WHOA – Daniel Westbrook

My name is Daniel Westbrook and I recently graduated from John R. Lewis College at UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Philosophy. I studied abroad in June and July of the summer of 2022 in Spain and Morocco despite believing that the experience would not be possible for me initially. As a first-generation college student who was also a non-traditional, third-year, STARS (Services for Transfer And Re-entry Students) and EOP (Educational Opportunity Programs) undergrad, I thought that I had too much to do and too little time to experience something as fantastic as taking part in an immersive class overseas. Thankfully, I took a chance, and the curiosity paid off as my initial inquiry became an amazing journey due to the help of my family, my Major advisor, my Program Leader, the Global Learning office as a whole, and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

I traveled more than many in my life having grown up with a military parent but I had never traveled abroad as an adult though I had always wanted to. Once the Global Learning team showed me the real possibility of making that dream a reality, and as part of my education no less, it was easy for me to pick my program. As an anthropology major, a lifelong student of ancient Mediterranean religions, cultures, and empires, and having had an affinity for Indiana Jones-style romanticism of historical, academic discovery since my youth, I chose to apply for the Muslim Granada and its Legacy program with Professor Camilo Gomez-Rivas. It didn’t hurt that I lived in the region when I was very young as a military dependent.

My global seminar began less than two full weeks after the end of the spring quarter so it wasn’t a difficult transition in the sense that it was like having Spring Break and heading back to class. I didn’t have a lot of time to mull over the decision that I had made by the time I was heading to the airport to depart. Despite the irritations of layovers and plane changes, even the flights over there were an amazing experience, and even though they were just airports, they were airports in Munich and Barcelona, two places that I had never been to before. Seeing the culture within the hustle and bustle of the transportation hubs and the amazing sights from the airplane such as the German Alps, the Mediterranean coastline, and the sprawling Spanish metropolis with its mixture of ancient and modern architecture as well as the hills and valleys with winding rivers and remote villages that I had only seen previously in pictures, documentaries, and movies had me awestruck already. Then, I arrived at my destination: Granada, Andalucía, Spain; the site of the last Muslim stronghold in Europe before the Age of European Exploration and Colonization.

The first thing that I recall when I landed was thinking, “Wow, I’m actually here!” After all the steps and preparation, I made it. And next, was a voice from another passenger asking, “Are you here for the global learning class with UCSC?” That question brought me immediate relief and gratitude. Yes. It’s not just me. I’m not alone. Of course, I wore all Banana Slug gear on the plane in hopes of just such an occurrence!  

My program was a short one, only four weeks, but it was truly immersive. On the first night in Granada, we were taken straight from the airport to a bus station where we all met our host families and went with them directly to their houses to move into our rooms rather than to a dorm or a hotel. This type of living arrangement was a source of anxiety for me originally but that was all put to rest immediately as my host family made sure I got something to eat and was very comfortable, affording me my complete privacy to rest and recover from the long flight. Living with a host family was spectacular because it meant I would be speaking Spanish daily and that is the best way to become more fluent in a second language. It also meant that we were living in an authentic Spanish neighborhood immersed in the local, modern lifestyle every minute of every day. So, not just the language and romanticized aspects of a far away and imagined place but the shops, the food, the street performers, the graffiti, the sounds, smells, and sights of everyday Granada.

Of course, as a class, we visited the tourist attractions, the World UNESCO Heritage sites, seeing amazing architecture from ancient Rome to Muslim Andalucía to Columbian-Christian Spain. We went to Carmona, Cordoba, Sevilla, and Málaga, and saw modern art museums as well as doing our own exploration when not in class. We spent three weeks in southern Spain and I fell in love, much like Washington Irving in the 19th century, particularly after our day at the incomparable Alhambra palace and stronghold. Then we boarded a ferry and traveled about eight miles across the Strait of Gibraltar from Tarifa, Spain, to Tangier, Morocco. 

With only a week to spend there, we made our base in Tetouan, sister city of Granada, from whence we traveled a day to the “Blue Pearl in the Mountains,” Chefchaouen, and we experienced food I had never tasted before despite spending 17 years of my life before re-entering college as a cook and chef in the culinary industry. We finished off our class and journey in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat, and by the time we all said goodbye on the final morning, everyone was hugging everyone else as if we had been a family all along who had just been on vacation together despite most of us having only met 4 weeks earlier in Granada. And, with most of the summer still ahead of us, the trip wasn’t over. Some of my cohort stayed in Europe to do other things while I began my journey home. But, even my journey home was part of my experience as my layover caused me to stay one night at an airport hotel in Paris, France. This final night in Europe meant that I had touched foot in four countries over four weeks after having not left the U.S. for over 30 years. To oversimplify it but also say exactly how it made me feel in the moment, it was cool, bro. 

In conclusion, I’d like to highlight a few very important aspects of the experience. While I have certainly expressed what an amazing experience global learning programs can be, none of it would have been possible, and I would not have felt as comfortable during the entire course of my journey, had it not been for the meticulous care and attention to detail of the Global Learning team at UCSC and the people affiliated with the Gilman Scholarship Award. It’s also important to me to reiterate to other STARS students that even though you may only be at the UC for two years, there are programs that fit your schedule and interests. It can be done. I know it can because I did it despite my initial skepticism. The financing is available. The advising is available. Your class can even be used as a credit toward your major. My class was a literature course but based on its syllabus and content, I was able to get credit for an anthropology elective upon my application to the relevant department, and it was a painless process. Finally, my global learning experience continues today. My 2022 class is one of the reasons that I decided to apply to graduate school abroad and a big reason that I will be attending University College London in the U.K. in September of this year for a master’s program. This one program helped change my perspective on my academic future, introduced me to scholastic cohorts that may be associates or friends for the rest of my life, and made such an impression on me that I want to share my story and inspire as many other students as I can to take the same chance that I did. You won’t regret it.