Study Abroad

📍 Granada, Andalucía, España

An Overview

A short compilation to capture my incredible journey in Granada, Spain, and the many countries and amazing people who have defined my experiences, making this time in my life unforgettable.

Read all about each week below!

January 2024

Semana de Orientación (01/09 - 01/14)

Granada: A City of History and Adventure

Granada, a city full of history, art, and the prospect of adventure, became the canvas for my semester abroad. After traveling through airports and arriving in Málaga, one Nya Williamson and I were greeted with a warm welcome from Resident Director Miguel Ángel, who guided us to "Hostal Atenas" by bus in Granada, where we met our other Orientation Leader and Profesor, Nerea Muguerza. This first day, without a structured schedule, allowed us the rest of the afternoon to get some rest and explore the city freely, absorbing our new life for the next four months and setting the stage for an unforgettable semester.

Academic and Cultural Orientation

The official orientation started with a new kind of breakfast at a cafe partnered with the hostel, a Spanish tostada with coffee and orange juice, an informal but wholesome start to the academic and cultural journey awaiting us. Orientation housekeeping activities consisted of us getting ready for classes at CEGRÍ, taking the Placement Test, and Academic Orientation. These sessions were important for figuring out our schedules and understanding how grades work. Plus, they gave us personalized tips to help UIUC and UW-Madison students like us navigate through our studies and immersion.

Vibrant Social Gatherings and City Tours

Evenings turned into vibrant social gatherings and "essential" bar hopping, as well as one lavish welcome dinner where we got to know Miguel Angel and Nerea more in-depth over drinks and a 5-course meal. The immersive vibe brought us all together, making it easy for everyone to connect over our desire to learn Spanish and navigate the streets of Granada. We all clicked, and our diverse backgrounds added flavor to our conversations.

We learned all about our housing agreements and the rules for living in our residence during the Housing Orientation session. With that info in mind, we then went on a "Survival Tour" of Granada led by Miguel Ángel and Nerea. They showed us around the city and essential sites, pointing out important places and helping us understand the ins and outs of daily life for "Granadinos". The Fuente en la Plaza Isabel la Católica, a fountain with figures of Queen Isabella I of Castile and Christopher Columbus discussing all things Age of Exploration, became our meeting point for all excursions.

Such excursions also consisted of going on the Touristy Tour in Granada, focused on the cultural and lively aspects of the city after looking at survival aspects. We wandered around historical spots like el Albaicin and el Sacromonte and walked down the lively Calle Elvira, a street full of food and goods that had both Spanish and Arabic elements ingrained in their nature. History lessons were the highlight of these tours, in my opinion, as this was the first time I was able to physically touch and feel things I've only read in books--especially since this was my first time in Europe. Each night, we took it upon ourselves to explore different restaurants, where we got to try out traditional Spanish dishes, figure out which spirits went best with them, and practice our Spanish.

As we embraced the local culture, morning meals took on a distinctly Spanish flavor as I got used to churros becoming a breakfast staple. Also navigating the unique accent of Granada and adjusting to everyday meals and siesta times added to the new but fun essence of exploring such differences. Dining out in Granada revealed a unique aspect of Spanish culture--the freedom to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with almost every meal. This cultural norm not only added a surprising dimension to our dining experiences but also emphasized the relaxed and controlled nature of Spanish social life, without the need for heavy drinking. The adjustment to incorporating Spanish into every aspect of our lives became not just a linguistic exercise but a bridge connecting us to the heart of the culture.

Cultural adaptation became a daily endeavor, extending beyond the confines of the classroom. We got used to chatting and connecting with locals as we learned the language, becoming more than just students. Slowly and slowly we became a real part of the lively community in Granada, and still have a good 16 weeks to improve.

The week concluded with families picking up students, creating wholesome moments of connection and cultural exchange. The bond formed during this immersive experience extended beyond the orientation, setting the stage for a semester of meaningful relationships and shared experiences.

From hearing about the classes at CEGRÍ, they blend theoretical learning with the practical experience of being in the heart of Spain, combining both instructional and collaborative lectures with field trips around town and the Alhambra. This week's anticipation reached its peak with the visit to the Alhambra, an architectural monument echoing centuries of history and a mix of Spanish and Arabic elements. This surreal experience was heightened by an unexpected opportunity for me to briefly sing in King Charles V's palace, famous Holy Roman Emperor and grandson of  Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Singing at the heart of the building that, by far, defeated the acoustic of any university or Chicago performance hall and eliminated the need for any electronic sound enhancements or a microphone.


The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's College of Liberal Arts & Sciences International Programs seamlessly integrated cultural insights into our orientation, providing not just academic preparation but also a profound appreciation for Granada's vibrant culture. Reflecting on this information-packed week, I feel more than a student abroad; I'm an active participant ready to dive into the many experiences Granada, much less Europe, offers. Equipped with the essentials, the stage is set for a semester of cultural exploration and academic pursuits.

This week went beyond planned events, blending scheduled activities with unexpected cultural exchanges. From conversations with locals to discovering hidden gems, Granada is seemingly becoming a dynamic classroom, teaching history, language, and the art of embracing life. We dove into Spanish culture through food, turning each meal into a lively celebration of Spanish flavors, and sharing the table with new friends highlighted the joy of communal dining. Linguistic growth mirrored our cultural adaptation, from using known buzzwords to forming decent sentences, extending beyond the classroom to streets, markets, and squares. The highlight was the Alhambra visit, an architectural masterpiece, and a live picture of another era, painting a vivid picture of the Moorish legacy. As the week concluded, host families became an extended family, with stories and laughter encapsulating the profound connections formed. Granada isn't just a destination; it's a living classroom, promising deeper exploration, continued cultural immersion, and enduring memories beyond academics.

Semana Uno (01/15 - 01/18)

Beginning Spanish Classes in Granada

On Monday, January 15th, my experience in Granada, Spain, truly began as I started my Spanish classes. My schedule includes SPAN 204 (Practical Grammar Review) and SPAN 303 (Pronunciation and Phonetics), both starting at 4:30 pm and lasting until 8 pm. With classes commencing in the afternoon, I spent my morning in bed, attempting to delve into a Structured Query Language (SQL) course online, another course I'm taking, essential for my upcoming internship. I intentionally limited my coursework to four classes at CEGRÍ, considering the workload and the need to focus on language-based subjects like SPAN 204, SPAN 303, and SPAN 208 (Oral Spanish), alongside SPAN 399 (Islamic and Arabic Cultural Studies). The latter choice stemmed from a desire to explore cultural perspectives, particularly within the Arabic-Islamic world, aiming to bridge gaps in understanding given my Baptist background. My Spanish is improving through engaging conversations with my host family, touching on topics like Catalan politics, my singing abilities, Latin and Hispanic dances, favorite shopping spots, and shared meals. Despite the initial language barrier, I'm gradually building connections and look forward to observing my communication skills evolve over the next four months, albeit with a concern that my English vocabulary may dwindle as Spanish becomes omnipresent in my daily life. Balancing multiple languages, including my native Bisaya and Illonggo from the Philippines, gives me an interesting and challenging journey ahead.

Exploring Granada's Daily Life

On Tuesday, January 16th, I started my day at 7:30 am, though I accidentally slept in until 8:00 am after snoozing my alarm. A quick breakfast of toast with jam and a banana sufficed for the 30-minute walk to school, during which I just figured and focused on memorizing the route without Google Maps. Before leaving, I informed my host mom that I wouldn't make it for lunch due to switching from Oral Spanish to Hispanic Linguistics (SPAN 252), a class ending at 2:30 pm. At school, my morning was filled with syllabus overviews in my Arab-Islamic cultural studies class, where I met a new teacher, Uarda. Between classes, I discussed travel plans with classmates and later tackled housekeeping tasks like sending my vaccination card and passport picture. Unexpectedly, I received an email about a "culture shock" workshop at 5 pm, forcing me to postpone my shopping plans for the afternoon at the biggest mall in Granada, Nevada Shopping. Instead, I explored a nearby Churrería and enjoyed mini churros with Nutella sauce and green tea. The day continued with a solo study session on SQL, adding to the challenge of learning both Spanish and SQL simultaneously. They're basically two languages. After the culture shock session, I explored Granada, had dinner with my host family, and engaged in conversations about my day, Spanish cuisine, and plans. Notably, the day ended with a slip-and-fall in the rain, prompting me to appreciate the bus ride home and learn the importance of knowing how to ride the buses and take the Metro system. Overall, I'm enjoying the slow-paced life in Granada, embracing class, free time, eating, and repeating with meaningful experiences and family interactions--essentially, adjusting and appreciating now having to worry about extracurriculars, clubs, research, internship, etc.

Shopping and Cultural Exploration

On Wednesday, January 17th, my day kicked off with a decent 8:30 am wake-up, although sleeping again and waking up at 9:15 am. My plan to reach Nevada Shopping, a sizable mall 30 minutes south of my location, by 10:00 am was slightly delayed, and I eventually left around 10:15 am. The walk led me through an unconventional route under the highway using Google Maps. Arriving at Nevada Shopping, the mall's vastness, and American mall vibes surprised me, prompting a shopping spree at Primark, Lefties, and Kiabi, where I got jackets, sweaters, shirts, sweatpants, and plaid pants for just over $150. This shopping excursion took about an hour and a half, allowing me the opportunity to try out the Metro system to carry my stuff easily back home. Navigating the train system was initially a challenge, but I successfully reached home with everything intact. Afterward, I mixed different outfits, consulted my host mom for fashion advice for Europe, and settled on an all-black fit with a brown trench coat for a Flamenco night. Following a delicious lunch, I attended afternoon classes until 8 pm, following a captivating Flamenco show with Sangrías around 8:30 pm, showcasing Granada's percussion-heavy style. Post-show, I caught my bus back home, concluding a day filled with shopping, cultural experiences, and newfound knowledge of local transportation.

Embracing Granada's Lifestyle

On Thursday, January 18th, I started my day early despite a late-morning class at 11:00 am, needing to leave by 10:30 am for a 30-minute walk to class. I spent the morning completing Spanish Linguistics homework, involving translating sentences into their phonetic alphabet counterparts. After a quick breakfast, I left by 10:28 am and headed to CEGRÍ. Surprisingly, my Arab-Islamic Cultural Studies class involved exploring Granada's plazas, a class field trip, and delving into the fusion of Arab and European influences in Spain. Our instructor, Uarda, discussed Islamic rituals, prayers, and cultural nuances while exploring sites like the Catedral de Granada. Following a reflection session, I had time to review my homework for Hispanic Linguistics before the 1 pm class. The class revealed the comparative simplicity of Hispanic linguistics compared to English linguistics, shedding light on the challenges non-English speakers face. After class, I walked home with friends, enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by my host mom, and took a siesta. In the evening, I attended an "Intercambio" session at Dalys Bar, involving Spanish practice, drinks, pizza, and unexpected invitations to a late-night karaoke session. However, due to a prolonged football game, I left around 12:30 am, not wanting to return too late to my host family's home.


As I reflect on the past few days in Granada, Spain, the intricate analysis of my experiences woven a narrative of growth, adaptation, and cultural exploration. The decision to focus on language-based courses at CEGRÍ reflects a deliberate effort to enhance both practical skills and cultural understanding through subjects like Islamic and Arabic Cultural Studies. My interactions with my host family have become a cornerstone of my linguistic progress, revealing the nuances of Spanish conversations while providing a glimpse into topics ranging from Catalan politics to shared meals. Balancing multiple languages, including my native Bisaya and Illonggo, adds a layer of complexity to my linguistic journey, raising concerns about the potential fading of my English vocabulary.

The slow-paced life in Granada offers a unique blend of academic pursuits and meaningful experiences, from exploring cultural nuances in Arab-Islamic architecture to navigating the city's transportation system. The unexpected slip-and-fall in the rain becomes a metaphor, reminding me of the importance of adaptability and appreciating the little moments. Shopping excursions and cultural events, like the captivating Flamenco show, contribute to a rich variety of memories, highlighting the diverse facets of my daily life. Looking ahead, as I choose to provide summaries of my weekends, the narrative of my experience thus far deepens, capturing the essence of profound connections, self-discovery, and the continuous evolution of my communication skills in a foreign land.

Semana Dos (01/22 - 01/25)

Academics, Cultural Immersion, and Unforeseen Connections

Today, Monday the 22nd, marked a relatively calm yet productive start to the week. I kicked off the morning with a hearty breakfast before delving into my SQL LinkedIn Learning class. This time around, I decided to focus intently on the material, taking detailed notes throughout each section. However, my anticipation is tempered by the theory-heavy nature of the videos, leaving me eager to transition to hands-on coding in later sections.

Adding a layer of complexity, I'm determining which Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) my internship employs, aiming to align my SQL courses accordingly. RDBMS functions like a meticulously organized file cabinet for computer data, utilizing tables with rows and columns to manage information efficiently. It's akin to an Excel sheet, facilitating data organization, retrieval, and updates for various applications.

Consulting fellow interns revealed that I'll be working with Oracle, Databricks, and Teradata. Armed with this knowledge, I proceeded to plan my weekend trip to Madrid. Opting for a cost-effective and eco-friendly approach, I chose a bus journey over a plane, with a five-hour travel time but at a fraction of the cost.

Securing a budget-friendly hostel in the heart of Madrid, my entire trip, including accommodations, was set to cost around 100 euros. As I navigated the planning process, I had a thoughtful discussion with my host mom about a conflicting trip to Sevilla with program friends. Her insight and the prospect of warmer weather in April led me to stick with my Madrid plans, reserving the Sevilla adventure for a future visit with my parents.

Transitioning to the weekend, I balanced individual exploration with downtime. Friday saw me tackling homework, planning a February trip to France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, and finalizing content for my blog. Opting out of clubbing, I spent the night engaging in meaningful conversations with my host family.

