Cooking Class

Making Paella

Our group is fortunate enough to have activities outside of class that helps us learn more about the culture. This weeks activity was learning how to make paella from people who have perfected it. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that is served in a big skillet. Paella normally consists of chicken, chorizo, vegetables, various types of seafood, and rice with saffron.  I love to cook and I was very excited to learn how to make a dish that I love to eat. I originally thought we were only going to be able to watch them make the paella however, they let each of us take turns being the chef. After watching the chefs do each step, we were each given a cutting board so we could put our skills to the test. 

Sangria and food culture

In addition to learning how to make paella, we were also taught how to make sangria. Sangria is a traditional Spanish drink that is made of red wine, rum, sprite, lemon juice, sugar and various types of chopped fruit. Typically the varieties of fruit include apples, oranges, nectarines, and lemons. The chefs were so welcoming to our group and excited to show us how to make a dish that is a staple for them. After about an hour of salvation, the paella was finally ready. This paella was worth the wait it was completely delicious. We all had so much fun cooking together. In Spain, meals are a big part of the day. Meals are a time to catch up with friends or loved ones and to spend quality time together. In Cadiz, family plays a big role in the way life is lived. Here the family is everything and it is noticeable in the culture. In the US our society moves at a very fast pace. This pace became exceedingly obvious once we arrived in Cadiz. In the US meals are often not eaten with family at a sit-down atmosphere but normally taken on the go. I have to admit I almost never take time out of my day to sit down and talk to my loved ones during meal times but this experience has made me want to put more of an effort into doing so.


Although the food and drinks were great the best part of the experience was getting to know each other better as a group. Today brought us closer because we were able to exchange stories of some of our favorite foods. Cooking is a great way to learn more about people and connect in a different way than we normally do. Cooking is also an easy way to connect with my host family. Sharing the kinds of food that we eat helps us both get a better understanding of the culture we come from. This trip has been such a great way to meet people that I never would have met. We are meeting people our classes from different parts of the world like China, Russia, and California. Additionally, we are also meeting people from our university that we wouldn’t have otherwise met. Cadiz is so beautiful and this experience has been so rewarding I’m so happy I decided to go on this trip. I strongly encourage everyone to study abroad!


A Day in Gibraltar

The planning

When I told my family and friends about my trip to Cadiz they all told me that I need to take a trip to see the Rock of Gibraltar. This weekend I decided to take their advice and I took a day trip to go see what all the hype was about. From Cadiz Rock of Gibraltar is less than a three-hour bus ride away. The bus takes a little bit of planning but it’s fairly inexpensive and simple to figure out. I stayed in an air bnb at the linea de Concepcion which is about a 20-minute walk from the rock of Gibraltar. You’ll need to walk into Gibraltar unless you have a car or decide to take a bus. The host of my air bnb gave me a lot of helpful information about the area and helped make my trip go smoother. I would highly recommend staying on the Spanish side if you are planning a trip here because it is absolutely beautiful and you can still pay for everything with euros. Before you can start your trip to Gibraltar you have to go through customs so it’s necessary to bring your passport. The rock is technically part of Brittish territory, how cool is that?

The hike

To see the rock close up there are two options. You can either take in the views from the cable cars or on foot. If you’re feeling adventurous hiking is the way to go.  I decided I was up for the challenge and choose to do it this way. Disclaimer prepare to get your steps in. If you’re planning to do the hike make sure you dedicate at least four hours of time to get from top to bottom. Sneakers and a lot of water are a must! There is so much to see so you will want to take a lot of pictures and breaks to admire the scenery. The best part of the hike is the views they are completely breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see Spain and Morocco from the top.

