Jena Nassar: Ida España 2022

Ida: The Tapas Takeover as Influenced by Spain

By Jena Nassar, study abroad student traveling to Spain with Professor Bailly.

Image by Katherine Price (CC by 2.0)

Spanish cuisine is just one of the many unique and alluring parts of Spanish culture. Characterized by its Mediterranean elements, much of what Spaniards consume consists of an indulgent variety of ingredients and are utilized in numerous cultural dishes. However, what sets Spanish cuisine apart the most are a simple, small dish found in nearly every bar and restaurant– Tapas!

Tapas are a traditional Spanish bar food usually served alongside beer or wine. The iconic snack comes in a wide variety of options, varying greatly from region to region, and are usually included in the price of the drink. Still, because this custom varies from city to city– the tapas experience may differ in Barcelona than in Madrid, than in Granada, and so on. Yet what stands true is that the custom of eating tapas is a beloved part of Spanish culture and the tradition is now replicated with a regional twist in bars and restaurants all over the world.


There are multiple known accounts for the origins of traditional tapas. One popular version of its emergence references barkeepers who would cover customer’s drinks with a slice of bread and small piece of cheese and ham. This was done as a way of preventing flies and dust from entering the glass. (Zima) When analyzing the meaning of the word itself, the references to this origin telling are unmistakable. The word tapa comes from the word taper, which means “to cover.’ Similarly, tapa is also the Spanish word for lid. Accordingly, the tapas really did function as a lid to the drinks.(Jessop) Another probable origin story links back to the farmers and fishermen who would stay energized throughout the work day by eating small portions of food. Large meals would tire them out, calling for a few hour siesta.

Spanish King Alfonso X. Photo by Alonso de Cartagena (CC by 4.0)

A different, but perhaps the most widely accepted account claims tapas were first introduced in the 13th century in southern Spain, in the province of Andalucia. (Zima) Its inception came as the Spanish King Alfonoso the 10th of Castile fell ill and was prescribed large quantities of wine as he recovered. To diminish the effects of the alcohol, the king would only take small bites of his food alongside his drink. (Jessop) Following the king’s recovery, he insisted that no wine shall be served in any household unless they are served alongside something to eat, thus preventing public drunkenness.

As stated previously, the tapas experience can vary depending on the region in Spain. In cities like Granada, Jaén, and Almería, the snacks are served in bars, free alongside ordered drinks. The theory is that by offering salty, courtesy tapas to bar-goers, it will encourage them to order more drinks to quench their thirst. In other areas, particularly the more touristy ones, complimentary tapas are sometimes not the norm, but they can still be ordered off the menu for a price. In places like San Sebastián, tapas are actually called pinxtos, and have to be ordered off the menu as they are more gourmet.


Now the question is, what constitutes a tapa? It is important to note that size is a large indicator of whether or not a food is a tapa. They are usually very small portions of food and are in their own category– not to be confused with appetizers. There are also a wide assortment of tapas, both hot and cold. Classic assortments consist of tortilla de patatas or jamón serrano, while more exotic options could be snails, known as caracoles. Whatever the preferences may be, there is a tapa for everyone and every taste. As the way tapas are prepared are certainly regionally dependent, below is a collection of the most common throughout Spain and in specific cities. 


Photo by Biskuit (CC by 2.0)

Gildas, found throughout Spain, are salty and pickled peppers, olives, and anchovies bunched onto a skewer. While they can be served alone, they can also be served atop a small piece of bread, in which case it would be called a pincho rather than a tapa. (Lesiuk)

Manchego Cheese

Photo by Ewan Munro (CC by 2.0)

Manchego cheese is a tapa common in Castilla La Mancha. With its complex flavor, it can be eaten on its own or topped with tomatoes, olives, or a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil. (Lesiuk)

Chipirones a la Andaluza

Photo by Ewan Munro (CC by 2.0)

Chipirones a la Andaluza, regional to Andalucia, are miniature squid that have been lightly breaded and fried in olive oil. They are then seasoned with light lemon and salt. (Lesiuk)

Boquerones en vinagre

Photo by Kent Wang (CC by 4.0)

Found all across Spain, Boquerones en vinagre are one of the most traditional tapas in Spain and are a Spaniard favorite. They are anchovies which have been marinated in vinegar, garlic, and oil. (Lesiuk)

Tortilla Española

Photo by Flydime (CC by 2.0)

