Study Abroad and Global Education

Christine Gao

Ask me where I've been: Spain

Major(s) Economics & Politics dual major, with a minor in Hispanic Studies
Hobbies Baking, crocheting/knitting, eating
Hometown Arcadia, CA
Program/Study Site IES Granada, Spain
Christine Gao | Spain

Why study abroad?

This may be one of the only times in your life that you have to travel and expand your view of the world. You can do it while still being a student, and learning about a different culture was much more meaningful after having spent the past 2 years expanding perspectives and learning about topics such as systematic oppression.

Why did you choose Spain?

I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country where I would have the opportunity to have an internship or gain work experience. After narrowing down my program options to the ones that fit my academic interests, I did more research on the programs and cities and fell in love with Granada.

What courses did you enroll in while abroad?

  • Spanish Language in Context (Level 4)
  • Spain and the European Union
  • Cross Cultural Psychology
  • Internship Seminar
  • Macroeconomics II (at the University of Granada)

What was your living situation?

Most people live with a host family and a roommate, but my roommate and I each had our own rooms. The program staff work hard to pair students & families with matching personalities to ensure a positive home environment.

What did you do for fun?

  • Go out for tapas/shawarma/churros con chocolate at night
  • Hike to beautiful locations in and around the city
  • Go for walks around the city
  • Spend time in cafes trying different types of coffee and toast/topping combinations
  • Dance in clubs at night
  • Take the bus to a nearby city for a weekend getaway with friends

Highlights of the program:

  • Emphasis on cultural immersion (2 weeks of orientation! + frequent check-ups to make sure everyone is adjusting well to culture shock/being away from home)
  • Optional seminars/discussions to teach us about pressing issues in the city/country (ie. frequent Gypsy talks with guest speakers from the local organization)
  • Encouragement for extracurricular activities (they help you find volunteer opportunities, in addition to the fact that each student is given a €20 budget for an outside activity, such as flamenco classes, yoga classes, music classes, etc.)
  • Amazing staff and faculty – everyone is so friendly and helpful!
  • Organized activities from orientation leaders to help everyone bond & get to know each other (ie. hikes, karaoke, etc)
  • Exchange student program to encourage us to meet university students so that we can meet locals and not spend all our time with other Americans, practice speaking Spanish with Spaniards, and help them practice English
  • Spanish cooking classes
  • Excursions to different parts of (southern) Spain

The most challenging aspects of your experience:

Being an Asian-American in a sparsely diverse area of the world was extremely difficult. Upon seeing me, people would automatically speak English to me, even if I spoke Spanish first, or passersby in the streets would fold their hands and bow, yell nonsensical Asian-sounding things at me, or both. It was very difficult to fit in and fully feel like a part of the culture, but I was determined to learn the language well and be seen as more than just another tourist.

Final comments or suggestions for future participants:

It sounds cheesy, but it helps to arrive with an open mind and an open heart – it’s important to remember that not everyone understands the PC culture that we have at our liberal arts institutions. Understanding that there will be cultural differences in general also helps a lot with dealing with culture shock. Above all, participate in as much as possible and be prepared to love everything!


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