Dubai: Twelve students from the UAE University (UAEU) have returned from a successful one-week immersive trip to Spain, bringing with them not only memories, but also a deeper understanding of another country’s culture.
The students who were part of the trip were Abdulla Alseiari, Hamad Aldhanhani, Abdulla Alaidaroos, Theyab Alderei, Khalifa Alkhyeli, Mohammed AlAmim, Zainab AlDhanhani, Maryam AlKaabi, Reem AlYaqoubi, Maryam AlMurshidi, Alya AlDhaheri, and Aalyah Alnuaimi.
They visited the city of Pamplona, which is world-famous for its San Fermin Festival, where people experience the thrilling and risky running of the bulls — a tradition immortalised by the iconic American novelist Ernest Hemingway in his novel ‘Fiesta’.
They also went to Bilbao, an industrial port city in northern Spain surrounded by green mountains, as well as the resort town of San Sebastian on the Bay of Biscay in the mountainous Basque Country, renowned for its cuisine and recognised as “the greatest gastronomic destination in Spain”.
The Spain trip was organised by the UAEU and Universidad de Navarra under its ILCE (Instituto de Lenguay Cultura Españolas) study abroad programme. The students visited the Pamplona Cathedral and immersed in Spanish art from the masterpieces of Pablo Picasso to the photographs of Jose Ortiz-Echague. There were also several classes and workshops designed to get them acquainted with the Spanish language, tradition and festive spirit.
Making new friends
Sharing their experiences, the UAEU students told Gulf News: “The trip was well-coordinated from both sides — our university, and the University of Navarra. The climate was a little bit too cold for our liking, but we enjoyed every moment of it. What made the trip even better was that the students who were picked had their own personalities, different talents and traits. It was such an amazing time to meet new people and make new friends.”
They added: “The University of Navarra is one of a kind. The campus is extremely large, with fields of trees and flowers, and different buildings for each college. We enjoyed the walks because of the scenery and artwork on the campus.”
What amazed the students was art preservation. “The Universit is very passionate about preserving art. The university museum has pieces dating back to the 1500s and the staff explained hoe they were made,” the UAEU students added.
The students also took particular interest in the old photographs taken by Ortiz-Echague. “He was one of the most popular photographers in Spain who used pictorialism techniques. One piece that caught our attention was Siroco en el Sahara, taken in 1965,” they noted.
The paintings by Picasso also captured the imagination of the Emirati students. They said: “Every piece tells a different story and portrays varied emotions.”
The students also caught a few Spanish words and phrases, including the cordial greeting ‘Como estas’ or ‘How are you?’. “We also learned about the similarities between our [Arabic] language and their language, which was a fun activity during class time,” they added.
The students, however, did not see the running of the bulls. They said: “While we didn’t get to see the festival, we’ve heard a lot about it from the residents. What we really loved most about Spain was its people. In all our visits, we were always treated with utmost kindness and respect and all the people around us were always helpful and understanding. Though English was not widely spoken, you could still feel the kindness with their gestures and beautiful smiles.”
From Pamplona, the students next visited Bilbao in the northern side of Spain. The students shared: “We took a bus all the way from Pamplona to Bilbao and spent our time on the bus by playing card games and playing music, we sang together while Abdulla Alaidaroos played his little ukulele, which was nice and joyful.”
They also went to San Sebastian and enjoyed the sunny weather there. They had a taste of the famous traditional Spanish dish ‘paella’ and walked around the old town under a clear blue sky. They also enjoyed Churro at Chocolatera El Puerto, a crunchy chocolate dessert, and enjoyed some shopping.
Learning Spanish language and culture
Giving a wrap of their trip, Theyab Alderei said: “Most of us in the group were artists and the trip truly inspired and provided us with many ideas for our art. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and I learned a lot about Spanish culture and language. The trip also helped me boost my confidence and social skills.”
Hamad Aldhanhani added: It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I learned so much and made many new friends. I’m really lucky to have been given this opportunity where I learned the basics of the Spanish language and I will continue to learn it more.”
“I am very grateful to UAEU for the great opportunity. From a very young age, I loved discovering new places and historical museums. The Spain trip gave me a lot of information and memorable experiences,” Reem Alyaqoubi added.
Prior to the Spain trip, Professor Ayesha Salem Al Dhaheri, associate provost for Student Affairs at UAEU, told Gulf News that the trip abroad was part of the students “development journey and transformation”.
“Students are successful when they are fully engaged in their programme and campus experience, such that their development journey is one of growth and transformation,” underscored Al Dhaheri, adding: “UAEU provides opportunities to strengthen the international dimension of campus and student life by involving them being part of our strategies. We provide them with international experiences, fostering cultural understanding and integration.”