Pick a Favorite?

Every Monday, the classroom is filled with chatter about what everyone did the previous weekend.

“How did you like [insert city name here]?” “What did you do there?” “Oh, I loved/didn’t like that city” “What’s your favorite place you’ve been so far?”

Of course I participate in these pre-class discussions. How could I not? The problem, my answers tend to all be the same: I honestly loved all the places I traveled to. And pick my favorite city? How could I possibly do that? Every city was beautiful to me, each in their own ways.

Berlin, Germany

The first trip I went on. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to go when I was abroad, but I’m so glad we went. There’s so much history in Berlin, and it was cool being able to learn about a lot of it. For example, there’s a square in Berlin where there are two identical churches that face each other. The story behind it was that the two church communities (French and German) didn’t want to worship together, so they built two of the exact same churches in the same square.

The food in Germany was absolutely to die for. The pretzels, apple strudel, schnitzel, and currywurst…oh my goodness, we ate so much on that trip. We all tried new foods in Berlin. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but now I want to go back and eat more!

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was on the top of my to-travel-to list. I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Spain since forever, and it was the first plane ticket that I bought.

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to Barcelona was that I was able to see two of my friends from Hope who were also studying abroad in Europe. We planned to meet up there, and it was such a wonderful weekend.

We woke up early and went for a little run on the beach, followed by a delicious brunch (where my sandwich had a guacamole syringe in it)! Then we wandered around the city for hours, admiring the Gaudi architecture. La Sagrada Familia was even bigger and more impressive in person. After snapping many pictures, we found a small shop where we spent some time eating gelato and churros and enjoying the warm air.

The best part was by far getting to see Grant and Anna. It was wonderful getting to see familiar faces, and spend time with each other exploring a beautiful city.

Florence and Rome, Italy

Spring break in Italy? Yes, please! Oh, Italy was so sunny and warm–a nice contrast from the chilly February air in London.

In every city we traveled to (in and out of Italy) we always found something to climb that offered a view of the city. After filling ourselves up with pizza, we hiked up to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

463 steps to the top…so totally worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking. You could see the entirety of Florence. With the combination of the view and the warm afternoon sunshine, my friends and I spent close to an hour at the top of the Duomo.

Rome was also wonderful. It had history that I’d loved learning about since middle school, and sights that never seemed to end. But the best part of Rome was the pasta dish Gircia. A.k.a my new favorite pasta. It was pasta, pancetta, and percorino cheese. If only I’d taken a picture. Oh I could have eaten that pasta forever.











Belfast, Northern Ireland

We had a very specific reason for traveling to Belfast: Game of Thrones tour. When we found out that many of the filming locations were in Northern Ireland, how could we pass up the chance to see them?

We went to the place where they filmed Winterfell, got to meet the dogs that played direwolf pups, and ate lunch at the hotel where the cast stayed while they were filming. It was a day filled with fangirling, costumes worn by extras, archery, and lots and lots of smiling.












Malaga, Spain

Not going to lie, although I said I couldn’t pick a favorite, I loved Spain enough that I went back. This time to the south coast: Costa del Sol. Boy, did that name deliver. It was 70 degrees the entire weekend; warm enough to wear shorts (much to the locals dismay). We hiked up to the top of the fortress, went and experienced a flamenco show, and even took a day trip to Seville.

The Alcazar in Seville was stunning. The vibrant colors and smells that perfumed the air made the experience even better. I wanted to turn that scent into a candle so I could have it with me always.

On our last day, we spent the afternoon on the beach. I hadn’t been to the beach in so, so long. One of my favorite parts of going to the beach when I was younger was looking for shells. That’s exactly what I did.

So yeah, I can’t pick a favorite place. Each of these cities were beautiful in their own way. Honestly, they couldn’t compare to each other. It would be a shame to choose any of these over another.  I wish I could’ve spent weeks and months in these places, exploring every little nook and cranny and experiencing everything they have to offer. Maybe one day I’ll return…or I may be adventuring in a new city. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Take Some Time and Forget the Map

On day one of orientation here in London, our program put on the screen a list of several apps to help make sure we knew where we were going the next few days. There was a frantic rush as everyone grabbed their pen or pencil to scribble down the names, myself included. I was nervous and overwhelmed, terrified of showing up late to any of the meetings or required events. Honestly, I needed all the help I could get.

Going to and from school and our residences, we were constantly clutching on to our phones, double checking that we were entering the right tube station, turning the right direction, or getting on the correct bus. By about day three, we were slowly starting to get the hang of where we needed to go—that is if we were going to school or back.

The Saturday after we arrived, my roommate and I decided to get some lunch before heading out to get our groceries. We mapped our way back to what we thought was our street, only to discover that there’s a difference between Angel and Angel street. Angel street just happened to be near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is about twenty minutes away from our home station. St. Paul’s was beautiful and ginormous, and it was a nice surprise to stumble on. After snapping a few pictures, we headed back to the bus using our trusted map app.

