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When the City Becomes Your Textbook

October 21, 2019
by CEA MOJO
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As I sat watching the sun slowly sink over the city, painting the sky above the Alhambra with vibrant, no-filter-needed hues of pink and orange, everything seemed to just fall into place. I was eating gelato with a friend from home who was visiting Spain, and we’d hit all of the usual tourist attractions: the Alhambra, the Cathedral, the market, and now, Mirador de San Nicolás. Suddenly, the significance of this experience hit me. I was in Spain. I was getting the opportunity to see things in person that most people only read about in the pages of a book. I was getting to learn from life and the world around me, and to have all of these amazing experiences strengthen the formal education I was receiving. I was learning from the city -- not just from a textbook. And what better way to learn than to experience?

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My favorite class in Granada was Islamic Civilization and Culture. I signed up for it on a whim, knowing that my university in the States offers nothing like it. It is even a unique class among study abroad programs in Spain -- Granada’s rich and diverse cultural history makes the city a rare gem. I thought there was no better place to take this class, and I was definitely right -- but not just because of the course content and knowledgeable professors. The most incredible part about taking this class in Granada was that I could see exactly what I was learning in class -- and why it mattered -- just by taking a walk through the city.

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At the very beginning of my time in Granada, my CEA program took us on an excursion to Seville and Córdoba to see unique Muslim historical landmarks -- many of which also became Christian landmarks during the Reconquista. The next week in class, I learned about the arrival of Muslims in Spain, and the extravagance and significance of the Caliphate of Córdoba. I learned that after the collapse of this Caliphate, Granada (my city!) was actually the last Muslim stronghold in the entire Iberian Peninsula -- and the Alhambra was the center of it all. And incredibly, right after learning this history in class, I got the chance to see it all for myself, visiting the Alhambra for the first time. I saw the last throne room of the Muslim kingdom in Spain -- the exact location where, just after the fall of the Muslim kingdom, Christopher Columbus asked Queen Isabella for permission to sail to the New World. Seeing a place that had endured so many different regimes and pivotal events in history completely changed the way in which I viewed the history. Before, it was through pages of a textbook and dry lectures -- but in Granada, I got to see it for myself, and connect my classroom experiences to the real world.

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Choosing to study abroad in Granada was definitely the best decision I have ever made. But while I knew I would get to practice my Spanish, meet amazing people, and eat great food, I wasn’t prepared for the impact of seeing history come to life. I learned a huge amount in class about a culture that I had never experienced before, and I got to see evidence of it firsthand just by exploring the city. It’s cheesy, but it’s true: when you study abroad, the world becomes your textbook -- you just have to be open to learning from it.

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Megan Evans is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Granada, Spain, during the Summer 2019 semester. She is currently a student at the University of Utah.


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