Saturday brought a relaxed afternoon at a coffee shop with friends, followed by a churro outing later in the evening. Embracing the camaraderie, I covered the bill as a gesture of gratitude, navigating the challenge of separate checks in group outings. The night concluded with a visit to an Irish Pub for drinks and planning.

Sunday mirrored Friday, providing a welcome rest and planning day. Fast-forwarding to Monday, Spanish Grammar and Phonetics classes filled my schedule. Adjusting to the Spanish-centric environment, I aim to fully immerse myself in the language and culture over the next 15 weeks, hoping to develop a distinct Spanish identity.

After classes, a Trivia Night at the Irish Pub beckoned, adding a lively touch to the start of the week. Balancing academics, travel plans, and local experiences, my study abroad journey unfolds with a blend of cultural adaptation and personal exploration.

Today, Tuesday the 23rd, kicked off with a later-than-planned start due to a persistent snooze button, finally getting up at 8:15 am for a 9 am class. Rushing through my morning routine, I made it out the door by 8:30 am, only to realize I had read the wrong material for Arab-Islamic Studies. Fortunately, Professor Uarda guided us through the differences between Islam and Christianity, a topic I was familiar with from my background as a Baptist.

After class, with a gap until my 1 pm Hispanic Linguistics session, I spent my time at CEGRÍ on my SQL course and reviewing materials. While the plan to watch the sunset at Mirador de San Nicolás sounded appealing, I opted for a more laid-back afternoon exploring music shops and doing some shopping before heading home to get organized for the upcoming weeks.

The school-related intensity increased with the assignment of a community service project. After a meeting with CEGRÍ advisors, I chose to assist with social sciences in both English and Spanish, a comfortable fit given my background. The day also involved reconnecting with friends during breaks – catching up with Kyle, a piano enthusiast, and making plans with Mohnish and Daisy for an exciting weekend in Madrid.

Later in the day, I visited music stores, made some purchases, and returned home to a satisfying dinner from my host mom. With homework wrapped up, I took a moment to reflect on the day in this journal entry before calling it a night.

Today, Wednesday the 24th, offered a refreshing start as I rolled out of bed around 9 am, stepping out into the day immediately. My destination: Albaicín, a northern neighborhood of Granada, where I embarked on a 45-minute walk in search of a music shop for a violin shoulder rest. The need arose after a jam session at Daly’s Pub, inspiring me to acquire one, potentially from Granada, before contemplating an actual violin purchase in Germany or Austria.

What struck me today was a growing comfort in using my Spanish, and navigating the world solo. Although I always preferred interactions with a disclaimer about my primary language being English, I found myself successfully making purchases and ordering meals solely in Spanish. While not flawless, my attitude and accent seemed to convey a native-speaker impression. It dawned on me that my primary focus with Spanish should now shift to expanding my vocabulary and refining my grammar.

A cozy music shop, Pianos Francis Granada, became the source of my violin shoulder rest, setting me back about 12 euros. Next on the agenda was a modest breakfast and a text to my friend Nya about meeting for a drink before our 3 pm class. Our venue of choice – a spot known for its delicious baklava. Craving something sweet, I researched where to find chocolate croissants, stumbling upon "Minuit Pan y Café – Cafeteria Panaderia" for a solo cafe experience.

Reflecting on advice from my friend Zohal, I sought a regular spot to become part of a close-knit community. After considering various options, I settled on "Minuit Pan y Café," appreciating its cozy atmosphere and small-town charm. Ordering hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant, I embraced the moment of solitude, paying about 4 euros for a delightful experience.

By 12:15 pm, I hopped on the bus to head home, aiming to assist with lunch at 1:30 pm and catch up on homework. The afternoon unfolded with a delicious lunch courtesy of my host mom, followed by preparations for an outing with Nya. Running a bit late, we rendezvoused at a local square, eventually joined by our profesora, Nerea, creating an unexpected but enjoyable trio.

After class, which included refining Spanish pronunciation and learning new vocabulary, we wrapped up the day planning upcoming weekend trips. Choosing to embark on a solo trip to Madrid, I anticipated gaining a sense of agency and independence. Fast-forwarding to the evening, I participated in a multilingual video call, acting as the translator between my actual mom and host mom, bridging English, Bisaya, and Spanish.

Concluding the day with a shared meal, clean up, and preparations for bedtime, I received a call from my high school friend Mohnish, confirming plans for our meeting in Madrid. Following the call, I texted Daisy, my other friend in Madrid, finalizing arrangements for the upcoming visit. The day encapsulated a blend of exploration, language practice, and connecting with friends, leaving me eager for more experiences in the weeks to come.

Today, Thursday the 25th, began with a later-than-usual wake-up, around 10:20 am, prompting a quick dash to get ready for my 30-minute walk to CEGRÍ for the Arab-Islamic Cultural Class at 11 am. Thursdays are reserved for intriguing excursions, and this week's journey took us to the northern neighborhood of Granada, Albaicín.

The outing proved enjoyable, with the pleasant weather enhancing our exploration of historical walls, gates, and plazas that have evolved since the 1500s. Uarda, our professor, shared a video providing a historical perspective, offering insights into the strategic use of the walls by soldiers. The excursion not only unveiled the architectural wonders but also showcased the transformation of symbolic defenses into decorative elements.

After my last class for the day, Hispanic Linguistics, I delved into a unique experience—a psychotherapy session with Martha, CEGRI's psychotherapist. Despite not grappling with the typical struggles of adapting to Spain, the session became a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and understanding. We delved into childhood analysis, and personal mannerisms, and explored high-level concepts in Islam and Christianity.

Post-session, I returned home to a delicious lentil soup lunch and a thoughtful bocadillo prepared by my host mom for tomorrow's early morning bus trip to Madrid. The afternoon unfolded with a blend of chilling and resting, gearing up for the Intercambio session at Daly’s Pub later in the evening.

The intercambio session, a weekly tradition, provided an opportunity to meet new people, practice Spanish, and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. Following the session plans shifted to a night of karaoke at Hannigan & Sons. I joined a lively group, including Tara, a teaching assistant from Los Angeles, and locals from Ireland and Brazil. The evening unfolded with engaging conversations, a surprising twist to Salsa/Bachata dancing at a nearby club, and forging connections that extended beyond the night.

As the night progressed, I took on a spirited karaoke performance despite a soar throat, earning a free shot and catching the attention of new friends, Cam and Sam. Bonding over shared interests, we exchanged contact information and made plans for future explorations and clubbing. With the night winding down, I hurriedly finalized packing for my solo trip to Madrid, anticipating a blend of adventure and self-discovery on my first solo travel experience since the start of the program.


In the second week of my stay in Granada, Spain, I found a good balance between academics, cultural exploration, and personal connections. Starting the week, I focused on my SQL course, determined to absorb the theory-heavy content with detailed notes. Planning a weekend trip to Madrid, I opted for an eco-friendly bus journey, contemplating the environmental impact and cost-effectiveness.

As the week progressed, I navigated a mix-up in reading material for Arab-Islamic Studies with the help of Professor Uarda, highlighting my adaptation to the Spanish-centric environment. Engaging in solo experiences, I explored Albaicín, reflecting on my growing comfort using Spanish in everyday interactions. The week brought a blend of academic commitments, a unique community service project, and unexpected social engagements during an Intercambio session.

Reflecting on the experiences, I shared thoughtful discussions with my host mom, showcasing a balance between academic focus and cultural immersion. I'm now trying to find a balance between being more ambitious and entrepreneurial with my cultural immersion in Granada and just relaxing and taking it all in. It turns out that, just as I was in the United States, I am just as successful at making new friends and pioneering new experiences, thus, I find myself again in the struggle of balance, however, there have been more fruits to bear from this week as a result, and I am now feeling at-home here in Granada.

Madrid, España (01/26 - 01/28)

My trip to Madrid began with me waking up around 7 am on Friday, having breakfast, finalizing my packing, freshening up, and heading to the bus station around 8:00 am since my bus was scheduled to depart at around 9:30 am. As it was just a weekend trip, I chose to bring only my Lululemon belt bag and backpack, two outfits, toiletries, and some snacks. Being my first solo trip in Granada, let alone Spain or Europe, I wanted to allow myself plenty of time to navigate the bus station upon arrival and unwind.

Considering the option of taking a taxi, which I hadn't done in Granada yet, seemed convenient. The journey to the bus station from my place required both a metro and a bus trip, taking about 15-30 minutes, while a taxi would only take about 12 minutes. Using an app called PideTaxi recommended by Miguel Angel, similar to Uber but for taxis, a taxi arrived within 5 minutes. I informed the driver of my destination, the bus station up north, and we set off.

Upon reaching the bus station around 8:30 am, the boarding process was straightforward. I only needed to locate the terminals and find the number on my tickets, purchased beforehand on Omio. Arriving a bit early, I spent time identifying my terminal or buses and relaxed in the waiting area. A note of caution: The bus Number on your ticket may not correspond to the numbers on the signs above the buses. It's necessary to go through each bus or ask an attendant which buses are heading to your destination, in my case, Madrid, and verify the Bus Number as there are multiple. Around 9:15 am, I located my bus and boarded. The process was simple as I simply resented my QR code to the bus driver, got it scanned, found my seat, and stowed my bag overhead. At 9:30 am, we backed out of the station and set off.

The seats were comfortable, and equipped with a monitor and foldable desks. Opting to listen to music on my phone and take a nap during the approximately four to five-hour bus ride, I played my sensual salsa playlist and dozed off, having had only about four hours of sleep the night before. Midway through, we made a 30-minute stop at an oasis-like cafe around 11:45 am, allowing passengers to stretch and grab a bite. Scheduled to arrive in Madrid around 2 pm, I used the break to stretch and enjoyed the bocadillo and snacks packed by my host mom.

Upon arriving at the bus station in Madrid at around 2:15 pm, I headed to the exit, promptly calling my mom and dad back in Des Plaines, IL to assure them of my safe arrival. Faced with the choice of taking two buses or a 45-60 minute walk to my hostel on Calle Gran Vía, I chose the latter to explore the city during one of the busiest times, avoiding the crowded buses as people went home for lunch and siestas.

The walk to the hostel offered a fascinating glimpse into urban life in Spain. Passing by monuments, museums, attractions, souvenir shops, and restaurants, the bustling cityscape reminded me of Times Square and Michigan Avenue. Despite the seemingly isolated location of my hostel, nestled next to a high-end restaurant and fancy shopping store, finding it on the 5th floor of an apartment-like building took some troubleshooting, as there was no clear indication on Google or other websites.

The hostel featured a charming, floral lobby and a green, fairy-like outside area with a balcony overlooking Gran Vía. Check-in was a breeze, confirming my reservation and presenting my passport. Directed to my 6-person room with personal lockers, showers, and bathrooms, I found it to be the best and most affordable deal for my short 2-night stay in Madrid.

Later, around 6:30 pm, I headed to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s vibrant main square, to meet up with Daisy and Mohnish. Daisy and Mohnish, from different friend groups, provided a combined experience and perspective. Meeting Daisy by the red holiday tree at 7:15 pm, we caught up for about 30 minutes until Mohnish arrived with their friend Lily. The reunion was surreal, considering our plans had been discussed back in Urbana-Champaign about a month ago. Expressing the same sentiments, we prepared for a night of observing Madrid's nightlife and dining at a restaurant.

Adjusting plans, we decided to move up clubbing to that night, changing our guest-list tickets accordingly. After exploring the city and settling for a place called La Carmen for dinner, where I enjoyed a Sándwhich Club de Pollo, we spent time catching up and reminiscing about how we all met.

Around 9:30 pm, Mohnish aimed to head to the club by 11:30 pm. We split up to freshen up and change, meeting later at Mohnish’s friend's apartment named Em and Samantha. After a busy 2-hour buffer, including changing into different attire, taking a Metro train, and pregaming, we finally reached Club La Cuenca around midnight.

In short, the clubbing experience was wild, with three big rooms playing different types of music, high-tech lighting, and a vibrant atmosphere. I met new friends, both random strangers and Mohnish’s acquaintances, and stayed at the club until around 4 or 5 am. After some exploration and goofy antics around Madrid, I crashed at my hostel around 7 am.


I woke up around 10 am today as I had set an alarm to give me ample time to go shopping and hunt for carbs and Gatorade. I had a pretty bad headache from both being hungover and sleep-deprived; remember that I woke up yesterday at around 7 am to catch the bus and went to bed today at 7 am. I needed to meet up with Mohnish and Daisy today around 1 pm to go on a tour around Madrid and see some sites. I also needed at least a new shirt or something, as my casual clothes were a little messy from clubbing, and I wanted to bring back some sort of attire from Madrid. After shopping at the nearby Primark and going to a nearby Día, a convenience store, I took a short shower, gobbled down my chocolate croissant and Gatorade, and came up with a black outfit with my recently purchased black Madrid hoodie.

At around 12:30 pm, I left the hostel to meet up with the rest of them at Puerta del Sol, a public square with an equine statue of King Charles III, or Carlos III, & a 0km marker stone for Spanish distances. We met up at around 1:15 pm, and we did a short tour of Puerta del Sol, showcasing a statue of Carlos III. King Charles III of Spain, born Carlos III in 1716, was a notable monarch who ruled from 1759 until he died in 1788. He was a member of the Bourbon dynasty and played a crucial role in the Enlightenment-era reforms in Spain. Charles III implemented various progressive policies, including improvements in infrastructure, education, and agriculture. His reign is often referred to as "Enlightened Despotism," as he aimed to modernize and strengthen Spain. Other notable Enlightenment despots were Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria. The statue honoring King Charles III here in Puerta del Sol, erected in the 19th century, depicts the monarch on horseback. It serves as a tribute to his contributions to the development and modernization of Spain during a pivotal period in its history.

