What’s one of the greatest parts about studying abroad? The time you have to become a part of the community and to fully indulge in the culture and the language. Of course, you should travel as much as your budget and time allows you to — especially since you have easy access to multiple spectacular places in Europe — but, it’s also important to remember that you chose your destination for a reason.
Take full advantage of your new home away from home and integrate yourself. Over time you’ll seem less like a tourist and live more like a local. This allows you to practice both speaking and understanding the language while putting yourself in a position to make friends with locals. Granadinos, or locals in Granada, are usually friendly and excited if they get a chance to practice their English with you. It’s a happy language/friendship exchange. Any spare time you have where you’re not studying or traveling, get out into the city and discover. Here are some ways I’ve delved into the local scene to give a few ideas.
1. Get a gym membership to a local gym.
A simple way to establish a routine while working off all the chocolate-filled croissants and other pastries is to hit the gym. This may seem like a normal thing to do, but the gym has so much more to offer than just the elliptical and weight machines in Spain.
For starters, the gym I chose has free fitness classes. This means they teach them in Spanish — another way to surround yourself with the language if you’re as determined as I am to learn it. To make the most out of it, you must be conscious of what the instructor is saying and demonstrating. I didn’t completely understand everything he was shouting at us over the music at first, but I mirrored his visual cues and connected the dots to hear how what he said translates to the moves. It’s a mind and body workout all in one!
Of course, signing up for the gym, asking questions, and anything else that comes with a getting and using a gym membership is great opportunity for interaction with members of the local community. There are a multitude of ways you can learn more about the culture or language if you keep your eyes peeled and your mind open.
2. Take a dance class.
A favorite pastime and passion of many Granadinos is dancing. Whether it’s salsa, bachata, meringue or flamenco (which actually originated in Andalucía, Granada’s location), you’ll find a fiesta of dance happening at some venue no matter the day of the week.
Our Assistant Resident Director, Edu — who has participated in the dance scene here — recommended a beginner bachata class twice per week with one of the best teachers he knows. He was so right. The first class, my friend I immediately felt welcomed when the instructor came and greeted us with Spanish besos. Although I’ve danced before, it has never been with a partner. Other dancers in the class make it easier because they are patient and try to help and encourage you.
I suggest at least taking a dance class of any style while in Spain that interests you even the slightest. Often the first class is free, so try a few! This class combines Spanish music, dancing, language and friends—all great things in one place.
3. Spread kindness and volunteer.
A great way to give back to a community that has welcomed you with open arms is to volunteer. I decided to make it a weekly routine to go with a friend to hang out and chat with a señora mayor (an elderly lady).
For someone who really appreciates the small things in life, this started off great before even making it to her home. The walk there unearthed a new part of Granada I had yet to see and it made me grateful to have this new route to familiarize myself with.
The first night I arrived at her home, I was introduced to her house maid and the señora was thrilled to meet us. We chatted about our backstories and why we all love Granada so much, and established a good time for us to come each week. At some points we were a little lost in translation with the Spanish, but we were able to figure it out all together. It was more great language practice while having a positive impact on someone else! She even made us chamomile tea and brought out galletas (cookies) to snack on — she’s just the sweetest. There are many benefits of volunteering abroad and so many ways to do so. I highly recommend giving it a try!