed like total chaos and we were just sitting there almost laughing at the almost savage seeming meal. The meal was a ton of fun though with everyone talking and enjoying being together as a family.

I was startled by the different culture and their idea of manners. I had to take a step back and observe them from a different angle. After all who made the set idea of customs and whose customs are right and wrong? On this trip we have experienced two different cultures, both of them being very different, but neither of them wrong.

This past weekend we traveled to a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. Here we went hiking through a gorge and up a peak of the mountain range. The views were breath taking. The people from the place we were housed were sweet. They made us amazing food and helped us to feel comfortable. I learned about the old jobs that the women in the village did when there was no electricity. These consisted of making butter, grinding grain into powders, and weaving. The trip was an enjoyable experience even though most of us were sore from the hike and it was cold and very windy.

Classes at the center have been interesting. Arabic has been harder for me to catch on to but the teachers are great and very helpful. We have had several lectures, which were both interesting and informative. Learning about Islam and what it means to be a good Muslim has been insightful and helpful.

I feel that the most interesting experience for me in Fez, so far, has been the public baths. Our host family does not have a shower, so we go once a week, Sunday, to the baths. This experience was strange at first because all the women are in one room taking a bath out of buckets in a sauna like room all together. The elder women help the young girls with their hair and scrubbing their bodies. This is done as a sign of care, love and affection. The time at the baths is a time to meet with friends and chat about different things, even though I did not understand any of the chatting in Arabic. They all seem to really enjoy going to the baths and I came back feeling cleaner than I ever have in my entire life.

Life in Fez is new and I was culturally shocked at first. After the past week though I have felt a lot more safe and comfortable. I am enjoying being here with my huge Moroccan family. The food is amazing, even though it sometimes makes the tummy horribly upset. The people are nice and the shopping is fun and cheap. All in all I am having a great time in Fez and I think everyone else would agree on that too!

-Selah Shenk

Reports from Chefchaouen, Morocco

Spain/Morocco 6Our introduction to Morocco, while fascinating in itself, unfortunately felt very tailored to Western tastes. The ferry ride at sunset across the strait of Gibraltar was beautiful though–the shadow of Europe fading into an ever-darker distance, etc., but probably everyone in the group would agree it felt like we were only viewing a tourist-approved part of the country. However, since we arrived in Chefchaouen here in the mountains there has been a big change.

After a harrowing bus ride up and down and around the Rif mountains (During which we had to stop so the driver could descend into the depths of the bus and wrestle with some recurrently recalcitrant aspect of the drivetrain–we were told that some kids had stolen parts off the bus during the night…), we disembarked in the small city of Chefchaouen (“Look at the horns,” a Berber name referring to the surrounding mountains). Chefchaouen is blue. Predominantly, in color, I mean. Many of the buildings are painted blue for differing reasons depending on who you ask; the short answer is no one really knows why, and they continue to paint with this blue color because they always have. The city seems like it has physically grown out of the mountains–the buildings are odd, natural shapes, the streets are extremely narrow and have no pattern  or  logic other than to follow the shape of the mountain, there may be stairs at any point or a tunnel or a dead end… it’s not like any place I’ve ever been before. Added to the tranquil beauty of the surroundings, apart from a few disturbing exceptions, the people here are awesome. The prevailing attitude is refreshingly different; everyone is more relaxed, more friendly, more willing to talk about anything or nothing, than in many places I’ve been in the US. As I was leaving the shop of the Hat Man, promising to come back and buy a hat, the eponymous owner said in patient, sagacious tones, “You do, you don’t, it does not matter. This is your life–” (here he gestured at me) “–and this is mine (gesture at hats).”

Meeting the local students was a big surprise–in Spain we hardly met any Spaniards. It’s funny how impressed they are with us, just because we’re from the U.S., when in actuality we look like lazy slobs in comparison to these high school students who know three languages and study more in their spare time. It seems like their circumstances here impart a sense of urgency and drive to the youth towards education. Of course this may just be my skewed view based on the students who were selected for this exchange program, but still. I could write a lot more but it takes too long.

-Ben Nelson

Jon learning woodcarving This has been one of the craziest and most unusual weeks of cross cultural so far, our crossing into Morocco. We finished our week in Sevilla, which was a good time, and then it was off to Morocco! I was excited and nervous to go, but we had all been looking forward to this. The travel was fun, and the ferry across from Gibraltar was the best. We got to spend most of the time out on the deck, even though the signs said not to, and played in the heavy wind and watched Africa get closer and closer. We landed in Ceuta, Spain’s city in Africa, and then crossed over to Morocco, where a beret wearing police officer got on the bus and checked our passports.