Here also stood the infamous bear and the tree statue, holding significant symbolism for the city. The bear is part of the official coat of arms of Madrid, known as "El Oso y El Madroño" in Spanish. The bear represents strength and resilience, while the madroño tree (a type of strawberry tree) symbolizes the natural abundance of the region. The presence of this symbol at Puerta del Sol is deeply rooted in Madrid's history. The bear and tree motif has been associated with the city since the Middle Ages. Over time, it has become an iconic and recognizable emblem, representing Madrid's identity and heritage. The statue of the bear and the tree in Puerta del Sol serves as a popular meeting point for locals and visitors alike and has become an enduring symbol of the capital city.

I could go on and on about these different history lessons about symbolism and monumental figures, but long story short, we traversed many other places after Puerta Del Sol, such as the many different plazas around the area and the cathedrals that stood in practically every part of the city. We also had planned to see the botanical gardens, but we thought it best to leave it until I plan another visit again in April as nothing significant has bloomed yet. Oh, I forgot to mention that it was only Daisy and me for this part of the tour as Mohnish wouldn’t join us until later that day due to having overslept.

In the middle of all this, we also went to grab a bite at a nearby Chinese restaurant called Mama Dumplings. It was a tight-knit restaurant with seating for maybe around 20 people, but it served to be one of the more popular choices for lunch as Daisy and I were lucky enough to grab seats since shortly after, there was a long line outside. One thing that struck me about this place, as simple of detail as it was, was the fact that the restaurant camareros spoke really good English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Imagine, three of the most spoken languages in the world with huge populations spoken by our servers. It was a dream of mine to learn all three languages to begin with, but I’m already intimidated by the process of learning Mandarin as I consider myself to be struggling to juggle and still have sophisticated conversations in English, Spanish, Bisaya, and Illonggo. We spent the time debriefing after the night out clubbing, talking about future trips or plans around Europe, and overall thoughts about our first few weeks here over some spicy soup and a duck dish.

The main event of this Madrid excursion was getting tickets to the Palacio Real de Madrid or The Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. It was pretty affordable to cop some tickets and there was also a discounted price for students. The Palacio Real de Madrid is an absolute gem, and exploring its grandeur is like stepping into a history book. One standout feature is the statue of Julius Caesar, which greets you once you enter the space and adds a touch of ancient Rome to the palace grounds. As I walked through the majestic halls, the ceilings caught my eye with their stunning decorations, featuring intricate frescoes and elegant chandeliers that gave hints and themes of the Renaissance era and Greco-Roman art.

One of the coolest parts of the palace is diving into the artifacts and rooms associated with Carlos III, a monarch who was way ahead of his time, essentially a personal tour through the life of this influential ruler. The rooms are adorned with period furniture that you can almost imagine him using, and the art pieces provide a glimpse into the cultural richness of that era. Some things I was able to see firsthand were 300-year-old instruments, the royal scepter and crown and golden fleece adornments, the banquet areas for the royals, and many more. Note that once we got into that more deeper parts of the areas we weren’t allowed to take pictures.

Wandering through the Palacio Real, I couldn't help but marvel at how each room tells a unique story about Spain's royal history. The blend of classical art, lavish interiors, and personal items from Carlos III's reign paints a vivid picture of life, at least for the royals, during that period. Whether you're into history and art, or just love exploring these kinds of places, the Palacio Real de Madrid is a must-visit. The vibrant tapestry of the past comes alive in every room and corridor, making it an unforgettable journey into Spain's rich cultural heritage.

Once we saw the rest of the palace, at least the parts that were available to the public, we then went through the souvenir department where I ended up buying a postcard and a silk maroon tie with the golden fleece pattern all over it. I might make it a habit to buy one significant item in any place I explore outside of Granada and outside of simple souvenirs or clothes.

The Palace was the last place we were going to tour for the day as Daisy and I decided to split up, as it was 5 pm, and meet up back again with Mohnish at around 7 pm to grab something to eat. I spent the next two hours doing my own excursion as I walked around more and saw places like the Estanque Grande de El Retiro, Puerta de Alcalá, and Plaza de España.

After doing all that, I met up with Mohnish at the Paseo de México by the Estanque Grande. We did some debriefing after a wild night at the club, then we made the walk to a restaurant nearby called El Minibar. It had great ratings online but was also affordable and located in a pretty but interesting spot in Madrid. When we got to the restaurant, though, it was pretty packed, and we had to wait for about 30 minutes for a table. I was really adamant about trying out the restaurant, and Daisy and Mohnish were down to wait and chill outside for a bit. After waiting for about 30 minutes and bonding over future plans to hang out and talk about Chicago suburbs type of things, we then got our notification and headed inside. The restaurant gave a very homey and eclectic vibe and also had a cool bar. We ordered a cheese salad, mini potatoes, and seafood-type chicken fingers with three types of sauces.

After the dinner, we then left to find another set of Mohnish’s friends who I think were their roommates. The rest of the night, long story short, consisted of us meeting up with Mohnish’s friends, Sophia and Maddie, trying to find a karaoke bar somewhere but everything being full or too packed, wandering the streets of Madrid once again, and concluding the night sitting on the ledges in front of the San Jerónimo el Real Cathedral reminiscing about high school and reflecting on our individual experiences.


I woke up today around 9:30 am, as I needed to check out of the hostel by 11 am. After returning last night from the Cathedral, I ensured that everything was packed, and my travel clothes for the journey back to Granada were neatly laid out at the end of my bed. Quickly freshening up, getting dressed, and confirming my packed belongings, I checked out around 10:30 am.

The plan last night was to visit Jollibee, a Filipino fast-food restaurant at Puerta del Sol, for dinner. However, we decided to shift it to today's lunch before my 2:30 pm bus departure. I met up with Daisy around 11:30 am at Jollibee, and we went inside while waiting for Mohnish, who was running a bit late. It was easy to discern the native employees from the non-natives at Jollibee. Still, it brought a similar sensation as the Chinese employees at Mama’s Dumplings - the ability to speak Tagalog/Bisaya, English, and Spanish was somehow amusing. This particular Jollibee was also the first, as far as I can recall, to offer chicken sandwiches. Most Jollibees I've been to only serve wings and gravy, spaghetti, palabok, and burger steak varieties. Both Daisy and I opted for the chicken sandwiches and caught up with Mohnish, who arrived shortly after we took our seats.

One of my goals in Madrid was not only to plan my first successful solo trip after Granada but also to bring Daisy and Mohnish together. It was surreal witnessing this crossover episode, hearing them make plans for the future, and bonding over the little things. It wasn't just about the grand plans or the picturesque backdrop of Madrid; it was these genuine interactions that added a unique layer to my travel narrative. Mission accomplished, I guess.

After lunch, we strolled around Puerta del Sol once again to capture candid photos, walked halfway towards the station (about a 45-minute walk), said our goodbyes at Estacion Antigua de Atocha, and then went our separate ways. Daisy and Mohnish headed back towards the town square, while I headed to the bus station down south. 


I will say that I do prefer Granada more. While Madrid was huge and very urban compared to Granada, I enjoyed the small-city feeling of Granada more or so as Madrid just gave me very New York and downt0wn Chicago vibes, which I was kind of sick of. I also enjoy being able to have the culture of Granada, both its Spanish-European and Arab-Islamic essence, upfront and center, as Granada's history and symbolism is one that I have wanted to see firsthand even before being accepted into the program. There were also some hidden, unspoken events that happened during this trip that made me rethink my perspective on the world, but it was at the cost of some level of comfort that caught me off-guard. Albeit, I'm happy with the outcomes and will forever have that level of appreciation of Madrid, with indelible memories and experiences etched into my psyche.

Overall, though, Madrid was a surreal experience in and of itself. My goals of planning a successful solo trip since Granada and connecting Daisy and Mohnish together were fulfilled while being able to explore both the party/clubbing and modern/cultural sides of Madrid. It was indeed a unique type of metropolitan city that served both as a tourist destination and the center for all things Spain, past and present. 

Semana Tres (01/29 - 02/03)

Exploring Beyond: Spiritual Immersion, Historic Encounters, and Culinary Adventures

I realize that as my days start getting even busier and a bit more monotonous, I'd rather highlight and discuss significant events that occurred during each week rather than narrate every single small thing I do on a daily basis. Just an FYI for how this layout will change going forward.

One significant event during the beginning of the week after Madrid was obtaining my "Certificado de delitos de naturaleza sexual." It's a legal document that reveals an individual's criminal record specifically related to sexual offenses, often required for various purposes like employment in certain positions or during adoption processes, to ensure public safety and assess an individual's background. In my case, I needed it to start my “practica” or community engagement practicum at a local school nearby, where I'll be assistant teaching English to teenagers.

The process itself wasn’t difficult; I simply needed to go to the Gerencia Territorial de Justicia de Andalucia offices near the town square, show my passport, fill out some paperwork, wait a bit, and receive my certificate. Monday morning was a good time to do it, as I heard from some of my peers that they needed to come back and make an appointment when they went at different times.

However, later that day, I learned that my first day of practicum was postponed by a week due to an impromptu class excursion. Consequently, my official first day would be the following Wednesday, February 7th, and I’ll make sure to document every minute of it here for you guys when the time comes.

Interestingly, during my Madrid trip, Violeta, CEGRÍ’s secretary who accompanied our group to our first Flamenco show, sent my host mom, María, a poster for another Flamenco event happening last Friday. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend since I had just arrived in Madrid. However, I took the invitation as a nudge to start exploring more Flamenco shows and possibly taking dance classes around Granada. Violeta had already provided me with contacts for Salsa, Bachata, and Flamenco dancing, but I hadn't looked into them yet as I was still figuring out how much time I could commit over the next few months. Nevertheless, it's something I'd like to pursue soon, so hopefully, the opportunity still awaits me in the near future.

On Tuesday, we delved deeper into history and geography while discussing the Arab-Islamic world with Uarda in SPAN 399. One significant thing I remembered was discussing the four main regions of the Arab world: la Península Arábiga, el Creciente Fértil, el Valle de El Nilo, y el Magreb. I was pleased that we were diving deeper into the material, as I believe the history of the Arab-Islamic world is underrated. The influence of the Arabian Peninsula and its contributions to the western world, such as state-building, sciences, architecture, navigation, and more, often go unrecognized. Towards the end of class, I had a chance to chat with Uarda briefly about Islam in the Philippines. She was curious about how the Philippines, being the only Asian country colonized by Spain with a Christian majority, differed from other Asian nations. I provided her with a brief history of Islam in the southern Philippines, which dates back to the 13th century when it was introduced by Arab traders and missionaries, particularly in the islands of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Over time, Islamic sultanates and communities emerged, coexisting with indigenous cultures. Spanish colonization in the 16th century led to resistance from Muslim communities, resulting in centuries of conflict known as the Moro Wars. American colonial rule in the late 19th century further fueled resistance, leading to the Moro Rebellion and subsequent struggles for self-determination. Efforts to resolve the conflict have included peace negotiations resulting in the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014, laying the foundation for the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. However, challenges remain, including disarmament, socio-economic development, and countering extremism, highlighting the complex and ongoing nature of the peace process in the southern Philippines.

Later that night, I finally had the opportunity to meet with a faith-based group here in Granada. As you may know, I am a Baptist and have been part of various churches and groups around the Chicagoland area. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I primarily attend the Bible Baptist Church about 15 minutes west of campus. On campus, I participate in Tuesday night Bible studies with Bridges International, an international Christian group that aims to support international students by fostering social connections and engaging in spiritual conversations, fostering global leadership. I reached out to one of my advisors, Ana, who used to live in Málaga and had connections with the bigger umbrella organization of Bridges, Cru, across Spain. I was then connected with Garrick and Dziu Roegner, who ran a similar group here in Granada called “Agape,” still under the Cru umbrella. That Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to meet them and some of the group during an informal gathering at Garrick and Dziu’s apartment. They had set up a table-wide charcuterie board with drinks and fresh fruits as a simple pre-dinner snack since I arrived around 6 pm (dinner in Spain usually doesn’t start until 9 pm). I met a few group members, locals, including Giovanni, Natacha, and another girl whose name I don’t quite remember. This was just a small group get-together since February is testing season for students, essentially Finals. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet more locals in the area and fully immerse myself in the Spanish language, as Dziu and Garrick were fluent in both English and Spanish, and everyone else was more comfortable speaking Spanish. Our conversations around the table included topics like history, cultural differences between the United States and Spain, getting to know each other's backgrounds, interests, great movies, deep concepts about life, and spirituality.

We ended the night pretty late, around 9 or 9:30 pm, and Garrick informed me to keep an eye out for a notification on WhatsApp from him about when regular group Bible study sessions would resume after testing season. Dziu also gave us some cupcakes to take home, and I ended up walking home with Giovanni. He was a 22-year-old Italian guy studying law and had various experiences, including being in the military and possibly becoming a judge, before settling on international politics. What intrigued me about him was that he shared many personality traits with me: he was multifaceted, understood the importance of staying curious and being a jack of all trades, shared a similar ideological stance, and was great at conversation. We discussed various topics, including cuisine, and planned to cook together in the future as I wanted to learn authentic Italian cooking, and he wanted to add Filipino cuisine to his culinary repertoire. Although he was flying back to Italy the next day and would be there for about two to three weeks for his nephew's baptism and other matters, we planned to get together again when he returned, providing yet another thing to look forward to during my stay in Granada.

On Thursday, we once again had our tour in the Arab-Islamic Cultural class with Uarda. This time we toured a little bit further south towards my neighborhood, Zaidín, looking at several buildings and architectural aspects of the neighborhood that were hiding in plain sight. One of which was the Ermita de San Sebastián, which carries significant historical and cultural weight. Dating back to the 16th century, it stands as one of Granada's oldest religious structures, venerating San Sebastián, a Christian martyr. Its Mudéjar-style architecture, blending Islamic and Christian design elements, reflects the city's rich and diverse heritage. Apart from its religious role, the hermitage offers stunning panoramic views of Granada and the Alhambra, making it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Its presence serves as a tangible link to Granada's past, contributing to the city's identity and sense of place.

