LandTexture: Spring 2022 Education Abroad Trip to Spain

Valentina Gjocaj, LA Senior, walks us through her amazing experience on Education Abroad in Spain during Spring semester 2022.

A view of Barcelona from Bunkers del Carmel
Photo by Valentina Gjocaj: A view of Barcelona from Bunkers del Carmel

After much uncertainty in world health, travel, and guidelines, the 3rd and 4th year classes of the Landscape Architecture Program at Michigan State University finally received approval to attend the program’s study abroad trip overseas. The revised trip that was approved consisted of a month-long trip to Spain. During this month, the students/faculty were to spend equal amounts of time in Seville, Valencia, and Barcelona, with a variety of day trips to other cities sprinkled into the itinerary.

I remember first hearing that the revised trip was approved in February of 2022 after the original trip was canceled back in December of 2021. I struggled to find my excitement for it due to so many previous let downs; many of my peers felt this way as well. As the days inched closer to March 29th (the start of the abroad program) things started to feel more real. Plane tickets were being bought, daily itineraries were being planned, free day excursions were being discussed, and even roommates for each city were being chosen! Excitement started to build over the month of March, and finally the day to fly out of America and into Spain came.

Our first few days were spent getting familiar with the city streets, timezone, cuisine, Spanish lingo, and culture of Spain. After arriving in each city, we took a bike tour the first day which was an amazing way to see the city for the first time and get familiar with our new surroundings. The cities were all laid out with organic street styles that had countless businesses, eateries, homes, and shops on each level of the mid rise gothic style buildings. Traveling within the cities was easy and enjoyable - in Seville we walked mostly everywhere, in Valencia we did a lot of biking, and in Barcelona we took the subway a ton which was extremely convenient and simple. We enjoyed the local “tapas” in every city and had great experiences trying new foods - some main ones were croquettes (a small roll of either chopped vegetables, meat, or fish mixed with potato and fried in breadcrumbs) and iberian ham (acorn fed pork) which are both very common and well enjoyed in Spain. The sights, food, and company were nothing short of amazing throughout our entire trip. The locals of each city were very welcoming and helpful, and the LA group got along swimmingly and had great times filled with new ideas, memories, and laughter.

The opportunity to see such different and unique streetscapes, parks, plazas, and overall architecture while being with Landscape Architecture peers and faculty was once-in-a-lifetime. We were constantly pointing out different things to each other whether it was new ideas, designs that were done well, improvements that could be made, etc. It was always very constructive and informative to talk through things as a group and hear everyone’s different points of view of the places we were in. Another very enjoyable thing was trying to identify plants that we’d never really run into before, there was always someone in the group that was able to guess it correctly! There was so much to take in everywhere we went. It was truly amazing!

While it would take me pages and pages to share all of the places and things we experienced, I would love to highlight some of my favorites and ones that I know the whole group really enjoyed and got a lot from.

Starting in Sevilla, the Setas de Sevilla was the first major landmark we saw. The Setas are very large cubed wooden structures shaped as mushrooms. They light up in bright colors at night, and walking along the top of them was a very cool experience. The reason I want to mention them is because we referenced them multiple times each day as a meeting point or to explain where something else was located, which really showed how much of an impact a landmark can have on a city. Next, the Cathedral of Seville was quite an experience! We had to go up hundreds of stairs to get to the top - the journey up took nearly a half hour, but once you were at the top you could see the entire city and it was so beautiful and worth it. The Royal Alcazar Gardens were another incredible experience; we spent hours and hours in there and could’ve spent even more just exploring and admiring the gardens. We saw so many unique designs and got many ideas there. I would definitely make these gardens my main recommendation for anyone visiting Seville. We took a day trip to Alhambra in Granada, Spain, where we saw more magnificent gardens and learned much of Spain’s rich history. Seville set the perfect start to our trip abroad, and we all loved our time there so much!

Next, we went to Valencia for the middle part of our trip. In Valencia, one of the main things we did was simply explore the whole city on our bikes! We even were able to get a couple of beach days in the Gulf of Valencia. The City of Arts and Sciences was a major site we saw there, exploring the long section of park right beside it, the Oceanographic Aquarium, as well as seeing all of the massive yet intricately detailed buildings on the site. We took a day trip to Madrid while in Valencia, where we saw the Madrid Rio Park, which was truly nothing like any park we’ve ever seen. A whole day wasn’t even enough time there as the park is massive and there is so much to do and see. We saw so many unique design structures there and were so happy we got to visit it and learn from it. Another day trip we took in Valencia was to Betera, Spain where we spent the day learning about and working at an orchard. At the end of the day we were served a homemade meal that was delicious and comforting. Almost everyone bought something from the orchard and then we spent the bus ride back trying to figure out how we were going to pack our jars of jam and cartons of olive oil in our suitcases!

Lastly, we finished our trip abroad in Barcelona. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend our last days in Spain. We saw various works of the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi - Casa Mila, Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, and various of his other works that we could recognize as his as we walked by them on the street. Something we did in our free time was visit the Bunkers del Carmen, which are abandoned Spanish Civil War bunkers at the top of a hill. Hiking up there took quite some effort, but once you made it up, you could see the entire city of Barcelona, and it was more than worth the views and experience. One of the last things we did was visit the Mountains of Montserrat and there are honestly few words that can describe the breathtaking views of the nature we saw there. As you can imagine, being 4,000 feet above sea level on a mountain range in Spain is nothing short of an experience of a lifetime!

All in all, I truly couldn’t run out of great things to say about the 2022 Landscape Architecture study abroad trip to Spain. Of course, I am going to mention all of the good things for an article, but honestly I’ve struggled to find the words to explain it to people who ask me how the trip was, because it really was that amazing. I would recommend going 100% of the time to any future LA students that have the opportunity to do so. Our students couldn’t be more thankful to Trish Machemer for all of the hard work and long hours put into planning and replanning the trip countless times until it was finally approved, and then wonderfully guiding and teaching us during our month overseas. The experiences, memories, and friendships formed will be cherished for a lifetime, and the educational exposure to so many real-life sites and projects has had such an impact on us as students and future Landscape Architects. It is impossible to believe that we almost weren’t excited to go!

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