The Mokeys

Another main attraction of the hike was the monkeys. At first, I wasn’t sure what type of behavior to expect from the monkeys. Before we reached the part of the mountain that was the ape’s den there were warning signs that the monkeys might become aggressive if they are confined on the stairs. I’ve never seen a monkey in person before so it was such an amazing opportunity to be so close to them. While I was busy worrying if the monkeys were going to be aggressive or not they were preoccupied eating fruit and relaxing and well just being monkeys. Be aware that some of the monkeys are curious and will try to steal your belongings. I first-hand experienced an attempted robbery. Luckily, I was able to come away with all my belongings ( it was more cute than scary). In general, they are very relaxed and don’t seem to mind receiving all the photo attention. On the way down we took the Meditteranean steps and the views continued to amaze me. At the end of the day, I was tired and sweaty but it was worth every step. Gracias Gibraltar.

Flamenco en Cadiz

The flamenco is something that a lot of people recognize as something traditionally Spanish, but its origins aren’t so clear. It is still a very Spanish tradition, but it’s constantly been changing and influenced by different groups such as the Muslims, Jewish and slaves from Cuba. Regardless of its origins, flamenco is something very easy to find and enjoy in Spain. Some groups are even starting to merge it with other genres such as rock or jazz, creating a modern hybrid of genres.

Poster for Flamenco Concerts

For those who don’t know, flamenco uses a few key instruments: the guitar, palmas (palms), the voice, sometimes castanets and the cajon. The cajon is a more modern addition to flamenco, coming from Paco de Lucia’s trip to Peru. He was referred to as one of the greatest flamenco guitarists and when he went to Peru, he encountered an instrument there that he wanted to adapt for flamenco. A cajon is a type of hollow box that produces different sounds when you hit it in different places and is now a very popular instrument for flamenco. In the workshop we attended, with Maria la Monica, she brought along a cajon that she used for making her music.
When it comes to the dancing, the feet could also be considered an instrument. Just like the palms, they can keep the beat. The dancer and the person keeping beat just have to be careful not to stray off tempo and move too quickly. They have to keep with the guitar and whatever other instruments are there, so they all work together. This seems complicated, especially when it’s a spontaneous art form that depends on the moment rather than rehearsal.
Flamenco is more similar to jazz in the sense that it’s more spontaneous, in the moment and based off of how the artists feel. Our workshop with Maria la Monica felt kind of like a “jam session” because there was no organized piece of music, just what they felt like playing in the moment. In the lesson, we were taught an expression that is used when the artist does something unexpected with the music, “olé”. An olé has to be spontaneous and genuine, even though we practiced a planned one to understand the basic idea.
For our workshop, Maria explained that she comes from a “flamenco family”. Basically, this means that her family lives a flamenco style life. There were jam sessions and spontaneous music and dancing while they had a sort of different attitude about the music. They see it more as a way of life than a kind of music, they “live flamenco” in their everyday. Now this is by no means the situation for every family in Spain, but it is really interesting to think about how there’s nothing really similar in the U.S. to this style of living. The emphasis on freedom, music and expression does sound a bit like the 1960’s in the states but it’s the modern reality for families like Maria la Monica’s in Spain today.

Influences on Cadiz

I’ve never been anywhere like Cadiz before. I’m not sure there is anywhere like Cadiz other than Cadiz. It’s a city with a rich and complex history, full of mixes of different cultures and influenced by every nearby former empire that ever existed. There are Roman ruins, Catholic churches, castles with remains of ancient mihrabs and statues of Hercules… things I had never expected to see in the same place. There are still aspects to the city that match up with what I expected from Spain but mostly my experience has been full of wonderful surprises everywhere we go.

For example, the catedral de Cadiz. On the outside it’s already a remarkable building, but as a group we got to go in and take a tour around. The building is just as beautiful on the inside, full of statues to commemorate saints and Popes, as well as a lower level that was just as interesting to explore. Beneath the altar, in the lower level was the crypt, while upstairs in the main level were the various statues and paintings as well as vestments and a place for silent prayer and meditation. When we got back, my host family informed me of how they worked to restore part of the stone ceiling. Due to the building’s age, it needed a bit of upkeep to keep it safe for visitors. To do that, they injected liquid into the stone to help it solidify once again. This way, the cathedral can remain as beautiful as it is for more visitors to get to see for a long time to come.