Tortilla Española, also known as tortilla de patatas, is often referred to as Spain’s national dish. The tapa is essentially a Spanish omelet, with eggs, onions, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Regional variations exist, such as incorporating red pepper or scallions. The tortilla is often served in small wedges as an easy finger food. (Lesiuk)

Pan con Tomate

Photo by Ewan Munro (CC by 2.0)

Pan con tomate is popular throughout all of Spain but has its origins in Cataluña. It is a tapa that consists of bread topped with a garlic, tomato, and olive oil spread. (Lesiuk)


Starting off as just an assortment of snacks to accompany bar beverages, tapas have evolved to now become an iconic aspect of Spanish cuisine and culture. It is a customary part of Spaniard living to “bar hop” to multiple restaurants and diners for tapas, referred to as ir de tapas, an effective way of socializing. Consuming an entire meal of tapas is referred to as tapear, and often replaces formal lunch or dinner meals.

Since its inception, tapas have now entered a golden age which has not yet come to an end. The first tapas, presumably those of King Alfonso the 10th, consisted mainly of sliced ham and cheese. Today, the custom of eating Spanish tapas has made its way across the globe, and has evolved to become more exquisite and adapted to multiple local regions in the process. New York in particular has seen an onslaught of tapas bars rising in popularity, each exhibiting their own unique twist on the traditional Spanish snack. ”We can’t help being innovative and adapting things so they work for us,” says Stan Frankenthaler, the owner of Red Herring, a wine and tapas bar in Boston. The bar serves tapas reinvented with an asian-style influence. (Fabricant) In the hands of American chefs, tapas have evolved to become an art form and a social affair in elite restaurants. 

Helena Carratala, the owner of Spanish restaurant, Helena’s, is in the heart of New York and specializes in the art of tapas. ”It started 200 years ago among workmen and fishermen, and gradually the elite discovered it, so tapas became fashionable. But it’s cultural and social to stand around with friends gossiping, talking politics, drinking and sharing small plates of food,” says Helena. (Fabricant) Another New York tapas bar in Greenwich Village offers a slightly different tapas experience. Offering a menu of American tapas, diners can enjoy stewed lamb with sweet-potato cakes and hazelnut oil, or they can indulge in a giant soft-shell crab tacos with avocado, tomato salsa and lime cream. “We have Americanized the Spanish concept. Our portions are larger and we’re doing more creative things,” says Tapestry owner, Dan Mendel. (Fabricant) In his restaurant, some diners will eat at the bar, similar to the casual tapa-eating custom in Spain. However, most Tapestry diners tend to eat at tables in the dining room. (Fabricant) This is partly due to the differing portion size of Americanized tapas compared to Spanish tapas. (Knowlton) American tapas usually require a fork and a knife, whereas Spanish tapas are often enjoyed as finger foods or eaten with a toothpick. 

The catalyst for much of this global Spanish tapas-takeover can be credited to the Michelin-starred restaurant, El Bulli. Its head chef, Ferran Adrià, experimented with Spanish concepts and flavors to deliver them in a new and unexpected form. (Calvino) The restaurant gathered 2 million diners seeking reservations each season, and only 8,000 were fortunate to claim their spot on the list. However, the reservation came at a price– €250 per plate. (Calvino) While El Bulli revolutionized Spanish cuisine and made it famous globally, the restaurant did not last. It closed in 2012, but had a heavy impact on launching the Spanish restaurant scene found all over the country. 


Having been born out of a practical need– to stop flies from entering drinks, to limit the effects of alcohol, or whichever origin story one chooses to buy into– tapas have grown into a Spanish cuisine staple, and then into an entire food category on the global scale. The influence of Spanish cuisine is widespread and evident in the Americas, with Spanish restaurants and tapas bars popular in cities all over the country. There are however some cultural differences. It is common for Spaniards to make a night out of sampling tapas, moving from one bar to another. Yet in America, this is not the ordinary– people do not usually “go for tapas” in that fashion. Rather, many American tapas bars are sit-down restaurants. And even bars who are not necessarily “sit-down” do not usually have customers hopping from place to place solely for the tapas. Also, Spanish tapas are characterized by their bite-size portions. Whereas in America, these portions are sometimes slightly larger. Thus, they don’t call for  ir de tapas.

Tapas bar in Barcelona. Photo by Hakan Gonenli (CC by 3.0)

It is also interesting to note that Spain is not the only home to snack-size, pre-meal dishes. In the Middle East, they have a similar custom in which small portions of a dish are served before the meal. These would usually include pita bread, olives, and hummus, but rather than being called tapas, are known as mezze.