Bumping along the jammed London streets on the double decker bus, we got to see a lot more of London than we were expecting. Before we knew it, we were driving along Oxford street with all of its beautiful Christmas lights still up, and traveling through the West End, the bright marquees blinking furiously. We were so entranced by it all, we weren’t paying attention that our bus had crossed a bridge over the river Thames and onto the South Bank—definitely the opposite direction of where we needed to be. And there our bus stopped.

We ended up finding our way back to our residence, slowly but surely, and stopping to take pictures of the sun setting on the London skyline and the London eye in the process. It was quite an adventure. Almost two and a half hours in an attempt to get some measly groceries!


Since then, I’ve wandered into neighborhoods that are nowhere near where I live, found some great cafes and bakeries, turned the wrong way out of tube stations and discovered bookshops and theatres for shows I want to go see. Though I always have my map ready in case I need it, I’m starting to put it away and just explore, letting the city take me where it wants to.


Packing for a Semester Abroad

Here are a few items that I have found to be very important (but often overlooked) when traveling abroad.

  • Plug adapters for every country you plan to visit

Small power adapters allow United States-style plugs to fit into different outlets. You can invest in fancy adapters or find them on Amazon. This is something you’ll use every day so I would suggest not buying adapters under 3 dollars… I bought an extra adapter at what I can only describe as the French version of Dollar General and it broke after two days. Also don’t wait until the last minute to double-check which adapters you need for any extra trips. For example, continental Europe uses a different adapter than the U.K. or Australia.

  • An umbrella

Unless you are blessed with a sunny destination (and even so) you should bring an umbrella. Sitting on the Metro for forty minutes after being caught in the rain is not an experience I wish on anyone.

  • Comfortable shoes

Especially in Paris, people tend to dress less casually than at home. You might be tempted to bring every shoe in your closet to impress the Europeans, but in this case your comfort is more important. Bring shoes you know are sturdy, good for walking, and won’t make your feet ache after a day of sightseeing. If you are still worried about “blending in”, sneakers are actually pretty common among students in Europe – a plain pair of Keds or Vans will do just fine. Or you can put comfortable insoles in those fancy leather boots.

  • Layers

Bring clothes that will layer well together. This will save space in your suitcase but also keep you prepared for crazy weather changes. Scarves and sweaters can also serve as makeshift blankets or pillows if you’re stuck in a cold bus, plane, etc.

  • Stain remover pen

This is one of those items I never think to bring but always end up needing. I dropped Korean food on a favorite dress and had to soak it for ages to get the stain out, wondering why I had left my Tide To-Go at home. They’re not expensive and will not take up any room in your bag. Please bring a stain remover pen.



Classes in Coming to Life

One of my courses here at IES is Historia y Memoria de los Judíos Sefardíes or History and Memory of the Sephardic Jews. Through this course I have been learning not just about the Jews of Spain but naturally the historical context as well, therefore giving me a broad understanding of Spanish history. Semana Santa taught me about Spanish Catholicism, Morocco and my Islamic Art and Architecture course is teaching me about Islam, and this course is covering Judaism. I am of the strong opinion that learning about other religions is extremely valuable as a Christian to better understand my own faith in relation to others as well as gain the ability to converse with people from other faiths in meaningful dialogues.

I will spare you most of the details and dates by saying the Jewish culture is vibrant and persistent despite constant expulsion, segregation, prejudice, and even forced conversion. In 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus landed in America, the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela la Católica signed the Edict of Expulsion stating that the Jews of Spain could either covert or leave Spain. Though many left, some did stay and “converted.” However, the term criptojudío came into being as many Jews outwardly converted but inwardly maintained their faith. Granada is home to the location at which the King and Queen signed the edict. Ironically it is situated in the old neighborhood of the Jewish Judería.

Edict of Expulsion Church

In addition to learning through my course, one of my good friends in the program is a well-versed and practicing Jew. Ari Levine has taught me about his cultCementarioure and religion throughout this semester and I am so grateful! For example, we happened to walk through a small cemetery and as we were walking, Ari stopped to place small stones on any headstone we paused to observe. I asked him why he was doing this to which he replied that it is a Jewish custom and sign of respect for the dead. Through his faith Ari shows respect to heavily Catholic Spaniards who have passed on even though the Catholics are responsible for a fair amount of hardship for the Sephardic Jews of Spain.