Another one truly does hide in plain sight nearby. The Alcázar Genil nearby stands out for its remarkable cultural design, resembling a cave and reflecting Islam’s rich history. It incorporates elements inspired by the iconic Alhambra palace, showcasing intricate tile work and arches reminiscent of Moorish architecture. The station's unique ambiance captures the essence of Granada's cultural heritage, offering commuters and visitors a memorable journey through its visually striking spaces. Its design seamlessly integrates with the cityscape, serving as a modern yet culturally significant landmark, symbolizing Granada's commitment to preserving its heritage while embracing modernity in urban development.

After exploring several more features such as public gardens and other Moorish-style buildings, Uarda left us with some brochures to provide us with even more insight and depth into the city of Granada. It’s pretty evident by now that this class is probably one of the few classes that I really look forward to each week.

After concluding my last class for the day, Spanish Linguistics, I was going to my psychotherapy session with Martha Little when I totally forgot that it got postponed to next week since Martha fell ill. Albeit, that didn’t stop Thursday from being the most eventful day this week. After going home and taking a short nap, I then went off around 7:30 pm to Daly’s Pub for our weekly intercambio sessions. This night at the Pub was pretty chill, with only about half our group from the program going and simply spending our time there with a few drinks on hand and playing card games like Slaps and Spoons.

A little bit later though, I got to see Tara and the rest of my Irish friends again from last week and chilled with them while the rest of my peers from the program went to grab something to bite. I already ate so I was just going to chill with this group at the bar and head to karaoke at 11 pm. The group, mostly Irish with two Brazilians, exclaimed to me how fun the Salsa dancing was last week and that they were down to go again another time since I had plans to go to karaoke instead tonight. I also got to know Neil, another Irish guy that I didn’t get to bond with completely last week, better and talked about possibly planning a trip to Ireland sometime in April, which I was all for. He and them also gave me the insider on not going to the bar that every American goes to, Temple Bar, and gave me some really good recommendations and hidden gems that they know of in the area.

The night ended with me taking their group with me to karaoke at Hannigans which was full of Americans that night. Whether it was tourists or students, that night at Hannigans had Americans left, right, and center for a very patriotic karaoke night. Songs like “Valerie,” “Mr. Brightside,” and “Rolling in the Deep” gave way to the whole bar becoming a singalong session as the bar, I believe, was probably composed of about 80% Americans at one point. I think I heard from Cecilia that other than us U of I and Wisconsin-Madison students, a lot of the other students were studying at another Granada university and were from Kansas University. Nonetheless, it was a wild night and one that brought us all back home to the motherland–in the words of the person who ran the karaoke session, “5 million Americans living in Granada all of you fuckers just happen to find your way to this Irish Pub.” I left shortly after singing “Night Changes” by One Direction.

Friday was a nice chill day with the only big event, at least for me, being a hiking trip that Miguel Angel and Nerea took us on. I was able to pack a juice box, banana, and bocadillo for the trip as we left around 11 am and anticipated being back by around 3 pm or 4 pm, and I told my host mom to just leave lunch and la microonda. The hike was definitely a hike of its kind, as not only did it require a good amount of footwork but also gave way to amazing sites and panoramic views of Granada, the Alhambra, Sierra Nevada, and neighboring pueblos. Three notable areas during our trip were the Vista Panorámica Silla del Moro, Reloj de Sol, and el Cementerio de San José de Granada.

The Silla del Moro, or "Moor's Chair," is a strategic hill located in the Alhambra complex. From this elevated point, visitors can enjoy sweeping views of Granada, the Alhambra, the Albaicín neighborhood, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. This panoramic vista captures the essence of Granada's beauty, showcasing its blend of Islamic architecture, lush greenery, and rugged natural landscapes. The viewpoint offers a glimpse into the city's rich history, cultural diversity, and geographical significance as a meeting point between Europe and Africa.

The Reloj del Sol, the highest point of our hike, is a sundial that serves both a functional and symbolic purpose. Functionally, it tells time using the position of the sun's shadow cast onto its surface. Symbolically, it represents the city's connection to astronomy, mathematics, and the passage of time. Sundials have historical significance as one of the earliest timekeeping devices, and the one in Granada serves as a reminder of humanity's ingenuity and the importance of understanding celestial movements.

Shortly after, we passed by the Cementerio. During the Spanish Civil War, the San José Cemetery gained infamy as a site of executions carried out by Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces. Victims of political dissent and opposition to Franco's regime were ruthlessly executed and buried in mass graves within the cemetery. Among the victims were politicians, intellectuals, activists, and ordinary citizens who dared to resist Franco's authoritarian rule. The cemetery stands as a haunting reminder of the brutality of the conflict, with countless unmarked graves serving as a testament to the lives lost during this tumultuous period. The names of those buried here, though often unknown, symbolize the collective struggle for freedom and democracy in the face of oppression. Visiting the San José Cemetery is a sobering experience that sheds light on the human cost of political upheaval and the enduring quest for justice and remembrance.

The site also gave me the chance to talk to my peers even more about the broader historical context of the time, with the ideologies of Democracy, Fascism, and Communism at violent odds with one another, and their effects on the Spanish Civil War and whether one can even call it a proxy war. It makes sense why one might think that, but while the Spanish Civil War did involve some international involvement, particularly from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supporting Francisco Franco's Nationalist faction, and the Soviet Union aiding the Republicans, it was primarily a domestic conflict rooted in internal political divisions within Spain. Nevertheless, many Spaniards today still experience the aftermath of that period in history and continue to feel its impact. Oh, and I also got about two really bad nosebleeds on the way up and on the way down.

Later that night, I was able to visit a local youth group in the area–like a Bible study group for young people. I was invited to this group, called C29, by Natacha on Tuesday night with the Roegners and thought it was a great opportunity for me to practice and fellowship with the locals on a deeper level. It also gave me the chance to connect my Spanish-speaking abilities with my faith. The church where the group had their meetings was about a 40-minute walk up north, so I just took the bus which whittled it down to 15 minutes. I also made a pit stop to a supermarket nearby to buy caramel, chocolate, and strawberry syrup as the group chat that Natacha added me to had said somewhere that we were encouraged to bring a topping of our choosing for waffles, or gofes, during the session.

Long story short, I made it to the session, met the rest of the group, played some icebreaker games, ate waffles, did our Bible study, and communion, and bonded right after before we all left. I met a lot of the group and some other Americans who were also studying abroad. I was also able to meet the Youth Pastor and his wife who were both really charming and encouraging when it came to leading the session. Additionally, I got to know these two girls from the University of Connecticut who were also here until May, as well as this one girl from Germany who played an active part in the setup of the youth group and who I got to bond with shortly after leaving the session together. Rest assured that I was very happy indeed to have gotten the invitation from Natacha and also from the Roegners and Giovanni, who had gone to several sessions, for encouraging me to check it out.

The last major thing that happened was over the weekend where, other than taking a break and planning for my upcoming trip to Paris, Stockholm, and Sweden, I went through a cooking session with Amelia. We had made plans on Saturday to make dinner together and essentially cook for my host mom as my host brother and sister were out of the house for that night. We met up at around 5 pm, did some thrifting at some nearby stores, did some grocery shopping at this one Asian place, and then the mercadona (basically an Aldi). Amelia had initially planned to make Sinigang, a traditional Filipino soup characterized by its sour and savory flavor, typically made with tamarind broth and various meats or seafood, along with vegetables like spinach, radish, or eggplant. However, she made a quick change to Adobo, a traditional Filipino dish featuring meat (often chicken or pork) marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and spices, then simmered until tender. I was going to make two desserts that were served as an appetizer and an after-meal. One was Avocado Salad, my mom’s recipe consisting of avocados, mangos, bananas, and condensed milk, and Taho, a traditional Filipino snack made of soft tofu, sweet brown sugar syrup (arnibal), and tapioca pearls (sago), often sold by street vendors in the morning. After doing all that shopping, we took the bus back to my place, had Amelia meet my host mom, worked our magic in the kitchen with Salsa beats going in the background, and came out with way more than enough of a portion size of each dish to have a lot of leftovers. Success all around.

My host brother’s girlfriend was here for the weekend but they went out to eat that night when Amelia and I were cooking. When they came back, we had just started eating dinner and they not only loved the food but fell into food comas shortly after, including my host mom, from huge portions that we made. To quote Amelia, “No sabemos (Filipinos) cocinar para un grupo pequeño”. I ended up using a lot of the leftover rice, meat, and veggies to make fried rice the next day.


As boring as I thought this week might've been, looking back, it was pretty action-packed and I still have yet to process that a lot of this happened this past week. A lot of seeds have also been planted for future habits and events to come to fruition, including obtaining certification to assist Spanish students in English, potentially forging lifelong friendships like those with Giovanni and Neil, broadening my faith within an international framework through collaborations with Agape and Cru, organizing unexpected trips such as those to Ireland, enriching my culinary skills and capacity through collaborative cooking sessions, and much more.

Through all of this, one major struggle I've been facing has been trying to mentally balance this study abroad program as both a time to relax and a time to grind; a time to explore Granada and Europe, and a time to learn Spanish and SQL; a time to treat it like a vacation and a time to become an academic weapon. With all the plans, trips, and things that I want to try out thus far, and already four weeks in, there is this conflict in my head about me not having done enough and already being about a 1/4 into the program but also me using it as a time of exploration and soaking it all in before I really dig my feet in the ground. I expressed this same sentiment to Amelia and she simply reminded me that I was "still a student", hinting at the idea that I should not treat this program as a 4-5 month getaway, which is also the same idea that my Ameren boss, Shil, relayed as I navigate taking some online technical coursework. That's definitely not a struggle I remember talking or working through in my LAS 292 class (study abroad class to help with adjustment and whatnot), but even still, I've found the struggle for balance between contentment and complacency to be the story of my life. The thing that I am in agreement with myself is simply taking it one day at a time, and it's going to be interesting to see how I manage to juggle things while still having the time of my life as I continue to write these blogs during the rest of the program. 

Overall, I'm glad to see that more seeds have been planted this week and that I've given myself the chance to explore Granada in even more localized ways that I wouldn't have been able to find otherwise. This week seemed to also preclude a sort of turning point for me in this program, and I am more excited than intimidated to find out how to put into words what comes next. As I conclude, I will say that there is no amount of gratitude that can express thus far my appreciation for all of those who have supported and have been with me on this journey, whether it's to all of my friends in the program, the staff at CEGRÍ, my host mom and family, all new and old friends that I've connected and reconnected with, my parents and all my friends back home, and to all of you who took the time to read my blogs, extensively or not. I give my greatest thanks to God, my Christ, as I find myself time and time again in difficult situations, spoken and unspoken of, wherein He continuously extends His grace and mercy to me each morning, leading me to believe that He has a great purpose for me in this life, especially in times when I feel like nothing. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the support. ¡Nos vemos la próxima vez!

February 2024

Semana Cuatro (02/05 - 02/11)

Booking Trips, Teaching English, and Embracing Culture

The majority of the first half of this week has just been catching up with my blog, booking planes, hostels, and tour tickets for my upcoming trips next week, and going through the motions with my classes. Probably the hardest part was booking all of those things for my trip. Essentially, next week, starting February 16th, is our first break, which will last a little over a week-long as classes resume on Monday, February 26th. My plan so far is to fly to Paris during the morning of the 16th, fly to Sweden the afternoon of the 19th, fly to London the evening of the 21st, and fly back to Málaga, then take a bus back to Granada the afternoon of the 25th. During future blogs, I’ll reveal why I chose such places to begin with. Weirdly enough, during the week of the 25th, we only have classes on the 26th and 27th, as Wednesday the 28th is the holiday, “Day of Andalucía”, and we don’t have classes on that Thursday after. Apologies if I forgot to note this but at CEGRÍ, we don’t have classes on Fridays, but I have yet to figure out if that’s how it works in Europe or Spain in general. Thus, on the 29th, I might go ahead and travel somewhere for a little elongated weekend trip before classes start up again on March 4th. I’m currently debating between Hamburg, Germany, and Krakow, Poland, so stay tuned to how my decision develops. 

On a related note, my parents also recently called to let me know that they’re going to finalize their trip here soon. They plan to come to Granada during, I believe, the third week of April and travel to Paris a little later. They also plan on coming with two to three of some of their close friends, or my “aunties”, as companions but also acting as emotional support for my mom as she’s deathly afraid of airplanes. I’m waiting on the final confirmation at some point this week so I can book us tickets to tour the Alhambra and other related trips around Granada, much less Andalucía. 

One major thing that’s been an adjustment for me here has been realizing how overly punctual the buses are. On several occasions, I arrived at the bus stop around 2-5 minutes early and the bus was either leaving or had already left. Luckily, the bus comes every 10-15 minutes, but even then, I have grown to become even more punctual than I already am. I don’t know, just one thing that sort of irritated me in the beginning. One a side note, between Arab-Islam and Linguistics class on Tuesday, about 2-3 hours apart, I had realized that I had forgotten the Avocado Salad and Fried Rice portions that I had made for Miguel Angel and Nerea, but having already memorized the bus system, I was quickly able to make the trip back home, a 30-minute walk both ways, in about 20 minutes. So having the bus come every 10 minutes or so definitely makes up for its over-punctuality. 

Anyway, on that same day, we had to do presentations in my Arab-Islamic class on specific countries we were assigned about two weeks ago. I chose the United Arab Emirates as it’s one of the few Arab-Islamic countries that I know little about. However, these were “mini-presentaciónes” simply giving the bare bones of the our respective country’s culture and background. I however, opted for a more wider preview of mine, as every time I analyze a country, I focus on four things: its political, economic, socio-cultural, and geographical aspects. I also had to do it all in Spanish, both the physical and oral presentation, which, at the end of it, actually turned out pretty great. Feel free to check out the PPT that I linked to the side ->

After the Linguistics class, on my walk back home, I passed by the bread lady who has a stall in Plaza Mariana Pineda and is quite popular and cheap. It's best to arrive early as her products tend to sell out quickly as I pass by her stall every day and there’s always a huge. It’s said that she makes all of her breads homemade from a town in the mountains and comes down every day to sell them affordably. Luckily when I went, she still had a few things in stock. I ended up buying a sizeable bag of chocolate filled croissants for only 4€. 

