Ryan Goodman is majoring in Chemistry and Hispanic Studies at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. This summer, he decided to expand his learning environment by studying abroad across the Atlantic in the classrooms and streets of Cádiz, Spain. His journey took him through Spain, France and Italy. We at Smart Poodle Publishing are always eager to learn about exciting travel experiences, and Ryan was happy to share his memorable summer adventures with us along with some fantastic photographs.
William and Mary Undergrad, Ryan Goodman
What made you decide to apply for the study abroad program in Cádiz?
To study in a country where I could develop my language and cross-cultural skills had always been one of my major life goals. With the rigid course and research schedule of a chemistry major, leaving during the academic year was not a possibility. So, Cádiz was the only summer option offered by my university where my credits would transfer.
How long have you been speaking Spanish, and how did you learn the language?
I learned Spanish after 20 years of living in South Florida and after years of classes, starting in grammar school. I’ve been speaking Spanish fluently for the past 3-4 years, albeit, my language ability has developed greatly in the past 2 years at the university.
La Calle Ancha, the central commercial district of Cádiz
How did speaking the native language affect your experience?
Speaking Spanish and actually forcing myself to think in the language greatly enhanced my experience in Spain. It is the difference between merely visiting Spain versus living in Spain. Being able to speak the native language allowed me to connect with many people of diverse backgrounds and gave me greater insight into Spanish culture. It also made it easier to adjust and understand how Spanish culture “works” within the framework of society.
Part of your program was living with a host family in Cadiz. Can you tell us about the family and what it was like living there? Did they speak English?
Ryan (3rd from left) with his host family celebrating their last dinner together at home
My experience with my host family is one of my fondest memories from Cádiz. My host mother was a nurse who worked at the local hospital and my host dad was a retired sailor and chef. No one in the house spoke English at all; so, we were immersed right off the plane. They live in one of the “ancient” homes in the historic district of Cádiz, right in the heart of the city. The house was constructed in a manner typical of most homes on the peninsula. It had multiple floors, an Arab style patio and a large “azotea” or rooftop. These azoteas were used by colonial merchants to look for ships coming from the New World, and the construction materials reflect this connection, with walls made of coquina, a construction material used to build structures like the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, la Muralla in Havana and el Morro in San Juan. The daily family interaction was something I really treasured. Many interesting conversations were had over amazing food and among good company. I would argue that this was the most educational experience during my time in Spain. We would take walks together and enjoy a good “caña” (beer) or “tinto de verano” (Red wine mixed with Lemon Fanta) after siesta. It was a bond that was hard to break, but we still keep in touch online. I cannot wait to return to see them again.
How much class time did you have, and what did you study when you were there?
I attended class from 09:30 to 2:00, Monday through Thursday at the University of Cádiz. I studied the “History of Andalusian Art” and also took a “Grammar and Culture” class.
What did you do on Fridays?
Friday was a day reserved to conduct field research in preparation for our final thesis. Our program required that all William & Mary students perform an independent research project of their choice. In my research, I studied the mix between local culture and environmental policy in Spain by doing a case study on the relationship between Doñana National Park and the nearby town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Sunset from the shores of Doñana National Park in Sanlúcar de Barrameda
What was the weather like when you were there?
It was very typical for the Mediterranean in the summer; every day, it was sunny and dry with no clouds. In fact, watching the weather report is almost a joke. Normally, this is a recipe for a desert-like climate, as is the case for most of southern Spain, but Cádiz is conveniently located at the intersection of two major wind patterns, El Levante and El Poniente. This makes for a constant 30 mph wind throughout the city. On a typical day, we generally enjoyed a pleasant 75 degree high in the afternoon with a 60 degree low at night.
The home where Ryan stayed with his host family
That sounds wonderful! What did you like most about the city?
By far the biggest asset of Cádiz is its people (the gaditanos), especially for someone who is curious and willing to learn about and participate in the language and culture. In Cádiz, the entire city is a large, inclusive family, and it was so strikingly common to talk to a complete stranger. Before you knew it, two hours would have passed, and then, every time you would see that person on the street, he or she would make a point to say hello and strike up another conversation. Every conversation always ended in making plans on the spot for the next meeting. Goodbyes were an hour event. It is not to say that the gaditanos are a people of constant happiness, but a major staple of the culture of Cádiz is the motto: Life is too short, and this, too, will pass. Amidst the worst things in life, the true gaditano can at least break a smile and know that there is an open and supportive community all around.