Another means by which I have learned much about Judaism attending IES Granada’s very own, student-initiated Seder meal! Even though I am a Christian, I have celebrated the Seder meal for Passover before. In my personal opinion, Christianity follows the Bible, a book about the Jews, so I do not know why the Jewish Seder meal honoring the memory of their salvation from Egypt by God should be excluded from Christian traditions. But I digress, the Seder at IES was filled with laughter, contemplation, learning, and good food! We had the traditional elements such as the salt water symbolizing the tears of the slaves and the unleavened matzah bread to serve as a reminder that the Jews fled Egypt without enough time to let their bread rise. We also had to get a little creative. For example, finding a shank bone was all but impossible, so one of the main organizers went to a Kebab shop and asked for a chicken bone! We all could not help but laugh as the tiny chicken was raised in the air during its moment of the Seder meal. In addition to the elements of the Seder meal, we had a delicious meal complete with rice, chicken, eggs, and ice-cream for dessert.

Seder Meal1

Those who were Jewish (though all were welcome, such as myself) sang traditional songs, too! Take a listen.

Seder Meal2

The entire experience was very eye-opening about Jewish culture. I feel so fortunate to have witnessed an integral part of many of my classmates’ lives, as well as learn about a faith and culture different, but not so different, from my own.

Micro-bio: Elana! Elana is a charismatic, poetic Jewish classmate from Kenyon College in Ohio. Her personality is as vivacious as her hair. She wants to be a writer and I admire her for her vigorous note-taking and journaling throughout our semester. She is easy-going, spontaneous, and averse to strict planning, making us rather opposite in many ways; however, we have great conversations. One of my favorite quotes of her is: “When someone is talking about something he or she is passionate about, that’s really attractive.” I think she is 100% right. I think encouraging passion and drive is invaluable and I wish there were a greater emphasis on cultivating itElana than memorization and so forth. Recently we discussed the complex topic of women’s rights and feminism. We both agree that too often society has established when a woman can complain and when she is “overacting” or “misreading a situation.” Instead, if a woman feels uncomfortable in a situation, it doesn’t matter whether or not the situation is in fact dangerous, misunderstood, or questionable; what matters is that she feels uncomfortable and has every right to leave or make requests to amend the situation. End feminist rant. Elana has been a fun, kindred spirit to get to know this year. Please enjoy this dramatic photo of her.

Choir and El Clásico

Clasico1Most of Spain follows two religions: Catholicism and Fútbol! Recently held was El Clásico, the ultimate soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. This match is the equivalent of the United States Superbowl, complete with intensely loyal fans, advertisements galore, and houses and bars full of people glued to the screen. In fact, nightlife throughout the streets of Spain is active, loud, and constant except for this sacred night. The streets were barren as everyone was inside watching the game.

(Please excuse to poor quality photos, I felt it would be strange and awkward to spend lots of time taking photos of people!)

Though I confess to knowing little to nothing about most sports in general, I must say that I find soccer more engaging than football or baseball etc. The game did not disappoint. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the entire night was that instead of watching the game in a bar with my fellow American students, I had the very good fortune of being invited to a house party of my choir director here in Granada! A quick aside:

Though study abroad is all about trying new things and experiencing that which you have not and perhaps will not ever have the chance to experience again, I also think that studying abroad is an important time to discover aspects of one’s life that, regardless of the situation, do and ought to persist. Such an aspect for me is music. Even before finalizing my study abroad plans to Granada, I made an unofficial vow that I would find a choir in which I could participate. Though finding one and working through scheduling conflicts was certainly not easy, success! I am part of the Coro de la Facultad de Ciencias, or the University of Sciences Choir. I am delighted to be a part of this group, about which I will tell you more in the micro-bio below.

Back to soccer. My choir director invited the entire choir and other friends to his house to socialize, eat, and watch the game. What fun it was! I spent the evening in a cool basement decked out with pool and foosball tables, ping pong, funky seating, and tons of food. This event confirmed several Spanish cultural norms: I arrived just under an hour late and was still the fourth person there; everyone else trickled in after an hour and a half to two hours! When anyone entered the space, he or she said hello to everyone with an hola and two kissGoles on the cheeks or a handshake and hug. My favorite aspect of the night was getting to converse with a variety of people. I had a long and lovely conversation with an older woman and member of the choir who very flatteringly told me that I speak well! (This is the ultimate compliment for a study abroad student.) I also made friends with Alicia, a 20-year-old student at the Universidad de Granada who is studying to be a dentist. She was very engaging and fun; we spent the majority of the time vacillating between being heavily involved in the game and snickering at those far more involved than we were. I swear the very life of Joaquin (a fellow choir member) depended upon this game! Thankfully he survived as Real Madrid, the favored team by most Granadinos, won! The game was exciting; Barcelona scored first after an intense first 80 minutes. In the second half Real Madrid scored and the whole basement shook with applause! Later Real Madrid scored again but the referees did not count the goal for some particular reason. Filled with renewed vigor and some frustration, Real Madrid scored (again) within two minutes. ¡¡¡¡GOOOOLLLL!!!!

(I managed to capture the moment of triumph on audio when Madrid scored!) After the match, the rest of the night was filled with food, friends, games, and singing. I think it is impossible to have a group of musicians (especially choristers) gather and not sing at some point! So, shortly after the Real Madrid victory, we sang a fun French number, Tourdion.