Last major thing that happened that Tuesday was around 8:30pm when I headed to Daly’s Pub as I wanted to borrow Steve Daly’s, the owner of the Pub, violin. He offered to lend me it a few weeks ago and I finally wanted to take him up on his offer. Once I got there, it was just him at the bar as it had just opened and we talked for a little bit, with two to three other guys showing up. There were also these two other college girls that came in just for drinks and a game of chess, but long story short, we all ended up conversating over topics such as international politics, Irish culture, musical tastes, and more. I also took some time to experiment with different flavors for a cocktail and I ended up coming with a really pleasant-tasting one with half Malibu rum and half grape juice and orange juice, with a splash of grenadine syrup. I wanted to do pineapple juice instead of grape and orange juice, but it wasn’t in stock. Hopefully, when I come back on Thursday, I can make it and hopefully come up with something of my own. I then left the restaurant with the violin and took the bus home. 

On wednesday I finally started my Practica or community service engagement at a school nearby. It was called the Colegio de Ave Maria and I was set to meet with Yanira, one of CEGRÍ’s faculty, at a plaza on the way so we could walk together. We met at the Plaza del Angel and then left for the Colegio. On the way, we chatted a little bit about what to expect from the Colegio and then diverged into plans for the first pausa, or school break. Remind you that I’ll be doing this Practica every Wednesday from 10:15am - 11:15am, essentially just teaching one class period’s worth of an english class. I then explained my plans to hear about my trips to Paris, Stockholm, and London, as I plan to cover all three cities in the span of February 16th to February 25th. She told me how exciting it was but how tight of an itinerary it was, which it is, but I plan to really make the most out of this first break as I still have many other places I want to visit during the next few months. \

We then arrived at the Colegio and waited outside the gate for the teacher to come and pick us up. While waiting, surprisingly, a friend that I met at one of the Intercambio sessions popped up out of nowhere. It was a such a unique experience, as simple as it was, as I only really get those sorts of run-ins back in Des Plaines or the U of I campus. It could be a sign that I was slowly starting to assimilate and feel Granada as truly another home.

After we said our goodbyes, Virginia, the teacher for my class, came to pick us up at the gate. Vama, one of my peers from this Granada program, also met us at the gate as she had just finished teaching her period with this current period being my turn. Once Yanira and Vama left, Virginia led me to her classroom to introduce me to her kids. It was a group of 15 and 16 year olds who were all very nice and amiable. What I’m liking so far about my Practica is that I’m basically left to my own devices, as Virignia explained that she can help me with lesson plans and whatnot if I ask but at the end of the day, I can organize and do whatever I want, which was very on-brand for me. I spent the class introducing myself, having each student individually introduce themselves to me, answering their questions about American life, asking more questions about Granada and my adjustment so far, etc. We covered topics from favorite foods and sports to colloquial terms and local activities. I have no complaints so far about the class and have already started drawing plans for how I want to structure my one hour with them, covering topics like American linguistics, Gen Z terms, History, Music, and so forth. I was also able to introduce them to my website and how I’ll be documenting my study abroad experience on this page, so if any of them are reading this right now, make sure to remember key details of my travels as I’ll be quizing you guys soon 😉. 

Later that day after lunch, I ended up bringing Steve’s violin to CEGRÍ as I had some pieces that I wanted to play with Kyle, one of my peers in the Granada program. He’s a classical pianist and I wanted to try a violin student concierto by Seitz and “Salut D’Amour” by Edward Elgar, both pieces that have violin-piano arrangements. It was also this time that I was able to figure out how to use the CEGRÍ printer, which was pretty straightforward and just like any other bluetooth printer, but I hadn’t really brought myself into figuring it out until today, so that’s something, I guess. Anyway, once I printed out the pieces, Kyle and I ran through a couple of the pages of pieces, as we were both sightreading, and for a preliminary run-through, it was pretty good. I also hadn’t been able to play the violin in CEGRÍ, much less here in Spain in that capacity for a little over a month, so being able to have it on my shoulder again felt like getting my third arm reattached. I’m grateful to Steve for trusting me with his violin.

Later that wednesday night, I spent the rest of the evening just trying to finalize and work out my first break plans. Here in Spain we call it “Semana Blanca”, and while I found cheap flights and decent hostels ready to be booked, something about actually doing it was so intimidating. Number one, because I was like, spending money, and number two because it was actually happening to begin with. As I’ve stated this was my first time in Spain, much less Europe, so the fact that I’m actually planning a trip to major cities in Europe that I’ve only read in history books with such ease–it was intimidating to say the least. Por lo tanto, I ended up not booking or buying anything yet as I need to do some more mental preparation. 

On Thursday, as you all can figure, we headed on another excursion with Uarda for the Arab-Islamic class but this one was a really insightful one. We visited Granada’s one and only Mosque up by the Mirador de San Nicholas that faced the Alhambra. 

Right after that excursion and doing some review in my Linguistics class with Miguel Angel, I met once again with Martha Little, the psychotherapist, to follow up on thoughts carried on since the last time we met. I don’t want to disclose too much on here as it’s all personal matters, but long story short, I was taught how to properly do anxiety tracking in order to really get into the roots of my core beliefs. It was a very psychoanalytic and epigenetic endeavor, but this was the point as I felt comfortable enough with myself and who am I, at least that point, to take another step into understanding my concious, preconcious, and subconcious thoughts. 

Our intercambio session later that night consisted of me meeting two new friends among others, Nadine and Maxi, and gauging their backgrounds. They both had been going to the intercambio sessions for a while and had backgrounds living in the Untied States and Spain. While my other peers went out to grab dinner, I stayed with Alexa and my new friends the Pub and ended up jamming to some classics. We asked to borrow Steve’s Guitar and I used his violin as Alexa and I sang/played classics like “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka and songs by Laufey. I also did end up returning Steve’s violin early as he mentioned that he would need it for a jam session on Friday. 

Once it hit 11:15pm I headed over to the Karaoke Session at Hannigans & Sons later that night. I came to find the rest of my peers bonding and later playing Spin The Bottle, but the Truth or Dare version, as we ordered ciders and beers. The rest of the night consisted of another fun karaoke session with our songs looking like “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele and “Smokin Out the Window” by Bruno Mars. Once that was over, I unfortunately missed the last bus back to my neighborhood so I ended up walking home but in the rain. Albeit, I was pretty grateful that there was rain to begin with as that was the first rain Granada has seen in about two to three weeks. 

Friday was merely a rest day as I spent most of the day just catching up on the blog, doing some homework, doom scrolling, and mustering up the mentality to spend buttloads of money on tours and transportation for my upcoming Western-Northern Europe trip during the first break, starting February 16th. Although, later that Friday night, I headed to Youth Group with that C29 cohort I was telling you guys about. Albeit, when I stepped onto the bus station, I realized that my data service from Orange, a phone service company here, wasn’t working. It turns out that my data service for the past month had expired and I needed to pay online or in person somewhere to pay for this month’s data. I unfortunately had gotten the text yesterday but didn’t read it, so I guess that came to bite me back in the ass as I was now on some random bus unable to use my location on Google Maps to see where I was going or which station to stop at. Luckily, Google Maps still had the bus route pulled up on the screen but I just couldn’t track my location, so I just looked at my surroundings to figure out where I was and which streets to look out for and which cardinal directions I  needed to pay attention to. Long story short, I made it out alive as I got off the right bus station and found my way to the C29 building.

After meeting new faces and going through Bible study, where I first made a real attempt to pray in Spanish, some of my peers in the group had planned to go out and bond over some tapas after the program. I didn’t think I was really invited or wanted to come until one of them, Janell, implored me to come. At first I said I might just want to go home instead, but they insisted and seemed like they really wanted me to come, so I ended up joining them. After a quick scroll and search down Gonzalo Gallas, a nearby street that apparently houses many of the “young” restaurants and bars in Granada, we settled on having some drinks and tapas at a place called Bar Biggie’s. We all sat by the bar area and ordered some chicken tapas and a variety of drinks–I had a beer. The opportunity to hang out with them gave me the chance to mingle more with the rest of the C29 youth cohort. I got a chance to meet and get to know people like Josué, a fellow 19-year-old studying ophthalmology and musician, and Cecilia, a very talented artist. Our conversations with the others including Janell included talking about our backgrounds, passions, interests, my trips next week, and plans on some hangouts in the future like karaoke. It was a really interesting experience as it was probably the first real hangout I’ve had with other young people in the area whose principal language was Spanish. It was also intriguing to reflect on how this experience was both new and yet reminiscent of my past. Growing up in the Philippines, where Bisaya or Illonggo was the primary language, transitioning to English in the United States, and now interacting with Spanish-speaking youth in Spain, has given me a diverse perspective on language and culture; It has opened my eyes to the reality of conforming to this identity of being multilingual.

It’s funny because later that night, after having this realization, it also dawned on me that I should really make an effort to put even more effort into the Spanish language. After that experience with the youth group, I realized that Spanish is literally part of my everyday life here in Spain: speaking Spanish with my host family, in my classes, meeting new people, my youth group, in clubs, our excursions, and so forth. While I’m at the point where I can get by with my current Spanish development, I don’t want to just come out of this experience in Granada in May just being able to “get by”. My goal for this program was to be fluent or at least proficient in my Spanish goals. I realize that during the last two weeks of February that I’ll be traveling for the whole time in places like Paris, Stockholm, London, Morocco, and so forth, places where I will need to speak in English anyway. Then, when I get back, boom, it’s March–I only have two more months left of the program. Both of these things, Spanish in my everyday life and my fleeting time here in Spain, gave me the more conscious motivation and devotion to really be one with the language and culture. I vowed then that I would really make the effort that the program and goals deserved, spending some time during the weekend looking at colloquial expressions native to Granada, reviewing verb conjugations, studying Islam more closely, and changing my phone and computer settings to Spanish.

The next day, Saturday, I spent the morning going to GreenPhone, the phone store where I got my Orange sim, and paid manually my data for the month. I’m pretty sure I need to pay for it every 13th of the month, so I’ll keep that in mind for March.

Next stop for Saturday’s itinerary in the afternoon was going shopping at Nevada Shopping again, but this time with Amelia. We had briefly discussed shopping together after we made dinner last time, so today we decided to make the trip to Nevada Shopping as both had some ideas about what we needed to buy for both the Concierto tonight by the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, as well as our upcoming international trips in about a week. Once we met up somewhere in a plaza in el centro after attempting to buy some tickets in person at the box office since the website wasn’t working, we took a walk to a nearby bus station whose bus was one of the only buses that would take us across the highway to Nevada Shopping. If you guys remember from last time when I first went shopping there, I literally had to walk under a highway that had no visible sidewalk to get there, so this time we planned on taking a bus there and then taking the metro back.

The shopping experience itself was pretty successful as we both came out of the mall looking like Cher from Clueless. A highlight from both of us was Amelia getting some black boots that she had been looking for and me managing to take advantage of some great sales a prices at the store, coping a couple of jackets, joggers, and tshirts for under forty euros. However, I still wasn’t able to find a decent black trenchcoat…

After we split up on the Metro, I made it back home quickly to change into my formal attire for the concierto. I needed to meet up with the rest of the gang at the auditorium to get tickets around 7pm and it was already 6:15pm when I made it back home. I quickly dumped all of my clothes in my room, got dressed, freshened up, and then headed out the door. I walk to the nearest bus stop with buses that take you up to the Auditorio Manuel de Falla which was right by the Alhambra. Fast-forwading through the night, I met up with the rest of my peers outside the Auditorium, got our tickets, found seats in the choir balcony behind the orchestra, and enjoyed Brahms’ Concierto para violín en Re mayor, op. 77  and Sinfonía núm. 1 en Do menor, op. 68. I was particularly excited about these pieces as they were about forty minutes long and were also composed by one of my favorite romantic era composers. Moreover, Brahms’ first Sinfonía also took him about twenty years to compose, as he worked hard to make it perfect as he constantly felt under the shadow of the great romantic era composers that have gone before him like Beethoven, Strauss, and Schumann. It was also interesting to see how my peers reacted to concierto etiquette such as no clapping between movements, elongated clapping after the soloist and conductors comes in and out backstage, the soloist giving an encore after playing the concierto, and so forth. It was very fun experience overall and also very enlightening as it was my first concierto in a foreign country. 

The rest of the weekend consisted of my continuing to stress over spending money for tickets and tours for my upcoming international trips during the break on the 16th, making avocado salad once again for my host family, and going to Daly’s Pub to grab a drink and meeting another friend from Ireland.

Semana Cinco (02/12 - 02/15)

It turns out that I had a lot of extra avocado salad from Sunday that I decided to pack some into some zip-lock bags and give them to my profesora, Uarda (Arab-Islam teacher who takes us on those Thursday field trips).

The morning of Monday, I pretty much just spent the morning writing my blog, doing my homework, and working on my SQL coursework. Later that day, I had planned a little get-together with my friend Nya before class at around 3:30 pm. We decided to meet up at Kona Cafe somewhere in El Centro and I met her there shortly, chatting over hot chocolate. We covered a range of “catching-up” topics such as our slow assimilation into Spanish culture/language, past and upcoming trips, thoughts about our current classes, and more. It had been a while since we actually followed up with each other since being on our own devices and busy with all things Granada, so this was just something that I wanted to set up as a follow-up with the person I knew first coming into this program.

