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Seeing Past Stereotypes: Europe Edition

February 11, 2018

I was hesitant about Granada specifically, Spain as a country, and Europe all together.

Let me take you back in time. It is mid-May, 1 week before the application deadline. I plan to spend my following spring semester in Buenos Aires. Argentinian restaurants, sites, and fashion are being saved on my Pinterest boards. After months of searching I think I have finally found the perfect alternative to a typical European study abroad experience. Yet suddenly after chatting with an IES Abroad Granada alum for an hour, I find myself calling my mom to tell her I have changed plans.

There was something captivating about the way she spoke about this city I had never heard of. The incredible tapas, the trip to Morocco, the watercolor painting class… these images have stuck with me since.

After beginning a research-paper-quality investigation of Granada, things started to fall into place. I read of the class about Sephardic Jews and felt even more drawn to the program. Google translate helped me learn that ‘Granada’ means ‘pomegranate’ in English. I knew it was a sign at that moment because in Judaism the pomegranate symbolizes life. And when I told my mom about my findings she revealed a detail of my family history which has been passed down for generations: my grandfather’s family lived in Spain before the Inquisition.

These were all good signs. Sure, I’ll give you that. But there were so many reasons to second guess my decision. Is Granada too small of a city? Is it in the middle of nowhere Spain? Should I go somewhere else where I know people on my program? Would I be seen as the stereotypical girl who goes abroad to Europe? Can I even speak Spanish???? (I’m still wondering about this question.)

Putting aside all of these concerns and finding one reason to say “yes” was one of the scariest and most rewarding choices of my life so far.

My fear of being stereotyped as a certain kind of person based on where I chose to study abroad could have hindered me completely from finding where I belong. For months I closed myself off to an entire continent solely because I wanted to have an “atypical abroad experience.” And in hindsight, this is the complete opposite of the open minded person I am. If I could give my younger self one piece of advice-- don’t let the reasons to say no hold you back from saying yes.

On Tuesday I celebrated two weeks since arriving in Spain. Truly I couldn’t be happier with the way things have been going-- the tapas are DELICIOUS, I turned in my form for the Morocco trip, and the watercolor painting class is much more challenging than I had anticipated. These ideas which were once dreams are quickly turning into reality for me. And with an open mind constantly searching for reasons to say yes, I am confident that many unique experiences are out there waiting for me.

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