The next two nights we stayed in hotels in Tetouen and Tangier, and took tours of an old Medina marketplace and the coastlines, and saw some Moroccan entertainment. The morning we were leaving for Chefchaouen, where we would stay the week, we got on the bus and it wouldn’t shift. Apparently some boys had stolen some transmission cable, which must have some value here when resold. After another breakdown, we made it to Chefchaouen, a beautiful town in the mountains known for its houses with blue paint. We were all glad to finally get to the awesome house we stayed at all week, Dar Mesiana. Everyone was surprised to find that the week was mostly full of activities and that night we were going to meet some Moroccan students. They turned out to be around 15 or 16 years old, and they had been counting down the days to our arrival. This was somewhat awkward, because they had only just told us that we were even meeting them at all. The next day we went to their houses for lunch, and the food was good. We had a lot of activities this week, the most crazy being a hike to another village with a crazy SUV ride back. We also visited many non profit organizations. Some of us went to play basketball with the students, which turned out to be a full on match with their girls team, complete with jerseys.

Just everyday life here is so different from what we are used to. The way people dress is of course different, as well as the way they act, speak, do business, interact, and many other things. If you go near a shop, you never know what you might end up buying or whether the shopkeeper is a drug dealer or a medicine man from a Berber tribe in the desert. It is nice that everything is a little cheaper, which is helped by the exchange rate.

Probably one of the stranger shopkeepers is the hat man, who almost all of us have bought hats from. I sat with him as he modified some hats for me, and I learned many unusual things from him.

It is interesting to see the pros and cons of this society that is based heavily on the traditions of ancient tribes as well as the teachings of a religion that is relatively new to the land. This causes the people to seem hypocritical at times, which can be very frustrating. Hopefully our next weeks in Fez will be exciting learning experiences, and hopefully no one else gets sick.

-Jon Nagy

European travel reports

Spain & Morocco 5This past week, we all had an incredible opportunity to travel wherever we wanted! I went with a group of three other people to Paris, Athens, and Rome. It was a crazy trip with a time limit of only nine days. We had one full day in Paris, so we hit all the major sights possible.  We saw the Arc de Triomph, the Eiffel Tour, Los Pyramids du Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Moulin Rouge. Jon, an engineering major in our group, was even able to go to the Paris car show, which had the newest designs and some of the most expensive cars in the world. Paris also felt really nice with its cooler temperatures and the leaves beginning to change. I was able to meet up with my good friend from Czech Republic and she spent the day with us enjoying the sights.

The very next day, we got on another plane headed to Athens, Greece. We found out right away that it would be a little harder to communicate in Greece, but luckily the second language there was English. After a little bit of difficulty finding our hostel, we were able to rest and meet different people in the building. We also had only one day in Athens, so we filled it up visiting the Acropolis, enjoying the many parks, and hiking a mountain which gave us a wonderful view of the Acropolis at night. While we were there, we were able to see some women in a café doing the traditional Greek circle dance.

The very next day, we were off for Rome. It was very strange having three full days there instead of just one like the other cities. While there, we visited La Fontana de Trevi, Piazza de Popolo, Vatican City, the colosseum, and many other touristy destinations. My favorite part of the trip to Rome was touring the colosseum and eating wonderful Italian food. We found out that the Italian food in the United States is pretty authentic, athough the pronunciations are very different. For example, bruchetta is actually pronounced brusketta.

After our trip we relaxed for a whole day in Sevilla before we met our host families. Although our trip was rater exhausting, we had an amazing time and got extremely lucky with hostel stays and conditions. If anyone wants to visit any of these places, I could recommend a few places to stay, just do yourself a favor and give yourself more than nine days!

-Jon Nagy, Alyssa Weaver, Becca Stoesz, and Ana Jimenez

The inside of the Colosseum After our time in Granada, we all went our separate ways for ten days of free travel. I went with Selah and Malea to visit Italy. We planned to visit the three main cities in Italy: Venice, Florence, and Rome. We began our free travel in Barcelona, Spain, where we stayed one night and a day. It was not nearly enough time needed to see all the beauty of Barcelona, but we enjoyed seeing what we could of the city. We even got a chance to see the beach and walk along the shore.

