Thursday, 18 September 2014

Your Year Abroad: Ailish's Year Abroad in Granada, Spain

As it's now been a whole decade since I first moved to Spain on my year abroad, I thought it would be fun to ask some more recent year abroad students to share their experiences in Spain. You may already know that in the UK, it's customary for those who study languages at university to spend the third year of their degree course in a country where the languages they're learning are spoken. If you're a recent year abroad student who would like to contribute, I'd love to hear from you.

To start the series, I interviewed Ailish McVeigh, who spent the academic year 2013–14 in Spain.

So Ailish, tell us a bit about yourself  where are you from and what are you studying?

I’m from a small town in Yorkshire and go to uni in a small ‘city’ in Lancashire, although I'm not really sure Lancaster is quite big enough to call a city! I study English Literature and Spanish, so I'd been looking forward to my year abroad pretty much since the start of my A-levels.

Good choice of subjects – that's what I studied too! Where did you go on your year abroad and what did you do there?
I spent the entire year in Andalucía studying in the Filsofía y Letras faculty at the Universidad de Granada.

View over Granada

How did you find moving abroad for the first time? What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning?
I experienced every possible emotion the day I moved abroad; a big mixture of nerves and excitement, plus A LOT of tears. I’d worked in Spain for two months the previous summer, which definitely helped the separation element, but didn't really prepare me for everyday life there. One of the biggest challenges was actually finding the bus from Málaga to Granada when I arrived, as it just never appeared! Once that was dealt with, finding a house was very difficult, mainly due to the different culture of house hunting. Spanish people presumably think nothing of ringing up random numbers from adverts posted on the street corners, but for us Brits using websites like proved much more popular, as that's more similar to the way we look for accommodation back home.

 How did you find living in Granada?
I LOVED IT. It honestly couldn’t have been a better city to live in. I found it really authentically Spanish, there were picture-postcard views of the Alhambra and a massive Erasmus population. All these factors combined made the year so great. I couldn’t recommend going there enough, to live or just to visit. By the time I returned to Granada after Christmas, it already felt like I was going home.

Ailish and her new friends at the Holi Run in Santa Fe

Did you find it easy to make friends? Did you make a lot of Spanish friends? I know this can be a common issue on your year abroad.
With so many Erasmus students in Granada, everyone is very friendly which is great. However, unless you lived with Spanish people, generally they were very hard to make friends with. This wasn’t helped by the fact that most of them in our classes were 17 or 18, lived at home and had come with their entire year group from high school. The Spanish university culture is much more individual; there are plenty of Erasmus groups, but no ‘freshers week’ organised by the university, or clubs and societies like we’re used to in the UK. This made meeting people at uni outside of classes nigh on impossible, unfortunately.

How did you find the notorious andaluz accent?
I found it very tricky to start with, but gradually got used to it, and know I will get told off back at uni for dropping the letter S!
Skiing in the Sierra Nevada

I say keep up the accent as long as you can! How long did it take you to adapt to life in Granada? Did you feel homesick at all?
I had one of the classic Year Abroad adaptations: I absolutely loved it at first, and then hit the wall after a month. It didn’t help that my housing situation was falling through at that time. But apart from that, I wasn’t homesick the whole year. After Christmas I stayed out there for six months straight and really loved it, I don’t regret not going home in that time because at that point Granada was my home.

What was your best experience?
I had so many great experiences! Going with 13 of my friends to Marrakech for a long weekend has to be up there with them, as does visiting Cabo de Gata, Seville, Madrid and Córdoba. Or simply endless days spent lying on the beach at Salobrena, or at the University pool, or sitting on the top viewpoint overlooking the city.

On the beach in Salobrena

Did you face challenges during the year?
Moving flats was probably the biggest challenge. I was so unsure if I was doing the right thing by leaving, but it turns out I was because my new flatmates became some of my best friends. Apart from that I honestly didn’t have any other negative experiences or challenges, which was incredibly lucky I guess!

So, sum up your year abroad experience for us.
I know it’s a cliché but the best year of my life. Friends at home regularly referred to me being on a ten-month holiday, which does sum it up pretty well too!

Thanks Ailish! Good luck with your final year – and with readapting to the Lancaster weather!

I'm looking for recent year abroad students who've been to Spain to share their experiences with Oh hello, Spain's readers. If you'd like to be featured here, please get in touch!
I'm also looking for someone who is currently on their year abroad in Spain this year to write a termly post for me about their experiences. 
For both guest posts, it doesn't matter whether you're a language assistant, studying or working, I want to hear from you! If you're interested, please get in touch on Twitter @ohhellospain or email me.


  1. Great idea to start this series, Kate! I am sure it will help ease the nerves of many students embarking on their year abroad.

    1. Thanks Kim! I can't believe it was 10 years ago since I set off for Alcalá de Guadaíra. The first few weeks are definitely the hardest and the most nerve-wracking, but it usually ends up being one of the best years of people's lives!


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