The night was exhilarating and exhausting. I can say with pride that I carried on lengthy conversations in Spanish for the entire evening with one exception. I met Lino, a friend of a choir member. Lino is a University of Granada computer engineering student who spent some time in the US and who speaks pretty decent English! He was very excited to practice his English and I happily obliged. At one point we were playing darts; I am abysmal. “You have to forget everything and be the dart.  I laughed and continued to fail to “be the dart.”

All in all I felt included and engaged in an authentic Spanish experience if ever there were such a thing.

Micro-Bio: My choir 🙂 El Coro de la Facultad de las Ciencias is a group of roughly 50 students, faculty, and staff of the Granada Sciences department. I love that despite a diversity of backgrounds, interests, personalities, and ages, they as a group are united in a mutual love of creating beautiful music. What they may lack in perfect blend they make up for in passion. For example, the Chapel Choir sang Amor de mi Alma by Randall Stroope (and a poem originally by Luis de Gongora, a very famous Spanish poet). While the Chapel Choir sang it with such extraordinary beauty and blend, there is something extra added when the song is sung by native Spanish speakers. The director, Paco, did not need to teach musical emphasis for various20160318_205639 words because the choir felt the words already. It was beautiful. A few members I know particularly well are Cristina, Immaculada, Clara, Albert, Angel, and Salva. They are some of the students of the university with whom I go out for tapas after choir on Thursdays. Though they are the most difficult to understand (slang and heavy accents!) they are so much fun! I have also become good friends with Jane, a woman originally from London who moved to Spain. We enjoy the mental break of getting to speak in English or Spanglish with each other.

Like most musical groups, this choir has become like family. I have learned so much, sung some of my favorite choir pieces, and met wonderful humans. We are touring to Valencia soon, so more to come!

Semana Santa Part 2

As aforementioned, Semana Santa, or Holy Week is a very important religious holiday for Spain. Therefore, most everyone is given the week off from work, include us students! During this week, many of us take advantage of being in Europe and travel. First stop: Dublin, Ireland. I had to pleasure of visiting a good friend who is studying abroad there! Natalie Reid has been a friend since middle school. Growing up in the tiny corn fields of Cedarville, Ohio, neither of us would have predicted that we would get to hang out across the globe in Ireland. In fact, few people even leave the town, much less the country! We can say with pride that we are exceptions.


Though I arrived two days after Saint Patrick’s Day, the city was still decorated with flags, green lights, and posters on every corner. Dublin is a really beautiful city. The roads are winding, the buildings aren’t too tall and imposing, and each building face has a unique character. Natalie gave me a tour of the city, taking me to popular sights like Grafton Street and Trinity College. What a change to speak in English! When I accidentally used a Spanish word, I suddenly found that the rest of my sentence would follow Spanish. It was a serious effort to speak solely in English. I have so much respect for multi-linguists, especially those who move from a country with one language to another with a different language. After wandering the city, we took the double-decker bus (Ireland’s principle form of transportation) back to her homestay in a quaint Irish town. The walls were white with flowers and hedges. Spain is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but oh how I missed natural greenery!

CastleThe next day we visited a beautiful little fishing village named Howth. Normally the village is calm and relatively void of crowds, however, surprise! Howth was hosting its Prawn Festival! There were huge crowds, music, fair rides, and of course, lots of prawns. We went to a typical Irish pub where I sampled said prawns; they were great. I found myself missing the taste of Spain though, so I had them with chorizo and penne pasta. It was delicious. We took a stroll by the water’s edge and lo and behold there were sea lions! They were the cutest ugliest things. Just beyond the ocean path there is an old Irish castle. I got the full Irish experience seeing this lovely stone time capsule. The whole day trip felt like a dream, with castles, rivers of daffodils, cascading sunlight from a fresh blue sky, and an old friend. Ireland was a much-needed escape.

I spent my last full day in Ireland visiting Natalie’s school, shopping around, meandering through a park with elegant swans, and attending an Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral! The music sent shivers down my spine. The men’s voices floated through the gorgeous space and their notes hung like clouds many seconds after they had been sung. I walked away inspired and, frankly, with a renewed love for God.

St. Patricks Cathedral

For the rest of my Semana Santa vacation I visited a good friend and former co-worker of my father, Dr. Andrew Wiseman in Valencia. Dr. Wiseman is the director of Cedarville University’s Spanish study abroad program. He is truly one of the most amicable human beings one may ever meet. He set me up with a Spanish host mother and welcomed me like one of his own students.

