Guest post by Sam Mutty, Foster senior and Certificate of International Studies in Business student
Throughout my life I’ve been blessed with opportunities to travel the world, from the rural towns of Ecuador to the city of Novosibirsk, still recovering from the fall of the Soviet Union. With each trip abroad I’ve been given a new perspective on the world, how I relate to those around me and ultimately how I define myself. However, after all the experiences I’ve had around the globe, nothing has been comparable to the time I’ve spent and what I’ve learned in Granada. A picturesque city nestled in the rolling hills of Andalucía; the whitewashed houses of Albayzín stretch up toward the sky on one side and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada on the other. There’s life everywhere in the city and a vibrant, optimistic attitude despite the current state of the Spanish economy. A quick stroll through the streets is like walking through an urban art gallery, from the ultra detailed murals of “el niño de las pinturas” to the political graffiti claiming that student scholarships are equivalent to the mythical unicorn. Yet, even though the city itself has so much charm about it, what I’ll take away most from my experience here can’t be captured in photographs.
I’ve gone through the typical ups and downs of traveling abroad, the initial excitement to the bout of homesickness and ultimately realizing just how blessed I am to have this opportunity. Overcoming the language and cultural barrier to really connect with people is by no means an easy task, but through it I’ve gained a new understanding of cultural differences and how they affect interactions between people. At first glance I don’t appear particularly different than any Spaniard, and have even been mistaken for one a few times, but there’s no doubt that differences—from the songs we learn as children to our native language—have left me feeling like an outsider on more than one occasion. However, rather than try to avoid these instances, I’ve learned to actively seek them out. I live in an apartment with three Spaniards, spend my siestas eating lunch and drinking coffee with Spaniards and go out with Spaniards. While I miss the occasional joke, and am often the brunt of them, I wouldn’t dream of trading my experience for a more Americanized one. Not only has my Spanish vastly improved but I’ve had a glimpse of the time and energy it takes to fully assimilate into a foreign culture.
The experience I’ve had in Granada has made me much more open to different cultures and viewpoints. I’ve learned that when communication and common ground can be hard to come by, sometimes a smile or quick joke is all it takes to make a connection. No matter where we come from or what experiences we’ve had, we all share a basic human nature and are social beings. Whether we’re in school, at work or walking down the street, the differences between us shouldn’t drive us apart, but be appreciated and celebrated. All it takes is one person taking the initiative. I encourage anyone interested in studying abroad or exploring other cultures to take that first step and see where it takes you. The old cliché, it’s not the destination but the journey, couldn’t apply more to this type of experience. Open your mind, put yourself out there and see what you can learn about the world and yourself.
Sam is studying abroad through the Certificate of International Studies in Business (CISB) Program.