Studying Abroad in Spain and Portugal
Story and photos by Zoe Beale ’18
Chowan University, English Professors Dr. Timothy Hayes and Catherine Vickers led 29 Chowan University students, staff, faculty, and friends to explore the countries of Portugal and Spain. The ten-day itinerary featured over a dozen historical landmarks in nine different cities. From stepping off the plane, the group embarked on a short bus tour that led them into the heart of Porto for an opportunity to explore the city before heading to their hotel.
Day two gave the group a full day in the city, with half the day reserved for guided tours of the Cathedral of Porto and the Porto Stock Exchange. After the tours participants ventured out in groups of three or more to explore independently. Some chose to go shopping, while others explored the city on a riverboat cruise or via cable car. A few visited the stadium for FC Porto, a professional soccer team.
Leaving Porto, the group ventured through the university city of Coimbra, navigating the steep steps and narrow streets as students learned about the rich history. After lunch, the group headed to Lisbon – with an unscheduled detour.
Though it was not on the schedule of events, students and faculty felt compelled to visit one of the largest Marian Pilgrimage sites in the world, Fatima. At Fatima, they heard a sermon preached where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared six times between May and October of 1917 to three shepherd children. The group also saw the balcony where the Pope visited, observed groups of pilgrims bringing flowers and falling to their knees, and the burial sites of the children bearing witness to the miraculous vision. After appreciating the site, the group journeyed to Lisbon for the evening.
The next day was full of walking tours (and pastries) to sites like the Belem Tower and a Moorish Citadel, all before heading into the historic district of Lisbon for an afternoon of exploration. Participants broke into groups, some choosing to enjoy a trolley tour, while others saw dancers, sat in bookshops, or pursued the National Tile Museum.
Leaving Lisbon, the group departed Portugal and was off to Seville, Spain. Along the way, they found themselves looking at the expansive olive groves, cork trees, and the vibrant Andalusian mountain ranges. In Seville that afternoon, they stretched their legs by climbing 34 ramps to the top of the Seville Cathedral to see the bell tower and a panoramic view of the city. While they were exploring, some might have been wondering about the time – but with the sound of those bells overhead, the group was effectively reminded. As they returned to the ground, students saw highlights, including the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Leaving the Cathedral, students visited the Alcazar, the Royal Palace of Seville. Some members of the group were excited to hear that the gardens and palace had been featured in the HBO show Game of Thrones, while others were more interested in the wildlife found on the grounds.
Up early and heading to Cordoba, the group got to tour an incredible Mosque-Cathedral before taking a brief walking tour of the city. We came to Cordoba during its Annual Patio Show and even visited one home that was in the running for the top prize. Students took their time exploring the home of one of the local families before continuing on their way to Grenada.
In Grenada, the group toured the expansive city, palace, and gardens of The Alhambra. Washington Irving, who wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, stayed on the grounds while writing the collection of essays Tales from the Alhambra, and students enjoyed the intricate architecture dating back to the early 1200s. The palace housed one of the earliest dated reflecting pools, and the garden’s orchards are still employed as a food source for the city.
The next day students headed to Toledo – no, not back to Ohio, but to its sister city just outside of Madrid. During a walking tour of Toledo, students saw the city in preparation for the Festival of Corpus Christi, a public procession of the eucharist taking place in June. Religious officials can give the holy sacrament as they proceed through the city, leading the people in a walk with god. Students learned about the inclusive history of Toledo’s Jewish and Muslim quarters before heading to their final stop, Madrid. While the group arrived just in time for dinner, the fun kept going – students attended a Flamenco show, highlighting the captivating dance and music of Spain.
Madrid was full of history and culture – students saw palaces, Egyptian Monuments, and the Real Madrid Stadium, and even stopped by the Plaza Del Toros, Madrid’s Bullfighting Arena. Eager to enjoy their last day in Madrid, with their free time, the group went shopping for sweets, exploring the parks, going paddle boating, or exploring the incredible art of the Prado Museum.
As part of the Study Abroad class, students kept an active journal detailing their experiences – things they enjoyed, found confusing, or found surprising. These journals were reviewed on the flight back to Washington, D.C., ensuring students were graded for their participation. More than just a grade, the journals will be meaningful souvenirs to reflect on this experience. The group met together throughout the trip to discuss their experiences and on the final night of the trip, the group presented their tour guide and driver a journal of their own, detailing gratitude and sharing memories. Mrs. Vickers’ son Craig, who accompanied us on the trip, shared a quote from Mark Twain,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
This broadening experience could not have been accomplished without the support of the Chowan community and the dedicated work of Dr. Hayes and Catherine Vickers. Thanks to the Harris Scholarship, this group was able to travel and experience a fuller understanding of the world – the primary wish of Mrs. M. Elizabeth Harris.