Valencia was hot! So naturally I loved it. It averaged 80 degrees each day, with a sunny and blue Simpsons sky (you know, perfect shade of blue with puffy white clouds). I mainly wandered the city, visiting popular attractions such as the City of Arts and Sciences─a futuristic collection of buildings with amazing architecture─as well as El Río, a miles-long riverbed now full of parks, flowers, fountains, and bike trails. Though I did not do much in Valencia, it was the perfect opportunity to rest. Not to mention I am returning with my choir in a few weeks so I do not feel as though the time was ill spent.

Ciudad de Arte y Ciencias

Micro-Bio: While in Valencia I met one of Dr. Wiseman’s students, Jackie. (Here she is with Luna, her host mom’s granddaughter.) Jackie graciously showed me around the city and helped me with any questions (particularly about navigation) that I had. Jackie is studying Spanish and hopes to be a teacher in Jackieanother country, yet to be determined. Though she is originally from the states, her heart belongs to Honduras where she has lived for the past few years with her family. She shared some interesting differences between Spain Spanish and Honduran Spanish with me. For example, in Spain vale is a common expression to say “okay” or “valid”; in Honduras, vale is extremely formal and therefore not common. Instead, she says cheque. Not only has language influenced Jackie, but also the Honduran lifestyle has made its way into her attitude. She is a very relaxed individual, taking life as it comes. I would say that Jackie embodies the no pasa nada (no worries, or hakuna matata) phrase perfectly.

Visiting the Capital

On occasion we have a long weekend in which we don’t have classes on Monday. Naturally this means we have time to travel around Spain. For our first long weekend I wCaixcaForument to Madrid, capital of Spain. Madrid is like the New York City of Spain, but prettier and less structured. With the largest city population in Spain of over 3 million it is definitely a monstrosity, but the beauty of winding streets and big plazas make it feel less oppressive and daunting.  While there I got to indulge my artsy, high society side. My friend, Ari, and I went to a total of three art museums and my were they magnificent. The first museum is called the CaixaForum which hosts a small but interesting array of contemporary art. The building itself is unconventional. Switzerland’s Herzog and De Meuron are the architects of the unique space. Here is a picture of the stairwell inside.

Just outside the building is a wall named the vertical garden. French botanist Patrick Blanc20160226_164746 constructed the garden with 15,000 plants of 250 different species! It was really gorgeous, even in the rain.

Another museum we went to was the Reina Sofia. The building itself was also very impressive! It is a multi-level museum with a central garden courtyard; at its face there are
two large glass elevators. The view is dauntingly beautiful. The Reina Sofia has several temporary exhibitions as well as some famous Vanguard art. We saw Dali’s handiwork as well as many Picassos, including the incredibly famous Guernica. It was truly a site to behold.


The third museum we visited was, of course, El Prado. Paintings from masters like Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco decorate this enormous museum. Ari and I spent 7 hours admiring all that we could; we are pretty confident that we did indeed go in every room and see (although sometimes only at a glance) every painting in the museum! The temporary exhibit at the time was by Ingres, a famous FrencEl Pradoh neoclassical painter. I enjoyed how much he played with light in his paintings. Candles were a common theme, casting distinct and unique shadows on his subjects. El Prado was a breathtaking experience that I might have to have again before I leave Spain.

In addition to museum perusing, Ari and I explored the city. The plazas are huge and beautiful. We found the Palace of the Spanish royal family, saw Churrosnumerous interesting stores─such as a used bookstore where we bought Spanish poetry─and discovered the best Churros place ever. San Gines is a 24/7 Chocolatería celebrating its 100th year. The chocolate is indeed to die for and their churros are gigantic. We have no shame in saying that we went every day for the three days we stayed in Madrid. I was very excited, as this picture makes obvious. Just look at it!

We also spent several hours wandering the streets during El Rastro, the largest outdoor flea market in Spain. Here you can buy anything from scarves to knives, shoes to doorknobs, and everything else in between. Afterwards we went to the food market where I had some delicious paella. Ari got gulas on toast, a food we have come to love. Gulas is the name for a special way of preparing a fish. The fish is sliced very thinly so that it looks like thick, short pasta. This with garlic and olive oil is delectable. We had another great food moment when we found a bar called Las Cuevas, or The Caves. The name is accurate. To enter the bar we went down very steep and narrow stairs. The ceilings were curved and low, there was a live pianist playing to his heart’s content, and posters of famous paintings decorated the walls and curved arches that connected the ceilings and floors. It was “guay” as the Spaniards say (“cool”). Here’s a sound byte of what a Spanish bar typically sounds like, with the addition of a pianist!

To top off our highly cultured and artsy weekend we saw a ballet! As the sister of a dancer, I had heard about Swan Lake, and now I can say that I have seen it performed in Madrid. The costumes were gorgeous, the dancers were lovely, and the whole evening was unforgettable. While I would not want to live in Madrid, visiting for a weekend kept me busy and overwhelmed with awe and joy. For any lovers of the arts, I recommend Madrid for a day or two.