Despite the few differences between American and Spanish tapas, it is undeniable that reinvented bar food in America has been influenced by Spain. Many accounts from restaurant and bar owners have attested to this influence, explaining that they incorporate Spanish cuisines with local flavors and customs. There are some who look down upon this Spanish integration into American culture due to it involving an evolution of traditional aspects of Spanish cuisine. However, I feel that it is rather a form of flattery. Spanish cuisine has brought social diversity and unique flavor to the American palate, allowing one to, quite literally, experience a taste of a distant country.

The various Spanish restaurants I have had the pleasure of dining in have offered sliced breads with a delicious assortment of toppings. Without knowing specifically that these were actually Spanish tapas, it’s easy to overlook them as merely appetizers. Now having evaluated the origins and evolution of Spanish tapas, and comparing it with my own dining experiences here in America, I cannot wait to experience authentic, traditional tapas in Spain this summer! 


Calvino, Erik. “America’s Best Tapas – Travel – Food.” CigarSnob, 14 Jan. 2021,

Fabricant, Florence. “Putting the World on a Little Plate.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 July 1997,

Jessop, Tara. “A Brief History of the World Famous Spanish Tapas.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 27 Apr. 2016,

Knowlton, Andrew. “Tapas in the U.S.” Bon Appetit,

Lesiuk, Tanya. “Top 21 Spanish Tapas (Today’s Tapas Culture): Dotravelmag.” DoTravel Magazine,

Zima, Sierra. “What Are Spanish Tapas and Where Did They Come from?” Citylife Madrid, 24 Sept. 2021, 

Jena Nassar: Vuelta España 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Hi everyone! My name is Jena Nassar and I am in my last semester at FIU as a Nutritional Sciences major. I am on the pre-optometry track and will be attending the NSU College of Optometry in 2022. Since my freshman year, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to Study Abroad as an Honors College student. Through the tribulations and uncertainty of the past two years, it was unclear whether an experience like this was still feasible. So as I’m writing these reflections throughout various destinations in Spain, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have to broaden my knowledge through this interdisciplinary course, and to do so with Professor Bailly and the lifelong friends I’ve made along the way!

Distant Connections

Throughout our time in the Spring, I had come to learn that I was one of the few non-Cuban students in our Study Abroad class. As covered during the semester, Cubans have Spanish ancestry, with Cuba being Spain’s first real stepping stone to the Americas. This seemed to offer personal substance to many of my classmates. They were being given the opportunity to explore the realm of their ancestors, regardless of how distant their ties may be. In contrast, I came into this understanding that I may have a different perspective. I was set to embark on a trip where I felt I was to learn about Spain’s ties to Miami– not me personally. I was excited for my fellow classmates and the unique perspective they would be able to explore with their ancestry, but I didn’t just want to sit back and observe. I wanted to discover my own ties; how as a non-Spanish, non-Cuban, non-Catholic child of immigrants, I could possibly see a piece of myself within Spain. With that being said, I certainly found ways in which Spain related to Miami, but was stricken more by their differences culturally. I also found pieces of my religious and cultural identity all throughout Spain, more than I ever thought I would. 

At the top of Montserrat/ Photo by Anusha Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Societal Norms and Behaviors: Similar or Different?

Tipping and Serving

After spending as much time exploring Spain as we did, it’s inevitable to pick up on a few societal patterns. One of the first things we noticed was that tipping is not the norm. In America, leaving a tip is expected for servers, restaurant cashiers, drivers, etc. In Spain, many places do not even offer a tip percentage or option on receipts. However, I found that touristy areas were the exception. During our stay in Madrid, I spent a good amount of time in Sol, a relatively tourist-dominated neighborhood. While dining in this area, I found that receipts would provide a tip calculation at the bottom, something I didn’t see in many other areas. 

Along with tipping, it is also customary in America that the waiter would return to a table to provide the check and pick it up once the customer has left their card. After spending too much time waiting for a check that never arrived, my classmates and I realized we needed to walk to the front of restaurants to pay at a cashier. But yet again, touristy areas were the exception as servers in those restaurants came to our table for the payment. It was interesting to experience the dynamic between neighborhoods that expected Americans or other foreigners and those that did not conform to American norms.

