Sara Shimmel is a junior from Lewiston, New York, working on a double major in political science and Spanish. She is a member of the Women’s Chorus and takes voice lessons at the Eastman School of Music. She is also a member of the UR Quidditch team. A Gold Level Senior skater, Sara takes advantage of the Genesee Valley ice rink down the street a few times a week. Last year, she became a member of the Meridian Society and works giving tours for the Office of Admissions. Sara is currently studying abroad in Granada, Spain, and will be talking about many of her experiences abroad in this series of blog posts.
By Sara Shimmel
New Experiences, Unique Opportunities
So many aspects of the study abroad experience are exciting. There is delicious food to sample (especially if you’re in Granada—seriously: tapas, gelato, pastries…it’s awesome), new people to meet, different places to see…. I find myself wanting to share all of it with my family and friends back home. There are, however, other experiences I’ve had that have affected me more personally, in that they’ve allowed me to see into worlds I’d otherwise never be able to experience. One of these experiences that jumps to mind is the visit one of my classes took to a mosque.
Not being Muslim, I am generally not allowed to enter a mosque; however, many of us were welcomed into a mosque in Granada that was built only eight years ago. Before entering the prayer hall, everyone had to remove his or her shoes and the women were asked to cover our heads with scarves or some other form of fabric. This was something that I initially had some discomfort with, thinking about the idea of a woman needing to cover up when the men didn’t need to show other signs of respect apart from the removal of shoes. Of course, though, the fact that I was being invited to share in this unique experience was far greater than my hesitancy to take part in such a seemingly anti-feminist act, and so I covered my head.
The mosque itself was very interesting. It was so neat to be able to see firsthand the things I’d been learning about and things that, as a non-Muslim, I’d otherwise really not be able to see in a current mosque. The woman who spoke with us was very inviting and answered any questions we had about Islam and this particular mosque. She presented both the religion of Islam and her conversion to Islam in a very positive light, as would anyone who was describing something so close to them. I noticed she kind of contradicted herself a few times when asked about some of the social issues and that she failed to describe the separate area for women that was present in the back of the mosque. But being able to talk openly with someone who chose to convert to Islam was really enlightening. She mentioned that she struggled with the same feminist issues that a lot of us were feeling, but that every time she feels this way, she goes back to the roots of Islam. It is a very egalitarian religion, and one that has important female figures in its history. It’s one thing to base perceptions on an outside view of a religion, and it’s another to study its foundations. But not even studying allows you to see into the mindsets of those practicing the faith. I felt so fortunate to be able to experience some of the things that occur in the daily lives of practicing Muslims and to be able to discuss things that I was feeling with someone who had felt the same in the past.
Thanks to Granada, I was able to feel a connection with not only a person but also a religion that I have not been very familiar with before. That’s such a huge part of anyone’s study abroad experience: throwing yourself into a new situation, feeling uncomfortable, then accepting it as you gain more knowledge about it. I might not come back from Granada completely fluent in Spanish, with the ability to cook Spanish food (…or any food apart from maybe a grilled cheese, for that matter…), but the life experiences I’ve gained will stay with me forever. In being open to whatever new experiences you’re offered, you realize that the horizon of opportunities to experience in the future is limitless.