We then flew to Venice, Italy. We arrived in Venice pretty late at night and we ended up walking around for about another hour looking for our hostel due to the fact we did not have a map of the island when we arrived. However, after trying to find our way on our own, we eventually asked for help and managed to find our hostel. Despite the rough start to our time in Venice, we decided that it was our favorite city of the three we visited in Italy. Venice seems so quaint and picturesque with its narrow, winding streets, antique styled buildings with flowers hanging from the windows and balconies, and of course, with the many bridges crossing over the various water canals. I personally enjoyed the lack of motor traffic since there are no motorized vehicles on the island, save for boats, which are considerably more quiet than buses, cars, and motorcycles.

After spending two nights in Venice we took a train to Florence. Florence is also a very beautiful Italian city. We enjoyed walking along the canal and taking pictures of the Ponte Vecchio. Also, visiting the Duomo and going up to the top of the dome was an incredible experience. The journey up was along a narrow passage with pretty steep steps, but the view from the top was breathtaking. It was interesting to walk along the balcony along the interior of the dome and see the paintings so close up.

Our last stop was in Rome where we stayed the remainder of our free travel. Rome has many incredible sights and monuments to see, but it is also very crowded with tourists. The number of people and tourists became slightly overwhelming, especially when we visited the Spanish Steps and the Fontana di Trevi. However, we did really enjoy the opportunity to see all the famous sights in Rome, such as the Colosseum, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. I found it fascinating to see the monuments and paintings that have been around for centuries. If buildings could talk, think of all the stories they could tell of history. I enjoy visiting places that have such a rich and ancient history. It often humbles me to think of all that has happened before my time and all that will happen after my time as well. My life is merely a speck in history.

Our free travel ended well until we missed the bus that was to take us back with our group to Granada. Because our flight was delayed and we had trouble obtaining our checked baggage, we just missed our bus by fifteen minutes. We managed to contact Samuel and get a train straight to Sevilla where we met up with our group the next day. Needless to say, we were all rather exhausted when we finally arrived in Sevilla. However, we could not have been happier to be reunited with our group once again and we learned from the experience and are now stronger people for it.

-Leah Risser, Selah Shenk, Malea Gascho

Amsterdam First we traveled to Barcelona to the Yellow Nest Hostel. This was a fascinating place to stay in a very interesting city, but more on the hostel later. The highlight of our visit there was getting to see their La Liga team play against Mallorca F.C. Barça is arguably the best club soccer team in the world right now. We had to spend a pretty hefty sum of €´s to get to the game, but it was worth it. Lionel Messi, voted the #1 player in the world numerous times, was playing his first game after skipping a few due to injury, and when he scored a goal the stadium exploded. It was quite an experience, just being there at Camp Nou amongst all the rabid Catalan fans. In Barcelona we also met some very interesting people, one being a Dutch tango dancer whose first name we never learned (his last name was Van Dyk) who loved to wax eloquent on topics as wide ranging as European politics, the nature of consciousness, language, etc. He would get into long debates with an Italian named Rudy who worked at the hostel, and they conversed like fiends. It was hardly possible to get a word in edgewise.

The second part of our trip was to Amsterdam, a city which I have to say did not make a great impression on any of us. It’s a beautiful place but it did not seem very warm–in any sense of the word. If you’re looking for a truly cross-cultural experience, go there, though. Our hostel was across the street from two sex shops and a porn cinema, and faced on one side the red-light district. This painted a pretty hellish picture of the city for us. The culture seemed built solely on the permission of everything condemned by most societies–and not much else. It wasn’t all bad, of course–we went to a graffiti/street art exhibition at a DIY gallery which was fascinating.

It’s hard to put any sort of meaning or conclusion to the experience we had on free travel, but it was undoubtedly unforgettable. To see at least a few parts of Europe, away from organized activities and traveling with a group of 20 other Americans, was really important to me. At one point I thought that EMU over-emphasized “cross-cultural learning” but really, we should be learning all the time. Even if it makes us uncomfortable–it’s much more valuable to be uncomfortable than comfortable.