Personal Space and Social Etiquette

Sitges/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

I found that the Spainiard idea of personal space isn’t like that of Americans. For example, as we spent time in Sitges and Playa de Barceloneta, fellow beachgoers would pass very close to my group and I. People would swim through us, not shying away from engaging in smalltalk with strangers. While it was kind to engage with us, it was quite surprising to see how often strangers acknowledged each other here as opposed to back home, where I feel many people simply keep to themselves. Similarly, people stand relatively close to each other while speaking to you, and may even touch your arm or shoulder while doing so. While again surprising, I quickly got used to it as it was evidently a cultural norm and not ill natured in any way. I also became aware that if you step into a shop, or even just an elevator with other strangers, it is normal to greet them as they enter and exit. 

The Spaniard etiquette of being so friendly and open to others you don’t know is something I found to be really lovely at times. On a particular night where a group of us were playing music and dancing on the street while making our way home, a group of strangers going the opposite way joined in the moment as they passed. Making what may seem as a mundane, random moment into one of the funnest of the trip, it is thanks to the openness and approachability of Spanish people with good senses of humor. 

Sitges/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

School System

While we didn’t experience the Spanish school system firsthand, I took it upon myself to research it a bit as it was an area of great interest to me. I have some family living in Spain, and I’ve heard recounts of their rigorous academic programs and was curious as to how it compared to the American school system. They claim they have it so much harder over there, and I can kind of see where they are coming from. My nephew has been living in Spain for some time now and takes most classes in Castellano (Spanish), but is also required to take a class in Valenciano, which is a dialect of Catalan. While the predominant language is Spanish, areas near the metropolitan Valencia use the local language. Things such as signs and metro announcements are made in Valenciano, but have the Castellano translation underneath. ( 

I was not aware of how different the dialect could be, but realized why many schools in Spain would teach it in its own class. For example, the word “exit” would be “salida” in Castellano and “Eixida” in Valenciano. ( There is also Catalan, which is considered its own unique language. While my nephew isn’t required to take a class in Catalan at his school, it is incorporated into the curriculum of many other schools. It wasn’t until we went to a restaurant in Barcelona that I noticed the Catalan street signs with Castilian translations underneath. Though one restaurant we chose only had Catalan menus. Given that I hardly speak Spanish to begin with, I knew I was hopeless. But my classmates, who are fluent in Spanish, struggled with the menu a little as well– it makes sense to teach it in Barcelona schools as a language course. 

While elementary school in America typically refers to kindergarten to 5th grade, the equivalent in Spain is primary school and goes up to 6th grade. It is in the last year of primary school that a foreign language, usually English, is incorporated into the curriculum. During secondary school, another language, usually French or German, is added to their education. (“Education System in Spain.”) School is mandatory and free for students between the ages of 6 and 16. Following secondary and higher secondary education (which is optional), students can move onto tertiary education, equivalent to college or university in America. 

A notable difference between Spanish schools and American schools is that schools in Spain have a lunch break built into the day. Much like a siesta, students choose to stay at school or can be picked up to have lunch at home during the 2-2 ½ hour break (Brock). Leaving school midday and returning is practically unheard of in the US, where lunch breaks are about 45 minutes. This is also why the school days are a lot longer in Spain, usually running from 9am to 5pm (Brock). Meanwhile, elementary schools in America typically start around 8am and finish at 2pm. 

Transportation… less of a headache than Miami traffic

Atocha Station in Madrid/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

If I could bottle up anything and bring it back to America, it’d be the friendliness of Spanish people and the efficiency of their metro system. Of all the Spanish norms rare to South Florida, I thoroughly enjoyed the public transportation options available. Not only was I able to learn the daunting metro system, I began to find it a lot easier than ordering cars or hailing taxis. Perhaps because the New York Subway system has an infamous reputation for being overcrowded, dirty, and sometimes dangerous, I was expecting a lot worse. There was always a station entrance nearby, it was able to take me to each neighborhood I needed to visit, eliminated traffic, and was relatively quick. It was an incredibly efficient system I wish I’d be able to utilize back home, because who wants to sit in standstill traffic? 

Metro Ride/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Beyond the metro system, I made use of the bikes and scooters available to rent, which I found were popular during our stays in Sevilla and Barcelona. While I’ve seen them around a few times, I’ve never used them around Miami as I always have my car. But now that I know how fun they are I just might begin to ride them occasionally.