Swan Lake

For this week’s microbio, meet my intercambio, Ana! (An intercambio is a Spanish student who gets paired with an American student to practice their respective second languages and make new connections.) Ana is from Cadiz, the beach city that hosts Carnival. She is a freshman at the University of Granada studying English and Spanish literature. She enjoys reading and painting in her spare time, but don’t mistake her for shy; she frequently dresses in costume with her friends at fun parties and clubs in the local area. She speaks English quite well and is sweet bIntecambio Anaut strong. We have had some great conversations about music, the importance of travel, leaving your home bubble, and family. “Leaving your town is so important because you get to grow. I feel like all my friends who haven’t gone anywhere are the same. I don’t want to be the same as I was in high school!” There is a lot of value in staying near home, especially for family, but I think we can all agree that at least visiting other places leads to so much growth. (And yes, she said that in English!) For our most recent get together we went to this really cool cafe/bar called Bohemia Jazz Cafe. The walls inside are coated with funky paintings, pictures, obscure items, books and whatever else; there is also live jazz piano music on certain days. The cafe is known for their drinks, desserts, and combinations of the two. I had a scrumptious ice-cream sundae. We had a great time and will continue to meet up throughout the semester.

Semana Santa Part 1


Happy Easter! He is risen! I just returned from a week of vacationing aka traveling during Spain’s Semana Santa or Holy Week leading up to Easter. (More to share about my vacationing in Blog post Part 2)
Being that Spain is a very Catholic country, this week is extremely significant and full of events. Beginning on Palm Sunday Spaniards young and old process through the streets at nearly every hour of the day. These processions are absolutely gorgeous; a true spectacle. Each day has a different theme accompanied by specific music and colors. The processions consist of vibrant brass bands (with occasional reed instruments), men and women called narzarenos wearing capirotes and holding candles, young children also carrying candles, women dressed in mantillas, and enormous floats called pasos.

The music. The pounding drums can be heard throughout Trumpetsall of the neighborhood. They also set the pace for everyone in the procession, swaying left right left right in a slow and deliberate march. The bands consist of mainly brass instruments and produce absolutely powerful walls of sound, some ominous songs and others cheerful fanfares. The trumpet section is perhaps most impressive as it consists of a mix of standard valve trumpets and old traditional horns without valves. My goodness do they hit the high notes though! The pattern of the songs typically begins with a loud statement followed by the final big chord that decrescendos into a soft drone as a solo trumpet dances along this line. When the solo ends the band swells again and the drummers beat fiercely in a final declaration of either pride or sorrow depending upon which float the band is following. Band members wear gorgeous, ornate outfits as seen here.

Here is a much needed sound byte of the impressive sounds of Semana Santa!

The narzarenos are individuals considered to be showing penitence; they are Semana Santadressed in very distinct robes with capirotes, or large pointed caps. I want to be very clear: this is an ancient tradition dating back to Medieval times, so these outfits definitely look like KKK garb, but are definitely not. Every American student was uncomfortable viewing the outfits as they look so much like the horrible racist group, but it is a distinct element of the Catholic tradition. So please, do not be alarmed. The narzarenos carry large candles or banners. Interestingly, each time a procession would stop to wait for the floats to turn a corner etc. kids from the sides of the streets would flock to the candle bearers. The kids had balls of wax and would collect the wax drippings as the procession members waited to continue walking. By the end of the week many kids had rather impressive collections of wax.


Kids were all throughout the processions as well! As seen above, a young girl is Semana Santa2sharing her candle wax with another. Other kids carried incense, small banners, and were even official candle lighters.
If anyone’s candle went out, he or she was in charge of relighting it. It was absolutely precious watching one particular girl try and try to relight a very stubborn canSemana Santa3dle. She did succeed. Young girls and women also dressed in traditional mantillas: an all-black dress with a black suit jacket, and a gorgeous headpiece that held a large lace veil.

The highlight of each procession is the paso or grandiose float. There are usually two, one depicting the Virgin Mary and the other of Christ. The Virgin Mary is usually white and silver followed by women dressed in mantillas with white veils. Christ’s paso is red and gold and followed by the black mantilla veils. Some of the pasos have been around since the 1600s and still look magnificent. The floats are carried from underneath, meaning that rows of little white shoes can be seen carrying them along.

Paso1      Paso2

Paso3All in all it was a marvelous sight to behold. I must confess though that for me it was an amazing cultural experience; however, I was painfully aware that for the Spaniards, this was a deeply religious, sacred event. I wished I knew more of the significance of what I was witnessing and could have taken part not just in the viewing but in the spirituality of the processions. I am glad I had the experience and I am glad to have had the chance to recognize more cultural barriers so that I may continue to grow and become more respectful and aware.

(Semana Santa Part 2 will come next since this week was so full that I could not contain it all to one blog. Micro bio to come then!)