By now, I had pretty much bought all of my plane and travel tickets for Paris, Stockholm, and London, so really I spent some time the rest of that Monday just looking at websites such as GetYourGuide and Viator to book some tours and activities in each of the cities. Also, alongside doing my Linguistics homework, I also took more initiative to learn more about Islam and actually looking videos on YouTube about topics covering the 5 pillars, architectural designs of Mosques, supplementary writings and scriptures, important dates, and so forth. I felt more comfortable and prepared thus far when walking into my Islam class on Tuesday having even more background knowledge of the religion and its customs. I intend to really continue this journey of exploring Islam in the future as I could possibly partner this practice with my homework for the class.

On Wednesday, I chose that to be the day that I finally got a haircut before the program. I thought it would be an appropriate time since it was the day before I left, so the haircut stays fresh during my travels, and also not too late when I’m scrambling to find a decent barber and still come up with a good style for my really thick hair. I ended up going to this one place, Peluqueria Progreso, which was only about a two-minute walk south of CEGRÍ and was actually suggested to me by my profesora, Nerea. Apparently, that was the one that Miguel Angel usually goes to and is known to be pretty popular and cheap. This held true as I opted to get my cut early Wednesday morning, before my afternoon classes later that day, and only ended up paying eleven euros. My barber was also really nice and accommodating to experimenting with my hair as it was pretty long and thick, which essentially makes for any type of hair-do to be done. It was also the first time that I’ve really had to use “haircut” vocabulary in Spanish, so this was another one of those moments where I wish I had remembered all those vocabulary words that we initially deemed useless back in high school. Funny enough, I ran into Miguel Angel at the end of my cut as he had actually booked the time right after me, so that was pretty cool.

Right after that, since the Bread Lady was nearby and on my walk back home, I decided to stop by and buy some “bolsas de chocolates”, basically chocolate-filled mini-croissants, which were only four euros a bag. I’m still in disbelief that such huge portions of delicious bread came at that price from a random vendor at the plaza, but then again, it makes for the reason why she’s a staple of Granada and why a line appears in front of her every time I pass by.

I pretty much spent the rest of that Wednesday studying for the three tests I had coming up. There was a little referendum in a few of my classes on whether to take our first midterm before or after our first break (semana blanca), and while some were unsure, we ended up voting to do it before as the tendency would be to forget things over the break. I had a test in my Grammar, Phonetics, and Linguistics classes, and two of them were on that Wednesday. Albeit, I came into the tests feeling pretty confident and the same coming out, so hopefully that confidence doesn’t come out false when I get my results in a few weeks jaja.

On a side note, right after the tests, Hailey, Nya, and I stayed a little after as they had said that they wanted to go on my Morocco trip with me in about two weeks. I had found a five-day Morocco program that landed exactly on my five-day weekend right after semana blanca, so it was a great opportunity that only cost three hundred euros. We agreed to follow up with each other on buying tickets sometime next week as we needed to gauge what our budgets and schedules would look like, albeit, it was a trip that we all wanted to go on. While I was hesitant at first since I would literally be coming back from my three-pronged trip from France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, I thought it would be a great idea anyway to visit a warm country during the colder months and save some others for late March and April.

One funny thing that happened later that Wednesday night came in the form of a colloquial exchange between my host family and me. I was asking them questions about some colloquial terms I learned that are native to Granada and Andalucía such as “carnalita en rama” (perfect) and “mi arma” (my love/my soul). I wanted to expand my reach on speaking like a “Granaino” and my host mom, sister, and her boyfriend added to the list with things like “me mola” (me gusta) and “no ni na” (yeah right).

On that Thursday morning, with our tour by Uarda in Arab-Islam class. We visited a couple of places consisting of “El Hammam del Bañuelo” and “El Maristán”. My reflection on both of these places that I wrote later that day is as follows: When we visited the Bañuelo's hammam, it was very interesting to see how it was built during the ancient days of Granada in the 11th century, showing how people used to bathe a long time ago. It has rooms where people relax and three rooms for steam baths: cold, tepid, and hot. The largest room has a large round ceiling and columns from old buildings, also with designs like an arch and holes in the ceiling that look like stars. From what I learned, although people stopped using it for baths a long time ago, it was still used for laundry and homes, and since 1918, people have protected it in the late 1920s, Leopoldo Torres Balbás fixed it to keep it safe. It was amazing to see that it is still preserved and that we could visit it. Then, the Maristán, the next place we visited that day, was built by the Nasrid ruler Muhammad V in the 14th century, it was not just a place for "crazy" people, as some thought. It was like a hospital that helped people with different illnesses, including mental ones, and also trained doctors. It was only later that I learned that the word "Maristán" comes from Persian and means "house of the sick". Like Balbás, it is very fortunate that someone like Carles G. Bárcena has been a significant influence with his ideas, showing that kind ways of treating patients and its peaceful atmosphere remain relevant today, showing how they can help heal.

Immediately after those tours, I had to rush back to CEGRÍ as we had a Linguistics test and only had about a thirty-minute break period between those two classes, and it was cut short a little bit as the tour went a little long. Nevertheless, on a surprising note, the Linguistics test was probably the one that I was most confident about out of the three that I had that week. It was also a funny kind of test as a lot of it consisted of sounding out the phonemes and phonetics of certain words and letters, so for a good amount of time, you just heard people humming or placing their hands on their throat or mouth to answer some of the questions. Ultimately, I came out of the test actually ending pretty early and walking out of there like a free man, knowing that I was set to fly for Paris first thing tomorrow (Friday).

I had gotten word earlier that day that my Psychotherapy session wasn’t until like 3:45 pm, and since I had ended a bit early from my Linguistics class, around 1:45 pm, I had a decent two hours to go to the nearby Mercado and tourist shops to buy some gifts for the people I was visiting for my big trip. After scouring around the stores, I came back to CEGRÍ with a good amount of Granada t-shirts, mugs, Arabic tea sets, and scarfs for a little less than seventy euros total, which wasn’t that bad for the number of things I bought. I was also able to make some great conversation with several store vendors while picking out mugs and t-shirts, asking them about their preferences, and sharing my upcoming trip.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about my psychotherapy session, but let’s just say my brain was, for once, unable to comprehend what was just said during our session. I felt like a whole new world of new ideas had just opened for me, and it’s been a struggle to comprehend. Think "Allegory of the Cave" by Plato. I’m going to need the next few weeks to contemplate, which I will have anyway because of my trips.

I still had doubts about the Morocco trip as Morocco hadn’t initially been on my list of places to visit while I was in Spain, considering that it was an unfamiliar place for me and out of European Union territory, but since finding the trip on the BestLifeExperience five-day program, I was really eager to find more reasons to go. Luckily, during the Intercambio session later that Thursday night, Alexa, the organizer, confirmed that she’d received numerous notes from her friends who had gone to indeed go on the trip. She hadn’t gone herself but did say that once she had the budget for it she would do it in a heartbeat.

On a side note, I was also able to meet Dorjan, another Intercambio regular that night, as we bonded a little bit over our shared experience as foreigners in Granada and how he’s been adjusting so far since his stay here. From what I remember, he came to Granada last August and intends to stay for about two years. He also added me to a group chat with other internationals and foreigners in the area and how I should definitely check in with the team about any plans that may arise in the near future once I return from my trips. I was also able to make my “Malibu Sunset” cocktail again that night as Steve, the owner and bartender, had officially written down the recipe and remembered it for my sake.

Once the intercambio was over, I chose to skip Karaoke for the night and headed straight home to continue packing and pull an all-nighter. My flight was scheduled for 9 am from Málaga, and my bus to Málaga from Granada was set for 6 am. One thing I forgot to mention too is that I’d pretty much be backpacking this whole trip, having on my shoes and about two to three outfits in my bag as I plan to buy more stuff in Paris and Sweden and then possibly buy another bag in London to shop for more. However, I started feeling anxious about the possibility of missing the bus and flight, especially since I tended to snooze my alarm, particularly when it was so early. Once I recount the entirety of my Paris trip, you will see how the night took a rather risky yet fulfilling turn in the end, marking an awesome start to my first solo international trip since arriving in Spain.

París, Francia (02/16 - 02/19)


So, there I was, on that Thursday night into Friday morning, pulling an all-nighter. Mind you, my flight was around 9 am, and my bus to Málaga, where the airport was located, was scheduled to leave around 6 am, getting there approximately by 8 am. However, the bus station was about a 20-minute train ride away from the airport, and there weren’t any bus tickets available that went directly to the airport for that day. Thus, I had two concerns: waking up early to make it to the bus station and trying to make it to my gate just in time for boarding. My solution to this predicament was to cancel my bus ticket and try out this new ridesharing platform called BlaBlaCar.

I was initially hesitant, as I had never really tried other ridesharing platforms besides Uber or Lyft. However, after reading numerous online reviews and conducting some research that spoke highly of it, I decided it was the best option for getting to the airport. It was also more affordable, and there were drivers heading in that direction early in the morning, providing enough time to get me to the airport with ample time to rest and find my gate comfortably.

I ended up hitching a ride with an Iberia Airlines flight attendant named Beatriz who was set for pick up around 4:30 am. She was in her early 40s and had hundreds of four and five-star reviews on her BlaBlaCar page. The meeting point was at a nearby gas station which was only a good 15-minute walk from my place. So, I think you guys see why this was a tad bit risky. Not only was I meeting a stranger at a nearby gas station at about 5 am, but also noted the fact that she may not speak any English at all. Then again, it would allow me to really force myself to speak Spanish, and I also saw good reviews from Brits and Americans on her website page.

Zooming through the story to me making the walk to the gas station and hopping in her car, Beatriz was actually really nice and accommodating and was also already in her flight attendant outfit as she had flights all day. I was able to make conve

rsation with her during the majority of the trip and even took a short nap once I felt it was a comfortable environment. The ride was only about two hours or so and Beatriz was really chill and kind during the duration of the trip–definitely worthy of those five-star reviews she was getting. Once we got to the airport around 6:30 am, we parked in the designated spot for flight staff and Beatriz walked me to the entrance of the airport–we said our goodbyes and parted ways accordingly. I also attached a picture of us on the slideshow on the side.

This little plan of mine to make it a bit earlier to the airport worked out too well, as I ended up actually reaching the airport a good two to three hours before my flight, and boarding for my flight wouldn’t start for another hour and thirty. Albeit, I was pretty hinged on the idea that I’d rather be a little too early for my first international flight alone than scrambling and contemplating my life choices. I spent the time doom scrolling on TikTok and Instagram, then writing a bit more for my blog.

Fast forward through TSA, Customs, and the flight–all pretty uneventful and routine stuff–I finally landed at the Paris-Orly Airport, just south of the city. Once I landed, I gave a sigh of relief seeing that my Orange SIM still worked in France, which it should, but I was thinking the worst. I got on Google Maps and looked for a decent route by public transport or train to the city since Orly was ways away from it. Several trams and trains went through the airport, and after consulting with airport attendees and staff, I was able to navigate my way through two subway routes and make it to the heart of Paris.

Arriving at a subway station in the middle of Paris, I saw on Maps that my hostel “The People” was still a ways away from the heart of the city and was about a twenty to thirty-minute walk from where I was, near Notre Dame. I could’ve taken a different subway line to make it to the place, but I actually just decided to make the walk I was interested in just walking through Paris, taking in what would be my very first time in the city while also lightly gloating at my first successful flight alone on an international scale.

The hostel itself was awesome, serving as an autonomous bar and restaurant within the reception area and a nice view of downtown from my room, given that I booked a four-person suite. I had finally settled in around 3 pm and decided to take a breather before I headed out around 6 pm to meet my high school Spanish teacher, Sra. Barbas, at 7 pm for dinner. She moved to Paris about a year ago, not long after her husband passed and a year after my graduation. They were both from Spain, her from Madrid and him from Sevilla. After laying Sr. Barbas to rest in Sevilla, she decided to join her daughter, who's been living in Paris for a while now. I had been texting her throughout the week as I approached my trip here in Paris and we were able to set up a dinner in the city at around 7 pm at this one restaurant in Old Paris.

Once it was about 5:45 pm, I freshened up, got into some clothes, and made my way out of the hostel to navigate through a nearby subway station. The Paris subway station was very punctual and easy to figure out, although I will say that if you guys plan to be in Paris for more than a couple of days, definitely buy the multi-day pass. This was an error on my part as I didn’t realize how much I would be traveling around Paris by subway, because while the city was walkable, it was also a huge city and needed travel by local transport to see all the sites in a timely manner.

But anyway, once I made it downtown, I walked across the bridge to the island of Old Paris and finally met up with Sra. Barbas after a good two to three years. She was as radiant as ever and seemed to have really accustomed herself to the vibe of Paris, and was very well knees deep into her next chapter in life. We met at “Les Deux Colombes”, a restaurant in the area, which seemed like a small quaint site for dinner but, at the end of the night, I would deem as probably one of the best foods I’ve had in a long time.

The restaurant itself has an amazing history. Located in Old Paris, on the island, and only a minute's walk from Notre Dame, the history of "Les Deux Colombes" spans seven centuries, rooted in medieval Paris. Named after a legend of love-struck doves, it commemorates a Breton sculptor's pigeons trapped in the ruins of Notre Dame's construction. The pigeons' survival inspired a neighborhood cult, leading to the tavern's renaming to Saint-Nicolas. Over time, it became a hub for young lovers and newlyweds seeking blessings. Despite subsequent renovations and transformations, the establishment retains its enchanting atmosphere, offering a blend of simplicity and refined cuisine near the Seine. The restaurant's lore also includes stories of Cartouche, the Parisian Robin Hood, who found refuge here, and his daring exploits, including a dramatic heist that saved a ruined merchant from suicide.