-Ben Nelson, Jesse Weaver, Jordan Shetler, and Pat Fox

Report from Sara Derstine

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 4Over the past four weeks I have been so blessed to be submerged once again in the Spanish language. Unlike many of my fellow travelers, I am quite fluent in Spanish, and have been looking forward to once again using my diminishing vocabulary on a daily basis. I have not been let down. It seems that every day I learn a new word that we did not use in Mexico-Spanish, and it never fails to amuse me when vendors are caught off guard by the American speaking fluently. Yet language is not the only thing that makes up a culture. My host mom makes us delicious meals night and day, and the Spaniards never fail to be dressed to a tee when they are out on the streets. The siesta is something that I have not been able to take advantage of due to my afternoon classes, but I have enjoyed some slow and lazy mornings, sipping Spanish coffee and reading up on the news.

Our group has also had many fun experiences, especially in this last week as we took a few tours. Saturday evening we all hiked up to the The Alhambra Alhambra, the castle/fort that was left by the moors when they were conquered by the Christian kings in 1492. It would be impossible to convey the beauty of this palace through words or pictures, as everything from the architecture to the perfectly manicured gardens are breathtaking. A few of us even had the privilege of taking a guided tour with a focus on the role of women from that time period living in the palace. It was fun to get to go into certain places of the palace reserved for these visits, and watching the guard fend off curious tourists who wanted to come with us. It was also a great insight to how they treated women in the time, and the roles and locations that were reserved for women and servants.

Sunday we ventured into the Sierra Nevada to visit the Alpujarras, a series of towns esconded in the ridges and valleys of the beautiful mountains. Fortunately we were equipped with Dramamine as the road consisted of back and forth turns, sometimes along the edge of a cliff, with little or no guardrail, and lasted at least two hours. As we rose, the air became cooler, and although our restaurant had a pool that we were free to use, it was way too cold to dip in. Well, that is for most of us, there were a few brave ones… It was nice to relax by the pool after our big lunch of ham, eggs, potatoes, and bread. It was also sort of the calm before the storm. This week we have all be studying hard for our finals that took place both yesterday and today. We are all in good spirits again though as we are about to head off to free travel. Monday we had a farewell dinner in a ‘Carmen’ overlooking the Alhambra. The view was breathtaking, the food was delicious, and the company was, of course, excellent. Tomorrow we will all part ways as we embark on free travel. We will be going as near as different cities in Spain, and as far as Portugal, France, Netherlands, and Italy. Please pray for our safety in travel until we are all reunited again in Sevilla next Saturday.

-Sara Derstine

Life in Granada

Spain/Morocco 2010 - 3After 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.

-Alli Eanes

Ana, Alli, Sara, and Becca at the Alhambra 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

-Nicole Ruser


Spain/Morocco 2010-2This past week in Granada has been helpful for me to kind of ease into a routine. Having to get up at 8 in the morning will never be easy though. That has been probably the hardest thing to get used to, which says a lot about how westernized this culture is. The walk to school is also a new experience; having to walk thirty to forty minutes every morning  to get to school instead of being able to get up 10 minutes before class like at EMU. The trip this far has not been extraordinarily challenging in a “cross-cultural” sense, but more as a “cross-communication” experience.

We have however gone on a few tours with an amazing tour guide named Maria Carmen, I think. She has taken us to a monastery that overlooks the whole city of Granada and the famous mosque/cathedral in Cordoba. Both places have some real significantPat with the tour guide Maria Carmen historical value in convivencia here in southern Spain. The place of worship in New York City that is causing this huge argument is actually going to be named the Cordoba House. This is a pretty cool fact because we literally just visited the mosque/cathedral which shows the harmonious existence between Muslims and Christians during the Moorish empire. This mosque/cathedral is the most elegant place I have ever seen, saying elegant does not even come close to justifying its synergy. No words can.

My host family has adequately taken care of me so far. The food is absolutely amazing. If I take a second to let the food go down throat my mom immediately asks if I don’t like it, which has led me to finishing everything on my plate before chilling out and watching TV.

This brings me to my next point of the Spaniards living a more relaxed life than Americans. People here in Spain work, usually, from 8 or 9 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon, then take one of the most ingenious cultural stress relievers-SIESTA. Yes all caps are necessary because if there is one thing that needs to be brought back to America it is nap time. The Spaniards definitely are living my dream. They get to go home for lunch and a nap until fiveish then go back to work for another 3 or 4 hours. This does make people stay up later and make more energy to go out at night, but is that a bad thing?

Adios Amigos!

-Patrick Fox