As for what I’d introduce to Spain, how about not charging for water? Given the heat and physicality of this Study Abroad class, I found myself constantly craving a glass of ice cold water. I guess it was my own fault for buying a small reusable bottle– it’d be empty by the time I reached the top of a flight of stairs. But I needed cold water refills so bad, I gave restaurants all my money. 

Personal Discoveries

The Great Mosque of Cordoba/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Of all the things I expected to happen in Spain, finding so many parts of my own identity intertwined with its history and architecture was not high up there. I had a basic understanding of Islamic influence in certain parts of Spain, but did not expect that it would be as prominent to this extent. The first taste of grand Islamic influence came during our time in Cordoba, which was captured by Muslims in 711. Cordoba eventually fell in 1236 to King Ferdinand III, who turned the Great Mosque of Cordoba into a cathedral. (Ruralidays) Rather than destroying the mosque, it was preserved and built upon into the cathedral. 

The Great Mosque of Cordoba/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Stepping into such a grand and intricate mosque felt deeply moving. While I am a regular mosque goer, the ones in South Florida aren’t as magnificent in size and grandeur because they’re casually positioned within small communities. In fact, the only mosque I’ve stepped into which had this grand aura has been in the Middle East. For a moment, walking through the Mosque of Cordoba felt like walking in a mosque in Syria. The mindblowing part of the mosque comes as you walk toward the cathedral section, as it suddenly becomes well lit and adorned by crucifixion statues and paintings. I suppose I should be appreciative that the mosque was built upon rather than destroyed, but it simply doesn’t sit right. The lighting of the cathedral area contrasting with the dimness of the mosque section seems as to say one was superior to the other.

The Great Mosque of Cordoba/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Something important to note about Islam is the purposeful lack of physical beings depicted in artwork. For this reason, my two Muslim classmates and I couldn’t help but just cringe at the statues feet away from what we see a mosque, which feels like a disrespect. After talking to fellow students, I was shocked to find out they also felt uncomfortable with the mosque’s conversion into a cathedral. I assumed they simply wouldn’t get it, but was proved wrong when they expressed the same feelings I internally had.  

We further explored the impact of Islamic and Moorish influence in Granada. This day in particular was once again a unique experience. Growing up, I have been used to shying away from talking about my culture or religion for different reasons. For one, there are some people whose only perception of Islam or Middle Eastern culture is that of something negative– and you can’t always be sure which type of person you’re dealing with or how they will think of you. So it is a precautionary fear of people that do not care, will have a negative reaction, be judgemental or show prejudice in any way.

Granada/ Photo by John Bailly (CC by 4.0)
Granada/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

The entire trip, but Granada especially, has created the complete opposite experience for me as we were being submerged in islamic art and architecture. While I love my identity and sharing that part of myself, it has always been easier to keep that identity separate. Yet here I was teaching fellow classmates how to read Quranic phrases in Arabic, and it was because they approached me wanting to learn. I’ve never witnessed non-muslims appreciating Islam, or being so openminded to learning more about the beauty of the religion, so it was an experience that meant a lot to me. 

Beyond the submersive lectures and tours I’m grateful to have experienced, I also learned much from my classmates. Many late-night talks were spent discussing our personal spiritual beliefs, our cultural differences, but more importantly, our similarities. I valued the opportunity to see my classmates pray after seeing the Black Madonna at the top of Montserrat, some saying they felt overwhelmed with emotion. Many dinners were spent with a group of us dining at nearby restaurants who served our different ethnic foods, teaching each other how to pronounce the foods and cultural etiquette. My classmates even promised me they would take us to their favorite Cuban restaurants back home, and proudly shared their families’ stories of moving from Cuba to Miami. It’s as though each one of us is a walking history book, we just need to be willing to take the time to open it and get to know each other’s stories. It is through these experiences that I felt we really bonded the most and where we became good friends more than just classmates.

Basilica de Montserrat/ Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)


Brock, Krista. “Five Differences between Schools in Spain versus US Schools.” Krista Brock, Author, 13 Nov. 2020,

“Education System in Spain.” Spain Education System, Scholaro,

Ruralidays. “Mosque of Cordoba, Spain: Interesting Facts: Ruralidays.” – Blog, Ruralidays, 20 Jan. 2020, “Official Languages Spoken in Valencia, Spain.” Valencia Tourist Information – Valencia Tourist Information,

Jena Nassar: España as Text 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Hi everyone! My name is Jena Nassar and I am in my last semester at FIU as a Nutritional Sciences major. I am on the pre-optometry track and will be attending the NSU College of Optometry in 2022. Since my freshman year, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to Study Abroad as an Honors College student. Through the tribulations and uncertainty of the past two years, it was unclear whether an experience like this was still feasible. So as I’m writing these reflections throughout various destinations in Spain, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have to broaden my knowledge through this interdisciplinary course, and to do so with Professor Bailly and the lifelong friends I’ve made along the way!