Once we got seated, we started off with some wines, me with a Bordeaux and Barbas with a type of white wine, and then ordered French Onion Soups as appetizers and then a duck entree for me. Over all this food, we spent a lot of time catching up with me gauging what her life has been like so far since she got to Paris. She recounted the story of her retirement from Maine West High School during the Spring of 2023, but since then, it seems that she hasn’t really looked back too much and has been living it up in Paris. Sra. Barbas has been keeping busy with taking French classes on a daily basis, spending time bonding with her daughter, connecting with different travel/backpacking groups in the area, and has occasionally traveled back to Spain, recently completing a multi-day biking/walking trip across El Camino De Santiago.

The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes leading to the shrine of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It's a significant Christian pilgrimage route attracting travelers worldwide. The main route, Camino Francés, starts in France and crosses northern Spain. It offers a cultural and spiritual journey through historic towns and landscapes.

Further into our conversation, we also recounted memories back in Maine West and talked more about her late husband, the life he lived, and the life that she’s currently living in remembrance and honor of him. I considered a line in a famous short story by Jorge Luis Borges, the last sentence reading, “No sé cual de los dos escribe esta página”, as the story outlines Borges’ struggles to differentiate between his personal and professional identities, constantly at odds with one another. I noted this line as I remembered reading it a few years back in her class and as it was currently the story of my life, trying to stay true to myself while diving into my career. Like Borges, I'm wrestling with who I am in my personal life versus the professional world unfolding before me. It's a journey of self-discovery and adaptation, just like his story reflects. It was both an inspiration and a relief to know that Sra. Barbas was going through a similar challenge but on a more seasoned level, in the sense that she was in this uncertain transition between her old life as a teacher and her new, but excitingly simultaneous life as a retiree and traveler of the world. We were seemingly both on these journeys of similar circumstances, so it was refreshing to have her be one of my first memorable moments traveling abroad by myself since making it to Spain.

After posting a story on Snapchat about our meetup and doing a quick FaceTime chat with one of my friends, Marco, back at the U of I, we headed out of the restaurant to do a quick walking tour around Old Paris. It was getting late, as we stayed at the restaurant until about 9 or 10 pm, but despite being a bit overwhelmed by the charm of Paris, I soaked in the sights. Walking along the River Seine, Sra. Barbas shared stories and recommended places in Paris that I should explore during my visit. Once that was all said and done, I dropped Sra. Barbas off at a nearby subway station to say my goodbyes, unsure if I was going to see her again during my stay, and spent the rest of the night walking towards the Eiffel Tower to end the evening at the Place du Trocadéro to watch it illuminate before heading back to my hostel.


Now, Saturday was fully just a “me” day. In between seeing Sra. Barbas Friday night and meeting up with a U of I alum on Sunday, Saturday was my day to frolic and explore Paris on my own accord. I started it out by having breakfast at my hostel, with two pains au chocolat and English breakfast tea, and then took the subway to make it to the Generali Balloon for a scenic view of Paris. The Generali Balloon is a tethered helium balloon in Parc André-Citroën, Paris, offering panoramic views of the city from a height of about 492 feet. It operates year-round and can carry up to 30 passengers at a time. My booked time that I made through the tourist app “Viator” was at 10:00 am, and I made it there around 9:45 am.

The area where the balloon was was a very peaceful site with an open grass lawn and garden with a museum nearby. While I was up on the balloon, it was easily one of the best first impressions I had of Paris, considering the clear Saturday sky, radiant sunshine, and temperatures in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit. As many have told me in the days coming, I seemed to have been very lucky with this “me” day of mine as Paris weather was apparently almost never this pleasant.

Once that was over, I walked around the field and gardens of the area and called up my parents to keep them updated on how my “me” day was going. I was able to show them the balloon from afar and talk about how the rest of the day was going to unfold. After wishing me well, I hung up, put on my AirPods, and headed straight for the Eiffel Tower, about a 30-40 minute walk away.

Next up on the itinerary was a one-hour cruise tour on the River Seine. The tour didn’t start until about noon, so I still had a good amount of time to explore on my own accord. I left the balloon area around 10:45 am and headed straight for the Eiffel Tower to see what it was like in the day. The stroll on the way there was surreal and easy as I gave myself time to not only take in the fact that I was in Paris for the very first time, but also appreciate the walkability of the city. However, I can see what people mean when they say that Paris may be too over-romanticized, as I was able to get a whiff of some walkways and alleys that smelled like garbage and just foul overall. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Eiffel Tower and its surroundings weren't as crowded as I thought they would be. I heard stories from my friends who would visit over the summer about the Tower area being swarmed with tourists, where you practically bumped into someone every other second. Luckily, I came at an amazing time, as I had a plethora of personal space to take pictures and walk around the area. I rang my parents again to share the view from the tower, and I also reached out to my aunt, whom we affectionately call "Gaya," to confirm our meeting in London in five days. My mom insisted I connect with her to solidify our plans as we had only been texting and had never actually met before; she was an old friend of my mom's and was set to serve as a helpful guide and family connection in London.

Later, I settled on a nearby bench, pulled out my phone, and opened Snapchat. My post with Sra. Barbas had caused a stir with people flooding my messages with shocked reactions and well wishes for her. Many hadn't seen her in as long as I had, and the idea of our unexpected reunion in Paris on some random Friday night caught everyone off guard—I hadn't given anyone a heads-up prior to. I took screenshots of most of people’s responses and sent them straight to Sra. Barbas via WhatsApp to show her everyone’s regards that had already been sent in only the past 12 hours, and there were more to come.

It was now about 11:30 am and I needed to make my way to a nearby port on the River Seine to board my cruise tour. The walk was about 10 minutes away, so once I got there, I pulled out my phone, got my barcode scanned, received my ticket, and boarded my boat shortly after. The cruise itself was amazing, not only having taken place on one of the prettiest days in Paris, but it truly did cover a lot of Paris’ main attractions. As the boat gently cruised along the River Seine, I soaked in the sights of the city’s iconic landmarks. We passed by the Place de la Concorde, once a somber site of executions during the French Revolution, now adorned with a towering Egyptian obelisk. The Louvre Museum, a fortress turned art sanctuary, showcased timeless treasures like the Mona Lisa. The elegant Hôtel de Ville, rebuilt after a devastating fire, stood as a symbol of resilience. We glimpsed the Conciergerie, a former royal palace turned prison, steeped in history. The tranquil Île de la Cité, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and charming Île Saint-Louis painted a picture of Parisian allure. The Pont-Neuf, Musee d'Orsay, and Esplanade des Invalides revealed layers of the city's past. Finally, the iconic Eiffel Tower and Palais de Chaillot capped off our journey, leaving me in awe of Paris's beauty and rich history.

Once that was over, around 1:15 pm, I headed quickly to my meeting spot for the Palace of Versailles, as I booked a half-day tour of the palace that would last from 2 pm to about 7 pm I had initially wanted to book a biking tour of Versailles that would actually last for about 9 hours and would include a true glimpse into the estate and town of Versailles. However, I worried that it was still a bit too chilly to be biking and was dismayed to find that the only other spot for that week that wasn’t sold out was on Sunday, the day after I booked my actual tour, which was set to be rainy and not as nice of a day as Saturday was. Nevertheless, I was excited to explore this grand palace that once belonged to French royalty, especially after learning about its history extensively in class back home. We met our bus attendant in front of the Pullman Hotel by the Eiffel Tour, definitely a bougie kind of accommodation that I hope to take advantage of one day, and I immediately started speaking to him in Spanish as I wanted to take in the multilingual and multicultural side of the people in Paris. The guide, naturally switching between three languages, scanned my ticket and made a short conversation with me before guiding me to my seat on the bus. Once the bus left, I was luckily left with a window seat with no one sitting next to me, fully being able to take in the beauty of the Paris countryside and streets as we made our way to Versailles, a 30-45 minute ride. We also passed famous landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre Museum.

Following our guide, we stepped into the opulent Palace of Versailles, where we were transported back in time to the era of kings and queens. As we traversed through the magnificent State Apartments of the King and Queen, I couldn't help but marvel at the lavishness and decadence that once characterized the lives of monarchs. The intricate details of the furnishings and the grandeur of the surroundings painted a vivid picture of the royal lifestyle.

During the tour, the painting of Napoleon crowning himself captured our attention. The guide pointed out intriguing details like Napoleon's mother's absence, which was historically accurate, but who was painted into the picture anyway to emphasize Napoleon's self-promotion. We also noticed Julius Caesar in the background, suggesting Napoleon's ambition to match Caesar's achievements. The bishop's cross at the center symbolized the blend of church and state under Napoleon's rule, but also how the cross was the exact center or middle of the whole painting. These insights made us see the painting not just as a historical scene but as a statement of Napoleon's power and aspirations, adding depth to our understanding of French history. Additionally, our guide revealed that the Palace of Versailles hides numerous secret doors and walkways, pointing out the doors hidden in plain sight in each room we entered.

Our journey through Versailles reached its height as we entered the renowned Hall of Mirrors. Constructed in 1678, this splendid gallery served as the central link between the Salon de la Guerre and the Salon de la Paix, connecting the State Apartments of the King and Queen. The Hall of Mirrors, adorned with dazzling chandeliers and ornate mirrors, exuded an aura of magnificence and grandeur that left us in awe of its beauty. It was also spectacular to find that the Palace itself wasn’t too filled with tourists and we had enough room to walk around and frolic. It was also around 4 pm or 5 pm, golden hour, so it was amazing to see the hall of mirrors shine with the rays of the setting sun, exemplifying the beauty of being in the Sun King’s (King Louis XIV) palace during golden hour.

King Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles for several reasons. Firstly, he wanted to establish a symbol of absolute monarchy, consolidating his power and authority over France. Secondly, Versailles provided Louis XIV with a luxurious and opulent residence away from the tumultuous and crowded environment of Paris, offering him security and prestige. Additionally, Louis aimed to centralize political power by bringing the nobility under his control, as he required them to spend time at Versailles, thereby keeping them away from their regional power bases that exemplified their rule as the “Fronde” during that perilous time in French history. The construction of Versailles also served diplomatic purposes, as Louis used the palace to host foreign dignitaries and demonstrate France's wealth and influence on the international stage. Ultimately, the Palace of Versailles became synonymous with Louis XIV's reign and the pinnacle of the French monarchy, leaving a lasting legacy in history.

After the palace tour, we had some free time to wander through the palace gardens. It felt like stepping into the history books and more included, with the beautifully manicured lawns and elegant statues. It was reminiscent of my first time in Granada, having only read about Alhambra and the city in history books and through YouTube, to finally be able to step into the scenery of it all–it was something I still have yet to really, really appreciate to this day. Needless to say, both the Alhambra and Versailles Palaces were two magnificent sides of the same coin.

As the sun began to set, we reluctantly boarded the bus back to Paris. But the memories of Versailles left a mark on me for the rest of the trip, and I was already planning my trip back to that place in a more extensive fashion in the future. Definitely I trip I wouldn’t forget.

I ended the night comfortably, making my way to the “Barrio Latino De París” area in the city. Uarda, my Arab-Islamic Cultural Studies teacher, implored me to visit the area for amazing, yet affordable food that was actually only about a 10-15 minute walk away from the “Les Deux Colombes” restaurant that Sra. Barbas and I had dinner the night before. After gauging different restaurants, I ended up in a place called “Union Square”, grabbing a table for one and opting for a three-course meal package. To start, I went with the 6 escargots de Bourgogne au beurre persillé, which are Burgundy snails cooked in garlic and parsley butter. They had a rich and savory taste that set the tone for the meal, although, I had to troubleshoot how to eat them as they came with a set of peculiar types of utensils needed to hold the shell and take the meat out. For the main course, I ordered the flank steak with pepper sauce and French fries. The steak was cooked medium, and the pepper sauce added a nice kick to it. The fries were crispy and golden, the perfect side. Finally, for dessert, I treated myself to the Crème brûlée à la cassonade, a creamy custard with a caramelized sugar topping. The feel of it all, ending the busy day as a solo endeavor around Paris with a small celebration of my own in this restaurant in the downtown area was a vibe. The walk on the way home, past the Saine-Chapelle and Notre Dame into the subway, was a vibe. The return to my hostel, watching the lit Eiffel Tower from afar and settling into my bed, was a vibe.


That Sunday morning, I was set to meet with another friend of mine, Ines, who lives in a suburb of Paris. We initially met during a Bible study session organized by Bridges International, an international Christian group, last semester. She had been a foreign exchange student at the University of Illinois and had recently returned to France after completing her semester abroad. We still kept in touch, and I told her about a week prior to that I was set to visit Paris for a while.

However, I recently remembered on that Saturday that I totally forgot to bring Sra. Barbas her gifts that I brought from Granada. I had bought a scarf for her, along with a teacup set adorned with intricate Arabic embroidery and design, but realized that I never actually brought them from my hostel when I went to see her for dinner on Friday night. Thus, I reached out to her if I could stop by her place to quickly give it to her in the morning, around 8:30 am, before I was set to meet with my friend Ines around 9 am or so. I was able to navigate my way through the subway routes to get to her place–at that point, I was an expert–and found myself outside her apartment complex in no time. She came downstairs dressed for lunch, I think, with a friend of hers later that morning, but after giving her her gifts, she graciously invited me for a croissant at a really good shop nearby by. Needless to say, I was glad to have another time with Sra. Barbas during that trip as I didn’t really anticipate seeing her again with her and her daughter’s busy schedule. We made some conversation over croissants she bought us, and were able to share my solo adventure, my "me" day experience from that sunny Saturday, followed by buying an umbrella before officially saying our goodbyes.

Now, onto Ines, we decided on that Sunday that we would meet up. That morning, our intention was to attend the Hillsong program nearby for church. However, since neither of us had been to the building before, locating it proved to be a bit challenging. As a result, we ended up meeting approximately an hour later around 11 am. Following the church service, we decided to have lunch at a Japanese fast-food restaurant conveniently located within the same building, which also doubled as a mall. Over our meal, we exchanged updates on our lives and reminisced about our last meeting at Bridges. Ines had decided to pause her semester abroad and was now gearing up for a series of internships across Europe. Initially uncertain about our rendezvous in Paris, as Ines wasn't sure if her internship would start earlier in the month than anticipated, it was pretty great timing nonetheless and I’m glad we were able to make it happen.