Moorish Spain: The History and Religion of Andalusia


Getting to know a foreign place involves taking winding side streets and in the process discovering the most amazing coffee shop imaginable. It means getting absolutely lost, asking someone for directions, and wind up becoming rather good friends. Tasting every food in front of you, making a fool of yourself trying to explain that sometimes you think naps are the best idea a human had, and being awestruck by an old building you overlooked on your daily walk until now. These are all very present-based means of becoming acquainted with a foreign place, all of which I have enjoyed at some point in time. However, I have been fortunate to get to know Spain from another perspective in several of my courses: its rich past. So, let me tell you a little bit about Andalusia’s history, namely in times before Catholic churches were on every corner, and Arabic was more commonly spoken than Spanish.
In the 700s, the Moors invaded and took over the Iberian Peninsula, giving it the Arabic version, Al-Andalus, of what we now call Andalusia. The Moors since left a substantial mark on Spain, most notably through their architecture that still stands today. In fact, the great muralla (wall) constructed to protect the city of Granada is still visible, tucked within various neighborhoods. Key ports that allowed access and communication between the protected city and the farmlands outside the wall have since resisted the passing of time. Here is a picture of Puerta de las Pesas, a critical gateway into the city (with a pretty sun “tattoo”).

Ever wonder why the streets in European cities are all windy and sometimes incredibly narrow?! Wonder no more, because as in the case of Spain, cities were intentionally designed en rePuerta de las Pesascodo, or in bends. This was a defensive measure; horses and soldiers are unable to charge through and attack swiftly if the streets are bending and tight, therefore giving the defense more time and ability to counter the attack. I can’t speak for other European countries, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this idea manifested itself in other locations as well.

This is the tiniest bit of information that I have been learning through my Islamic Art and Architecture course here in Granada. I will spare you the duller aspects of learning a complicated history, but I still want to share about the religious influence and impact the Moors left in Andalusia. As is the case with Catholic cathedrals, Buddhist temples, and other religious constructs, Islamic mosques were built to be spectacular. Key attributes of these mosques include arcs like Roman aqueducts, columns with elaborate and distinct chapiters (column heads), tiling, and ornate plaster decoration. The most significant mosque in Andalusia is in Córdoba: another beautiful city that we as a program visited.


Mezquita de Cordoba

This type of arc was constructed under Abd ar-Rahman I in which the white stone and red bricks alternate to make this famous striped pattern. His successor Abd ar-Rahman II would add onto the mosque, but instead of following this style, he made the arcs all of white stone and painted on red stripes. The chapiters of the columns are called capiteles de pencas. They are imitating the leaves of a specific type of the pencas plant.

MihrabThis image is of the mihrab: the Arabic term for the space facing Mecca and designed for prayer. The dome was gorgeous, and the decoration around the mihrab was overwhelming. There are inscriptions of verses from the Koran as well as decorations imitating nature. What I loved most about this mosque was the construction of the building around the concept of light. As you can see in the previous image, the mosque is dimly lit. In fact, apart from occasional windows on the far sides of the building and hanging lanterns (that now are artificially lit with electricity), there is practically no allowing for light in this architecture. There is a reason for that. Light was associated with God. Therefore, the most lit spaces were the most divine, designed for God. In this picture, the dome actually has windows all the way around. This was to fill the space with light, or with God’s presence symbolically, unlike any other spaces in the mosque. Beautiful.

A final place that is truly a source of historical pride for the Moors is the most famous building in Granada: the Alhambra. Literally translating to “the big red one,” the Alhambra was made into a glorious palace by Sultan Yusuf I. After the Reconquista, it became the home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela. Every inch of the space is ornately decorated with arcs, columns, tiles, gold inscriptions, plaster detailing, and every other form of wealthy architectural feat you can imagine. In short, the Alhambra is the defining characteristic of Granada and serves as a reminder of Granada’s Moorish roots.


It has been an amazing experience seeing such ancient structures. Heck, touching a marble column crafted hundreds and hundreds of years ago is humbling and foreign. I think we as the collective United States forget how young we are. We are in our adolescence as a nation. We asserted our independence to do things on our own, and still have the anxious energy and curiosity to over involve ourselves like young adults often do (in my opinion). Spain, especially Granada, is relaxed, comfortable with itself, and wise from its years and years of experience. This week has certainly given me a unique perspective about my country and culture as well as a new-found appreciation for learning history.
Micro-bio! This is Kweku Ampem-Darko aka kid with the coolest name. He is a student at Wheaton (in Massachusetts, not Illinois) studying pre-med. He has lived in New York for the past four years and is originally from Ghana. You could say he is living out study abroad inception: study abroad Spain while studying abroad in the United States. He is extremely friendly (and goofy, see photo) and has a natural inclination for leadership, currently being a member or leader of several organizations on his campus. Kweku and I have had seKwekuveral interesting conversations and experiences involving Christianity. We took this picture after attending a Spanish Christian church (which was very cool!). We had been talking about how being a Christian is a tricky aspect of our identities. On the one hand, being Christian affects every aspect of our identities; we are children of God. Conversely, identifying as Christian means identifying with a long, and sometimes vicious history of expulsion, murder, racism, and exclusion. “I am a Christian, but I am not the evil that has been done in the name of Christianity. This has been difficult for me to explain.” I couldn’t agree more. This of course is not to say that the entire Christian tradition is founded on evil and corruption! No, Christians have always been improving the world. When negative acts are what are easily remembered, Kweku says identity becomes less comfortable. We certainly had no conclusions but it was a great conversation and one I hope to continue to consider. To end, here is an audio clip from the tiny church we visited. Guess what? Some modern Christian music is universal! This is the Air I Breathe in Spanish:

Another Week, Another City: Seville & Cadiz


This program does an amazing job of showing us a lot of Spain! Today’s blog: Seville and Cadiz. Seville is the largest city of Andalusia with over 1.5 million people. Like most of Andalusia, Seville used to be under the reign of the Moors until being taken over by the Catholic King Ferdinand during the Inquisition. Therefore, the city hosts a collection of Islamic architecture and Catholic churches.  Seville

Palacio-SevillaThe first place we visited in Seville was a gorgeous palace called the Alcázar. The palace was built for the Palacio2-SevillaMoor king by the Almohades. It was later expanded upon by its Catholic inhabitants. The palace consists of gorgeous gardens, a swimming pool, ornate rooms, and millions of  handcrafted tiles to create exquisite mosaics on the walls and floors. These tiles must be made individually, then in sets they are painted specific colors and placed in a kiln. Certain temperatures bring about different colors, thus making the process long and intense. The result is absolutely magnificent. Here is an up-close look of the tiles, and my face.


After the tour of the palace, we made our way to La Giralda, a huge tower connected to the cathedral that provides a magnificent view of Seville. (see first photo) A unique feature of the tower is that it does not have any steps leading to the top. Instead it is a series of 43 ramps! The intention was to allow for horses to fit through so that those who wished to reach the top did not have to do so on foot. I wish we had had horses. After the ascent we roamed about the impressive cathedral of Seville. Unique to this cathedral is its claim to having the remains of Christopher Columbus. Interestingly enough another site in Spain also claims to have his body, so it is unknown whether or not Seville’s claim is true.

Art Museum-SevillaDuring our free time we had a few options of things to see or do. I opted for the Museo de Bellas Artes. I was not disappointed.
Art Museum2-SevillaThe building was lovely with a beautiful central patio, more decorative tiling, and, of course, beautiful artworks. The most impressive room was this, a cathedral-like space with tall, ornate ceilings and enormous paintings. I actually did go weak in the knees.

We ended the day with a spectacular flamenco performance! Traditional flamenco dance is rooted in gypsy culture and has since become a defining aspect of Spanish culture. Dancers wear clicky shoes and stomp and clap, snap and twirl with the most drama and passion a human can muster. The guitar crawls up and down the most impressive sequences of notes, and the singer cries out, sometimes happily and sometimes quite forlornly. It’s such a passionate, emotional art. My favorite part of the entire performance was the shouts of the other dancers and musicians while one of their own was dancing. They would call out “habla,” which means “speak.” In this sense the entire art is a conversation between dancer, singer, guitars, and the other dancers (who become a rhythm section for the soloist). I love the concept of dance and music being a conversation. Unfortunately we were not allowed to record the performance, nor take an audio clip, so instead here is a youtube find of another flamenco performance in Seville. Listen for the “habla”s.

In addition to time in Sevile, I also went to Carnival in Cadiz. That was a sight to behold. While I am not a party person, it was fun to see everyone in costume having a good time! While there, a friend and I went to the art museum of Cadiz and explored the city. We met all kinds of interesting people. Cadiz is a very small place; it is a peninsula, nearly an island, on the Spanish coast. For this reason, it is location of crazy parties like Carnival. While I would never choose to go again, I am glad I can say I went. Talk about a cultural experience!


Ending this blog is a micro-bio about another one of my orientation leaders: Ángela! Ángela Epilef Ziur is a University of Granada student in her final year of studying translation. She is practically fluent in English, French, Chinese, and, of course, Spanish. Next year she will be studying for another year in California! She has promised to come visit Michigan and says that she loves the snow. I don’t think she really Angelaknows what Michigan snow is like… Ángela is a total sweetheart, full of energy and excitement all of the time. She is very kind and always eager to meet new people. It is easy to see that she is an extrovert through and through. The quote that sums up Ángela perfectly is what she says easily once every five minutes: “¡¡¡¡¡QUÉ GUAY!!!!!” Yes, that loud, and excitedly. This phrase essentially means cool, and is a very common Spanish slang phrase. For Ángela, it is the motto of her life. 🙂