El Catedral with distinct styles in its design.

With how many different groups had power over Spain, it’s actually rather remarkable that anything belonging to a former culture or group remained behind at all. This cathedral is actually just as great a symbol of the various influences as anything else in Cadiz. There’s a clear difference in the styles of the cathedral, which was built over a period of 116 years. Over all this time, the project was picked up by different architects, who all shifted the style to what they wanted to do instead of what it had been. So, the cathedral starts in the baroque style but ends up neoclassical- a common theme across a few of the buildings in the area. One of our other excursions was like this as well, the castillo in La Puerta de Santa Maria. For the Castillo San Marcos, the different styles were thanks to the various cultures that came in and used the base of what was there for their purpose instead. The Castillo actually has the remains of an ancient mihrab that was preserved by the church covering it to reorient the building to the town instead of towards Mecca. So, they built a wall and preserved it very well, building on top of what had been the mosque, which was built on top of the roman base. Just walking around Cadiz, the influence of all of the groups that have been here is clear. All of the different styles of architecture and different materials used gives Cadiz a really unique feeling as a city.

Arches that remained from the mosque and the uncovered mihrab in el Castillo.

The World of Cadiz

Traveling to Spain and taking the opportunity to study abroad in Cadiz has been one of the best decisions I could’ve made. The amount of practice and life experience that I have acquired while traveling in Cadiz has pushed me even further. I’m grateful because not only has my Spanish speaking and comprehension skills increased in major ways in the past week, but I have also taken advantage of my time in one of the most enchanting cities of Spain. The benefits that I’m already seeing are making me feel reassured in my decision to leave home for a month.
It’s the perfect sized city. One that is large enough where you can always find new shops and streets to explore and small enough that when you do get lost you can easily find your way. The streets all have the same European look to them, which makes getting lost a common occurrence (for me at least). But once I had find a main street, I’m good. The city is surrounded by water on 3 sides. The location of the city makes it perfect for trading and fishing. These influence the economy and the food in town.
This city also has a large historical presence. With Roman ruins just a 15min walk away and the arabic influence still evident. I find the culture, the people, the architecture, everything so captivating. The different layers of cultures blending together. The Moroccan influence, the Christian persuasion, the Jewish culture as well. It’s quite an interesting blend of identities.

My favorite part of Spain has been the complete cultural immersion. There is no speaking Spanglish and getting away with it here. Living in the United States, most people will understand when you switch between Spanish and English to communicate. While living here, I’ve noticed that although people speak English, it’s easier to understand their Spanish. My host family doesn’t speak any English which makes the conversations very interesting at times. I’ve found that the native speakers are patient and will help with tough words, but they want to see that you’re trying. Showing that you respect their language and have taken the time to communicate in a foreign language shows. Of course, there are the universal signs that people also naturally give while conversing. Body language, tone and expression all help in carrying on a conversation. It also gives you nonverbal cues of how to respond.
One of the most surprising things for me was realizing the UMass students wouldn’t all be studying together. The first day we were split up by Spanish level. We were then placed in a classroom with other international students. People from all over the world: Russia, Italy, California, China, Las Vegas and Germany. It was the first time I had heard Spanish spoken with a Russian accent! I’ve been trying to take advantage of the diverse student base here. I sit with the Russian students at lunch and ask about different customs they have or traditions we share.

I’m excited to see where these last few weeks take me! Hasta pronto.


Join students as they travel to one of the oldest seaside cities in western Europe to learn and practice Spanish.

Students will be immersed in the Spanish language during parts one and two of this intensive program, with plenty of opportunity to experience and interact with the rich culture of Cádiz, Spain.

Want to learn more? Please contact us.

You can also read blogs from previous and current trips to Cadiz listed below or from other destinations across the globe UMass Lowell students travel to.

Current & Previous Cadiz Study Abroad Trip Blogs:

students pose for photo under the bell at the top of Vejer Cathedral in Cadiz, Spain