Alumni

Filming My Thesis Abroad: Descubre Granada

Elizabeth Ruiz was a student at Colorado State University. She studied abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain during the Spring 2015 semester.

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La Alhambra in Granada

At the start of my college career at Colorado State University, I was asked the classic question: what would you like to do after graduation? With a major in journalism and media communication, my first answer was to be a news anchor or reporter. However, when asked what my ultimate dream job would be, I said that I have always wanted to be the host of a travel show.

As a member of the honors program at CSU, I was required to create a thesis. I was not so thrilled to write a thirty-page paper, but after talking with the director of the program, I quickly discovered that my thesis could be whatever I desired. In fact, we were encouraged to do a project involving something we are very passionate about. With the knowledge that I wanted to study abroad for my Spanish minor, I decided that my thesis would be a travel video.

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Aaron & I

Three years later, I flew to Granada, Spain, for a semester abroad with ISA in the Spring of 2015. Filled with Andalusian charm, Granada was the perfect place to film my thesis, but that is actually not the reason why I chose Granada as my city. It’s more like Granada chose me. At that time, I had been dating a guy named Aaron for almost three years. He went to a different university (University of Colorado), but we were determined to study abroad together. Since his majors of Spanish Business and International Relations had more restrictions on courses for credit, we had two choices: Salamanca or Granada. I knew nothing about Granada, but my sister had previously studied abroad in Salamanca, so I knew I wanted something different. Granada it was.

Before even leaving for the semester, I encountered difficulties. First of all, I needed a video camera, a tripod, and a good mic if I wanted any chance of getting high-quality footage. After much research, I found the perfect video camera for my purpose—a Sony NXCAM. It’s small and great for travel, but still films in beautiful HD video. However, I ran into the next challenge—finding the money to pay for it. Fortunately, my generous parents offered to pitch in as a Christmas present, and the rest was paid for through grants and money I had saved up. The rest of my equipment was supplied by my thesis advisor who sweetly gave me some of his personal gear.

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Filming with the SonyNXCAM

Several days before I left on a plane, my camera arrived. I was crying with excitement. I found a protective case for it, and ended up lugging it with me all around Europe as I backpacked for an entire month with Aaron before the semester even started. Once I finally settled into Granada and became accustomed to the culture about a month after arriving, the filming started. In breaks between classes and on weekends when I wasn’t traveling, I would explore the city and film. Since I had given myself a month to know the city before any filming, I had an idea of areas I wanted to cover. Aaron helped me by filming my standups (when I would speak in front of the camera), but that is where the next challenge came.

Traveling and filming my thesis posed some of the greatest challenges for our relationship. To be quite frank, I am a perfectionist. After filming a standup about ten different times, he would tell me it’s good, but I would ask to do it about ten more times. We often found ourselves getting frustrated with each other, but with his tremendous patience and willingness to help me, we got it done, and I know his help enhanced the quality of my thesis tenfold. It also made the process much easier.

The last challenge was having enough courage to do what I had gone to Granada for in the first place—speaking Spanish with the locals. In addition to simply filming, I wanted to get several interviews, so that meant sending out countless emails, and I needed permission to film around the city. There were times when I swore they didn’t believe that it was solely for an educational project. It was almost as if they were certain I would get paid in some form. Nonetheless, I filled out whatever paperwork necessary, and was eventually able to interview a few people around the city. While editing my thesis after returning, I translated all the Spanish into English subtitles, and sent it to those I had interviewed to prove I was telling the truth.

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Conducting an interview with the cave museum guide

As of right now, I am not sure which career path I am going to follow. I just graduated I am currently on the search. If a traveling opportunity involving video or hosting is presented to me, I am very thankful that I have Descubre Granada to show future employers. Not only that, but creating my thesis further trained me to do exactly what I want to do with my life. I grew as a person while studying abroad, but I also enhanced my professional identity. If I had the choice, I would do it all over again. Looking back, it did not take away from my study abroad experience. If anything, it improved my experience, as I became a real expert on everything Granada has to offer. In fact, I found some hidden gems that my Granadan host parents had never even seen. Even if one does not need a thesis necessary to graduate, I would still advise future study abroad students to accomplish a project they are passionate about while abroad. Studying abroad looks excellent on a résumé, but creating a project while abroad shows a deeper element that will help one stand out (in my opinion). Besides, if you have an experience like me, it may not even seem like work after a while.

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My host mom, roommate and I

For the full version of Elizabeth Ruiz’s Descubre Granada video, please see here.

For the short trailer, please see below:

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