Steady Wins the Year Abroad

Emily Churchill headshot
Emily Churchill
May 31, 2018

It’s hard to believe but my year in Granada has finally come to an end. I am writing this on the plane, about an hour out from the Newark, NJ airport. Just 24 hours ago, I spent my last night in Granada at the Mirador San Nicolas, eating take-away kebab with a friend, and gazing out at the Alhambra one last time. Admiring that magnificent monstrosity of red brick, glittering against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I felt in that moment as if there was nowhere else I'd rather be.

Then I was reminded of all the times this year I’ve worried that I wasn’t spending my time correctly. The hard thing about studying in Spain is that there are some many choices dividing your attention. Should I watch a movie with my host family or should I go out with my new Spanish friends? Should I attend this week’s open mic or stay home and study for my university exam? Should I spend more Saturdays wandering around the old town or should I take more weekend trips? Priorities are not always clear and there is a constant pressure to make the most of every moment, which at the end of the day, does not help you make decisions with peace and clarity. 

I believe the biggest lesson I will take away from Granada is pacing. Up until this point in my life, I’ve always felt equipped with the cultural knowledge and personal motivation to excel wherever I am. In my university, we are encouraged to take advantage of every opportunity thrown our way. And I’ve viewed myself as independent and capable of getting where I need to go without much advice.  

Granada was a different story. Having already studied in Seville for two summers, I arrived expecting doors to fly open and for me to make friends, get good grades, and find connections as quickly as I always have. But factors like a language barrier, aspects of negative culture shock, and a completely different university system & student lifestyle quickly altered my expectations. 

I’ll admit I can often be pretty hard on myself and set specific goals without considering the larger picture. When I arrived in Granada, I was trying to be both my usual, ambitious self as well as a true granaína. And I was not only confronting a new culture, I was facing a culture that values siestas and fiestas and taking time to relax over intense stress and pressure. 

I had the right aspiration, but not the right mindset. I had to accept the feeling of not always knowing what to do, then embrace it. I couldn’t always be cool and collected in every new situation, but I could be patient with myself and confident enough to know that at the end of the year, I would be proud of my accomplishments and how much I’ve grown. And I also learned that a little siesta every now and then never hurt anybody. 

But now looking back on it all, here are some moments from my year in Granada that I am deeply proud of. 

- Running 2 half marathons

- Assisting a University of Granada professor in the revision of his academic articles

- Presenting my own poetry live in Spanish & English at a local cafe

- Planning a workshop on sexual consent as part of my internship at a sexual health clinic 

- Singing & playing guitar alongside friends for the closing party of our Colegio Mayor (Residence Hall)

- Preparing & taking the DELE Spanish exam to certify my level as more than advanced

- Directing a scene for my theatre class and presenting it in the company of the author of the same work 

- Making a wonderful group of American, Spanish, & international friends

- Serving as a blogger for IES Abroad!

Reflecting on this list seems strange when I compare it to the several peaceful afternoons I spent walking through the Albaicin, or reading a book on my terrace. It also doesn’t reflect the days where I felt overwhelmed, or frustrated, or lost. But this list does remind me of some wonderful memories with special people, as well as what I can achieve when I remember to be kind to myself. 

This summer, I will be working in Ecuador with students who wish to attend college in the States, and this fall, I will serve as an International Orientation Advisor for the new exchange students at my university. I hope to share with them some guidance to help make their time abroad as rewarding as possible, as well as my own conclusion that there is no right or wrong way to approach the experience. At the end of the day, all the little things that you didn’t like or that you forgot to do are outweighed by all the moments in between, with the people who made it all worthwhile. 


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Emily Churchill headshot

Emily Churchill

<p>Hola caracolas! My name is Emily and I'm studying abroad in Granada, Spain for the 2017-2018 academic year. I'm a Spanish and International Studies major who is always looking for new ways to connect with my beautiful host city. I love to sing, play guitar, act, and have embarked on the journey of writing a historical fiction novel about Granada! In my free time, I love to run and hike in the Sierra Nevada mountains, get lost in the Albaicin, and explore new cafes and tapas bars with my friends. This semester I hope to try my hand at Flamenco guitar, take more siestas, and make even deeper connections with the city and its people.</p>

2017 Fall, 2018 Spring
Home University:
University of Richmond
Lancaster, PA
International Studies
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