What do the people of Cádiz enjoy eating and drinking?
Fried fish and calamari with a tinto de verano
The gaditanos have lived with the sea for 3,000 years and, therefore, enjoy a diverse and extensive cuisine of seafood. Cádiz is especially known world-wide for its freidurías, or street side windows that sell fried fish and calamari. It is wonderfully cheap and served in large paper funnels, making it a pleasure to enjoy while walking the narrow, historic streets. Cádiz also has a deep tradition in soups, heavy with legumes, particularly garbanzos, which are often paired with fresh baked Andalusian baguettes for dipping. Although this is region wide, tinto de verano, as I mentioned before, is a highly popular drink during the summer. It is a cheap, delicious and refreshing drink that the Spaniards drink in place of a drink that only “guiris” or tourists drink, sangria. More often than not, tourists are served tinto de verano and cannot even detect the difference.
Can you tell us anything interesting about the Cádiz culture?
By far, the most interesting part of gaditano culture is its international and historic identity. Throughout history, almost every major civilization has inhabited this small peninsula, ranging from the Phoenicians, to the Romans, Arabs, and then Napoleon. You can trace these influences in the architecture. It was the major port connecting Europe to Africa and the Americas. This resulted in a constant flux of new, foreign ideas and a characteristically liberal social climate that exists to this day. 2012 happens to be the bicentennial of the Constitution of Cádiz.
Cádiz also is the birthplace of Carnival. Perhaps it is the single most important event that happens in the city. People come from all over the world to joke and satirize the political, social and economic problems of the past year, and everything is fair game. This Carnival directly inspired the “Militancia de la Alegría” of Argentina that now serves as a means of promoting social change throughout Latin America.
Rome from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica
Did you travel outside of Cádiz?
Montmartre in Paris, with the Sacre Coeur in the background
Yes! I actually traveled quite a bit. I took weekend trips to Córdoba, Sevilla, Granada, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. After my program, I backpacked across Europe, traveling through Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Bern, Venice, Florence, and Rome.
Can you share the highlights?
My personal trip highlights were, by and large, the things I did not plan on doing in the first place. Here’s my list:
The Grande Canal of Venice
- Utilizing Europe’s fantastic train system. It’s really amazing how enjoyable and fast it is to travel across a country, get off where you want, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes and countryside.
- Going to a tapas bar “Ir de tapas” in Granada. Tapas are served the way they were meant to be enjoyed, free and accompanied with an alcoholic beverage of your choice. You pay for a drink, and a plate of food will come, no questions asked. The caveat is that you cannot choose which tapa you will receive. The mystery is half of the fun, and you will experience a varied sampling of Spanish cuisine. Plus, you can enjoy a delicious dinner for a very cheap price. It is common to go from bar to bar, sampling the various tapas offered.
- Walking the streets of the Albayzín at night, the Arab district in Granada and enjoying a sweeping view of the Alhambra lit up from the Mirador de San Nicolas.
- Shopping in an open market and tasting fruits you’ve never seen before. Most store owners are more than willing to let you sample whatever you want.
- Seeing a Flamenco show spontaneously erupt on the street.
- Walking alongside a religious procession of the Virgin Mary in the street. Each neighborhood in Spain has its representative Virgin.
- Visiting the Prado in Madrid.
- Spending an afternoon at the Parque de Retiro in Madrid, a park perfect for escaping the heat, enjoying some coffee and watching the hundreds of street performers.
- Seeing Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia in person. It is by far one of the most breathtaking cathedrals in the world.
- Getting out of the city to visit an authentic Spanish pueblo in the countryside.
- Meeting people from all over the world through hostels.
- Walking the extensive Catacombs of Paris.
- Enjoying the best Tuscan food I’ve ever had at Trattoria Zaza in Florence.
- Seeing Michaelangelo’s David.
- Celebrating Mass at the Vatican and enjoying the rich collection of art at the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel.
- Having gelato every day!
