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MCCC Travelers Learn About Hospitality, Culture and Cuisine in Southern Spain; Information Session for 2018 Study Tours Is Sept. 19


From the Mirador de San Nicolás, the group had a breathtaking view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance.

A day at the beach in Nerja, about an hour south of Granada.

Flamenco performed in a hillside dwelling captured Spanish culture and history.

Gelato was among the many taste treats the group enjoyed.

West Windsor, N.J. – When it’s siesta time in Granada, Spain, one can literally hear the blinds being shuttered all over the city.

“Things shut down at mid-day and people enjoy a siesta from 2 to 5 p.m. You have a big meal, sleep for a while and then resume your day,” observed Mercer County Community College (MCCC) traveler Michele Pasela Grimley.

Grimley is an MCCC adjunct instructor who, along with her husband, David, went on the college’s two-week Study Tour to Granada, Spain, at the end of the spring semester. Eleven travelers, including Associate Professor of Spanish Daniel D’Arpa, made the most of an itinerary that included intensive daily classes at a private language school, a cooking class, a visit to the ancient city of Alhambra, a live Flamenco dance show, a Tapas tour, and an excursion to Cordoba. Students stayed with host families, adding to their cultural immersion.

Several members of the class met over the summer to share their travel experiences. Fittingly, they gathered at Malaga Restaurant in Hamilton, whose authentic Spanish cuisine brought back fond memories of the fine food they dined on while abroad.

Professor D’Arpa reflected on the growth he witnessed among his students. “For the class, it was game day – time to practice what they had been learning,” D’Arpa said, whose students were enrolled in "Spanish Language and Culture" (SPA110). He noted that the students were enthusiastic travelers. “In a regular class, I don’t get many ‘why’ questions. On this trip, the questions and the learning were constant.”

For some of the students, the trip marked their first time in Europe or even their first time outside the United States. Two of them enjoyed their time in Granada so much that they arranged to extend their stay for an extra week.

Students recalled Granada’s welcoming hospitality throughout the trip, as they interacted with friendly local people who encouraged their attempts at communicating in Spanish.

D’Arpa praised his students’ tenacity in speaking Spanish. “The experience of that is to experiment every day. Our lab was the places we went and the people we met. It was exciting to see all of that learning,” he said.

Mikayla Cifrese, a Liberal Arts major, returned from Granada wanting to major in Spanish and maybe even teach it one day. “The trip pushed me to do something difficult,” she said.  “It was hard, but really worth it.”

Among the many highlights was the flamenco performance by three generations of dancers, who presented their show in their own home. “They live in a home that was carved into rock in a hillside,” D’Arpa explained. “These homes date back to a time when persecuted citizens lived in cave dwellings outside the city. During that excursion, we had a lesson in history, poverty, racism and culture.”

Another highlight was the excursion to the 1,000-year-old walled city of Alhambra, where the group visited structures with Arabic writings on the walls that dated back centuries. “This was the last stronghold of Northern Africans in Spain,” D’Arpa said.

Spanish culture was everywhere around them. Business Administration major Natasha McNeil, who leads a busy life as a student, mother, and full-time employee with the State of New Jersey, found the Spanish way of life delightfully relaxed.

“There was an easy-going environment. Maybe we need to enjoy life a little more,” she observed. “I feel more open-minded as a result of this trip. Everyone doesn’t live the way we live,” she said.

Grimley concurred. “It’s a different way of life, not good or bad, just different. It’s something I will think about for the rest of my life,” she said, adding that she looks forward to more European travel. The Grimleys’ son will be studying in Italy as part of a college semester abroad and they intend to visit him.

The group was also impressed with the cuisine. “Even the small restaurants really took care with their food preparation,” said David Grimley. “Everything was fresh and local. Each meal was an event.”

On the shopping side, there was much to choose from. McNeill brought home numerous souvenirs from small vendors, while Grimley visited Granada’s one major department store. “Mostly there were individual shops and there were no chain restaurants,” Grimley said. “There were no other Americans. We had the chance to experience Spain in a non-tourist area."

Study Tours are among the offerings of MCCC’s Center for Global Opportunities (GO!) under the direction of Coordinator Andrea Lynch. This year, the GO! Center is organizing three Study Tours: Spain from May 19 to June 2 (Language and Culture); Disney, Orlando, from May 21 to 24 (Leadership Adventure); and Costa Rica from June 2 to 9 (Global Health Service). Trips are open to students, faculty, staff and community members. An information session will be held Tuesday, Sept. 19, at noon in BS214. Trip details are available here.

More about the Center for Global Opportunities

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