Our initial plans for the day included visiting museums and attending exhibitions, but we opted for a nearby Chinese New Year festival and parade instead. After grabbing some boba, we arrived at the venue around 1:30 pm, though the parade wasn't scheduled to start for another hour. Passing the time by a nearby boba store, we kept an eye on the cloudy skies, knowing Paris's unpredictable weather could turn to rain at any moment. Fortunately, we had both brought umbrellas, having gone through the morning showers, and managed to secure decent spots for the parade just as it was about to begin.

The parade itself was a beauty, despite the coming and going showers, featuring different cultural aspects of Chinese culture such as various dances, costumes, rituals, and traditions that were akin to New Year celebrations. The crowd was huge and it was ultimately a struggle to move during the duration of the event as people were moving in and out and we were pretty much trapped near the front of the parade line with so many people behind us. The event also spotlighted numerous Chinese organizations in Paris, representing a sizable portion of the city's Chinese community hailing from regions like Fujian, Qinghai, Guangxi, and beyond. Ines and I both enjoyed the event overall, although I was busy also taking in the idea that my first time in Paris unexpectedly consisted of a celebration of the Chinese New Year–definitely exemplifying the diversity of my experience.

Once we made it through most of the parade, we agreed to leave but it became tough to maneuver through the crowd. We found ourselves stuck at an intersection and realized we had to cut through the parade to get back to the other side of the street where Ines' bike was parked. Fortunately, a lot of others had the same idea as us, so when we found a space in the parade, we cut through and were able to get out of there. The plan now was to possibly do some thrifting and try to get seats at Angelina, a TikTok famous hot chocolate restaurant. We decided to split ways en route, with Ines taking her bike and me taking the subway station, but after not finding anything good at some thrift shops downtown, especially with current inflation prices, we headed straight for Angelina. It was already hard to find decent spots online, but we didn’t realize that even in the middle of February the line at Angelina would rap around the block. Luckily, nearby, was a world-famous Macaron shop, called Ladurée, that didn’t have too bad of a line. Note that these stores were also on the street “Rue de Rivoli”, apparently one of the most expensive streets in Paris. No wonder such restaurants and stores, such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and more were just around the block. I got a twelve-pack of macarons for about 30 euros and shared some with Ines. With her train scheduled to depart for her suburb around 5:45 pm, and realizing it was already 5:15 pm, we exchanged farewells until our paths crossed again—whether in Paris on my return or in the United States on her next visit. Ines then made her way to the train station, just managing to catch her train in the nick of time.

Meanwhile, one of my peripheral goals for my trip in Paris was to ultimately buy my mom these Gucci shades she’s been wanting for a while. I was initially really hesitant as these were, number one, Gucci shades, and number two, because my mom was set to visit Paris anyway in April, so she could buy it herself then. But, I wanted to do it anyway as I gestured, especially since she kept asking me to buy it “now”. So, there I was, walking into the Gucci store around the block to buy some bougie shades. The “hospitality” of the store was definitely very accommodating, as I was greeted by a couple of well-dressed attendants opening the door for me and immediately being asked my preferences. I told them straightforwardly that I was looking for their sunglasses and shades collections, leading me then to the next room over to look at their options. I called my mom to show her their collection, and we settled on these black shades with gold Gucci lettering on each side, coming at a whopping 🤑🤑🤑 euros…my gift to her…

Following that, they also gave me a tax-free form to get refunded for purchases made overseas that hit a certain amount, called a VAT (Value Added Tax) refund form. It essentially helps travelers claim a refund on the VAT they paid for eligible purchases made abroad. I needed to get it validated by customs when leaving the European Union–the Stockholm airport when I leave for London–to qualify for the refund.

What didn’t really help my spending capacity for that night was realizing that it was pretty much my last night in Paris, and I still needed to buy souvenirs and whatnot for family and friends back home, plus, something for me.

After the Gucci purchase, subtly placed in a meticulously crafted Gucci cardboard bag designed with intricate green embroidery, I made my way to a nearby souvenir shop to quickly buy some souvenirs, and then a nearby store named “Pull & Bear” to find some type of clothing just for me. I stumbled across some really nice coats and jackets but then came to find this really nice and slick suave jacket. I quickly put down my things in front of me and my Lululemon sling bag to try the jacket on. It fit perfectly and boasted a subtle yet appealing design. With my decision made, I quickly headed to the self-checkout, completed my purchase, and headed back to my hostel, content with my find.

I had to be really careful with my purchases as I was essentially carrying expensive macarons, expensive shades, and an expensive coat, along with a sizeable amount of souvenirs. My focus was razor sharp on these items, so while I was relieved to find myself back at my hostel with these things intact, it came back to bite me in the butt as I then realized, in my hostel room, that I LOST MY SLING BAG WITH MY PASSPORT IN IT.

Now, this next part of the story I have to condense, as I realize there's too much content written for this Paris page, and it'll also make it easier for me to write, as I'd rather not recall every single detail of that ordeal.

So, long story short, I frantically call Pull & Bear, as that was where I remember losing it, learn the store attendant couldn't locate it and assumed somebody had taken it, realize I couldn’t come back to the store in time as it was about to close, bus to the nearby police station to file a police report, reach out to Miguel Angel and Sra Barbas to update them, start coming up with Plan B, C, and D, jump from denial to acceptance, plan to file for an emergency passport at the U.S. Embassy on Monday since it would open before Pull & Bear, head to bed exhausted and somewhat at ease but still hopeful...


…wake up, check out of my hostel, make my way to the Embassy at 9 am, sad to find it closed because of U.S. President’s Day, feel defeated and start rethinking my Sweden and London trips, snap a picture at the Place de la Concorde–where Marie Antoinette was beheaded, grab a self-serve breakfast, and, just when things seamed bleak, make my way to Pull & Bear as a last resort when it opened an hour later to find my sling bag waiting for me at the cash register.

So, essentially, all that stress and effort in between those hours just to have it shortly found by another store attendee and placed at the register for me, comfortably overnight, to be retrieved once the store opened the next morning. K.

I will say if anything, that I was genuinely surprised at my mentality throughout that whole thing as I managed to keep calm and resilient, did all the right things, and was generally accepting of this twist in the story as I was already planning my next steps should my Stockholm and London trip not work out. It served as a genuine challenge to my recently adopted "it is what it is" mindset, acquired over the past few months, with one of the only things keeping me up was what I funny story it would make once it was all over. The experience felt like an urgent reminder to exercise greater caution during my international travels, considering that it occurred at the beginning of my trip and that literally no effort I made during those 12 hours actually culminated in me finding my passport other than simply walking back into the store.

Moving forward, I initially had plans for that day to go to the Hôtel des Invalides to visit Napoleon’s tomb. However, after the whole situation, I ended up refunding my ticket as the earliest available spot was at 9:30 am. It was going to be the last thing I did before I headed to the bus station to catch a ride to the Paris Beauvais airport, one of Paris’ airports that just so happened to be the farthest one with about an hour's drive up north. Thankful, that the whole passport ordeal ended at about 10 am, and I had booked my bus ticket for around 1 pm since my flight was set to leave around 5 pm, the bus travel being about an hour and a half. So I still had time to explore and go to some other sites that I was initially going to miss.

First up was the Grande Mosquée de Paris (Grand Mosque of Paris). It was another thing on the list that was suggested by my profesora, Uarda, and it was going to be the last site on my list for Paris. Now, with Napoleon out of the way, I pushed it upfront. Conveniently, it was only a 15-minute subway ride from where I was, near the Palais-Royal Garden, and once I got there, the entry ticket for tourists was only 3 euros. Even more so, I happened to have come right when the Mosque opened, so I found myself stepping into an empty site, with the only room that seemed to have people in it was the room we couldn’t go into: the Musalla.

The surroundings and architecture of the Mosque were very similar to the designs of the Mosque in Granada, much less the architecture of Granada in general. I felt a sense of being transported back there as I gauged my inner Uarda and noted the epigraphs, the gardens, the quaint central fountain, and more. The Mosque itself, erected in the early 20th century as a tribute to the Muslim soldiers who fought for France during World War I, was constructed between 1922 and 1926, its design by Maurice Tranchant de Lunel incorporates Moorish and Hispano-Moorish architectural elements, inspired by styles from North Africa and Spain, such as the Andalucía region. As a symbol of Franco-Muslim unity, the mosque not only provides a place for religious worship but also serves as a cultural and educational center, offering classes and hosting community events. During World War II, the mosque played an important role, in sheltering Jews and resistance fighters from Nazi persecution. Its architectural splendor, including a central courtyard, minaret, and ornate prayer hall, underscores its importance as a beacon of religious tolerance and cultural diversity in France, embodying the enduring historical ties between the nation and its Muslim population. I took several pictures and videos to send to Uarda via WhatsApp.

On the same religious page, I headed straight for Sacré-Cœur in the Montmarte area of France, which has a fascinating backstory. In the city's northern part, it's like a haven for artists and free spirits. Picture narrow streets, cozy cafes, and a vibe that has creativity written all over it. From what I was told by Sra. Barbas and Ines, artists like Picasso and van Gogh found inspiration there, painting some of their most famous works. The place has seen its fair share of history, from the Paris Commune to the bustling Belle Époque era. Nowadays, it's still buzzing with life, drawing folks from all corners of the globe who want to soak in its artsy, bohemian charm. Once I got there, I was still stunned at the amount of tourists and people that were in the area taking pictures, filling restaurants, and buying souvenirs. I can’t imagine what the place might look like in the summer.

The Sacré-Cœur Basilica, sitting atop the Montmartre hill, is a symbol of faith and architectural grandeur. Built-in the late 19th century, its gleaming white domes and intricate design draw visitors from far and wide. The basilica's Roman-Byzantine style, with influences from Roman-Byzantine and Oriental architecture, gives it a unique and majestic appearance. Inside, the grandeur continues with beautiful mosaics, striking stained glass windows, and a serene atmosphere conducive to prayer and reflection. Offering panoramic views of the city from its lofty position, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica not only serves as a place of worship but also as a cherished landmark, the top at which most of the people and tourists that I was among were taking pictures, as you were able to see all of Paris from above on that peak.

After soaking in these marvels of spirituality and splendor, it had reached 12:15 pm and my bus was set to leave around 1 pm. Luckily, the Montmartre area was only about a 25-minute subway ride directly to the station. So, I rushed to the nearest subway route, caught my ride, and arrived at the station just in time. My bus ticket had initially said that my bus was set to leave around 1:10 pm, but apparently, the buses were coming on an ongoing basis, so I was able to get on a bus around 12:55 pm and left straight for the airport up north.

The remainder of the trip followed a rather routine and monotonous tone: arriving at the airport, locating my gate number, navigating through customs and TSA, and finally reaching my gate, where I settled in for a bit of waiting. Once they started boarding, I got my passport and boarding ticket scanned before we headed outside as we were going to board the RyanAir plane via the tarmac. Just to think that I wouldn’t have made it on this trip otherwise had I indeed lost my passport. With that in mind, as I waited on the tarmac, I dialed my parents back home to assure them of my safe arrival at the airport and imminent boarding for Sweden. They were relieved to learn that my Paris venture had been successful, yet their anticipation heightened for what awaited me in Stockholm. There was a similar mix of emotions from my host mom, María, whom I called right after to assure her that I was alive. In both my host mom's and parents' eyes, a blend of astonishment and pride reflected my accomplishment of navigating my first solo international trip, to none other than Paris. But hell, in many ways, and once I gave myself more time to reflect, I was surprised too.

On the way to Sweden, after all the travel, customs, and finally in my seat on the plane, it suddenly struck me deeply how far I've come. From my humble beginnings in the small rural town of Butuan in the Philippines to strolling the streets of my ancestors in Granada, finding myself in the magnificent city of Paris, and now on the way to Sweden—a land so distinct from the Philippines—all within the span of four to five days. It was a moment, a testament to the rapid changes life can bring and the relentless effort throughout my life thus far that brought me here–I’m here. I’m grateful to God for everything and his grace that has kept me alive up until this point, as I am still persuaded to this day that I deserve none of it. Despite past and potential future challenges that might momentarily weigh me down, in that very moment in time and space, flying over the North Sea, I was convinced that I was unstoppable.

Estocolmo, Suecia (02/19 - 02/21)

Coming Soon!

Londres, Reino Unido (02/21 - 02/25)

Coming Soon!

Semana Siete (02/25 - 02/27) (Break)


Literally just had school for two days and then on to a five-day weekend because of the "Día de Andalucía" Holiday...

Oh, also, check out the story the UIUC iSchool wrote about me!

Marruecos (02/28 - 03/03)

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March 2024

(Birthday Month!)

Semana Nueve (03/04 - 03/10)

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Semana Diez (03/11 - 03/16)

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Córdoba (03/15) y Nerja (03/17)

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Semana Once (03/18 - 03/22)

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Gibraltar (03/23)

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BIRTHDAY!! (03/24)

Break day

Viena, Austria (03/25 - 03/26)

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Zakopane, Polonia (03/27)

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Auschwitz, Polonia (03/28)

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Cracovia, Polonia (03/27 - 03/29)

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April 2024

Semana Trece (03/31 - 04/06)

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Ronda y Setenil (04/07)

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Semana Catorce (04/08 - 04/11)

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La Alpujarra (04/12 - 04/13)

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Semana Quince (04/14 - 04/19)

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Sevilla (04/20)

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Semana Dieciséis (04/21 - 04/27)

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Semana Diecisiete  (04/28 - 04/30)

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May 2024

Lausana, Suiza (05/01)

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Múnich, Alemania (05/02 - 05/04)

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Hamburgo, Alemania (05/05)

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Last (05/06 - 05/07)

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