- Seeing the Pantheon. It may seem like any regular building in Rome, but the Pantheon is 100% original and well preserved. You are walking on the same marble floor that ancient Romans traversed daily. For about 2,000 years, rain and sun have passed through the oculus. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps.
- Intentionally throwing the map out and getting deeply lost in Rome.
The mountain range, La Sierra Nevada, from the Alhambra
What, if anything, did you find surprising during your trip?
Spain’s intimate ties to northern Africa surprised me the most. I think you could debate that Spain is partially the beginning of Africa. Traditionally dominated by the Arab empire, southern Spain retains to this day many African cultural traditions and customs. For example, after a few days of getting to know our host family, the father offered us Moroccan tea as a symbol of acceptance into the family. The tea was a contract, of sorts, that symbolized a promise that the family would take care of us and protect us as if we were one of their own.
And even though this might be silly, it really surprised me that everyone learns English in Europe with a British accent. In fact, American accents are highly coveted.
Escaping the heat and relaxing along the canals of The Plaza de España in Sevilla
How interesting! Did this trip change the way you think about anything in any way?
Very much so. Essentially, I realized that other countries in the world very rarely think about the US the way we think they do. Europeans don’t hate Americans; they just can’t imagine why anyone would have voted for a certain past President we had!
Granada’s Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas
That can be life changing – to see the way others live and then think about your own lifestyle in the US the way others see it.
It was indeed life changing. I realized we Americans tend to worry so much that we often don’t really enjoy what is going on at a given moment. A good example is our intense obsession with cleanliness, academic supremacy, television and scheduling. Life in Spain is very public, and most of it is spent in the street. I find myself now living more actively and enjoying every opportunity to get out of my house to meet new people and celebrate local cultural events. I continue my daily tradition of taking walks in the late afternoon, and I don’t fight the temptation to take a siesta.
I have also come to appreciate the general kindness of people. I started out the trip, for lack of a better word, paranoid. Whenever I was lost, locals were always willing to help. In cities like Paris, I expected the worst, and in general, I think Europeans get a pretty bad rap. The world is a pretty awesome place, and people will open their hearts to open minds.
Incredible landscaping in Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona
So you must have had some adjusting to do when you got back home.
I tell others who travel abroad to prepare for reverse culture shock when you return to the US. People at home expect you to be the same person they knew when you left. The fact is you have changed. Roll your eyes once when you pass a row of fast food chains, but then move on and transition back in. It’s harder than most people expect, but you’ll be the better for it.
What did you miss most about home?
By far, I missed my family the most. I learned so many incredible things, and I really wished that I could have shared this experience with them. I also missed communicating with ease. The first few days were particularly rough, since I felt brain-dead after a whole day of speaking Spanish. This eventually went away. As for material things, I really, really missed peanut butter. It’s an absurd thing to miss, but it is virtually non-existent in Europe.
Ha! My mother sneaked a huge jar of peanut butter in my suitcase when I studied abroad, and boy did I cherish every bite!
What advice would you give to another student who is considering applying for overseas study?
La Mezquita, or the Mosque, of Córdoba
Do it! You may never have this opportunity again, and I think that studying abroad is necessary for a complete education. It was the most fun I’ve had in my life so far, and I really hope I find myself overseas again in the near future.
All of that said, do it for the right reasons. Don’t go to Paris just because it is on your list. Go to Paris to live Paris. Do things that genuinely interest you, not just because someone somewhere suggested it. However, always make room for one thing that puts you out of your comfort zone. Traveling is about expanding horizons. I took a flamenco dance class in complete horror, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Most importantly, don’t do things abroad that you can do in the United States. If this means breaking away from your American friends to do something more immersive, whatever you do will have much more personal value in the long run. There just isn’t enough time to be wasting it.
A Roman bridge crossing the Guadalquivir River in Córdoba with La Mezquita in the backdrop
Where would you like to travel next?
I would love to take a trip and explore the southern end of South America, “El Cono Sur”, namely Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, but when, if ever, the embargo is lifted on Cuba, I will be buying the first ticket to Havana.
The Alcazar of Sevilla, a style called mudéjar
Thank you Ryan, for sharing your travel experiences and beautiful photographs with our readers. We wish you the best of luck with your education, career and future travel adventures.