Madrid as Text

“El Rastro Fiasco,” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Madrid, España on June 12, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Having siblings a lot older than me means realizing my upbringing has been a lot different than theirs. My brother and sister grew up in Spain in the late 80s, while I was born in Miami in 2001. Thus, they were raised in an entirely different environment, surrounded by a different language and culture. Being Middle Eastern, yet incorporating the Spanish customs my siblings adopted during their childhood in Valencia has always created an interesting dynamic in my house. It’s as if there was an entirely different life that my family lived before I was born, and I’ve formed my own memories of them through the retelling of childhood stories. My time in Madrid has given me the opportunity to experience these stories for myself— particularly, while we visited El Rastro. 

El Rastro is an open air flea market located in Madrid, open every Sunday. I knew this day would be meaningful to me as while living in Spain, one of my dad’s first businesses was selling jeans at the local flea market. As expected, I’ve heard countless retellings of the flea market hustle, the bargaining, and the laboriousness of setting and packing up in the dry Valencia heat. Yet I have never experienced a true, authentic flea market for myself.

The market is located along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores. As we trekked toward El Rastro as a class, little shops and tables began to appear along the street the closer we got to the market. Once we finally arrived, we were met by a courtyard of tables adorned with various tiny trinkets, one of a kind shoes, books, and nearly anything one could hope to find at a flea market. Professor Bailly had explained that so many of these items were obscure because they are often items that are found in the streets that are able to be resold. The deeper we explored into the market, the more commercial the shops seemed to be. I noticed much of the stores sold the same types of clothing, just with prices varying by one or two euros. Nonetheless, there were still some incredibly unique shops that I could not help but be in awe of, such as one that was dedicated to selling entirely vintage cameras and recorders. 

The way in which the sellers communicated, the kindness and attention they’d offer as I browsed their tables really struck a core with me. Sure, some might just be looking for an easy customer, but most of the people I encountered showed genuine warm-heartedness and wanted to know more about where I was visiting from and how I enjoyed the city thus far. Through these small but meaningful encounters, I could not help but to think of the young hustler my father was as he worked at the flea market nearly 30 years ago, trying to provide for my mother and siblings. It is experiences like this that truly made me realize I may have been feigning the stories and memories I’ve heard from before I was born as my own— part of my identity of having a “Spanish past.” Now, I’m getting the opportunity to experience the Spanish culture for myself. I’m proud to say the tables have turned, and I get to be the one to come home and tell my friends and family about my own Spanish experience and his things have changed since their time here. 

Toledo as Text 

“The Study Abroad Dream,” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Segovia, España on June 15, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

The Aqueduct of Segovia is a 2000 year old system which is essentially a structural masterpiece. Most of the aqueduct consists of double arched columns, with channels that carry the water. These rows don’t require any mortar to hold them together. Rather, the 20,400 blocks of stone are laid atop one another and held together by balancing forces on the rocks. In fact, the aqueduct is the only Roman aqueduct made without cement, which historians are not sure the reason for. 

While I had seen pictures of the aqueduct through class lectures, I didn’t quite grasp the grandness of its structure. Through our walk, I couldn’t help but to constantly peer my neck up for a look at the entire height of the pillars, which amazed me. Even more so is la Catedral de Segovia, which is a gothic style church located in the main square of the city. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Following our exploration of the town and Cathedral, our Professor offered students an unforgettable opportunity to hike through Segovia. I’ve always envisioned having the dream “study abroad moment,” and this hike was the picture-perfect one. This excursion provided the opportunity to further get to know my classmates outside of a lecture walk, and simply bask in the magnificence of Segovia and the views it has to offer. And while this trip certainly involved taking in the present moment, it was also a time to reflect on the past two years— where great times outdoors with friends seemed to be something of the past or very distant future. And the realization that I was in Europe, studying abroad with an incredible group of people, having the abroad experience I’ve dreamed of for a few years was finally happening. 

Sevilla as Text

“Coexistence in Architecture,” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Sevilla, España on June 19, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

As the second location to stay in during our time in Spain, I was incredibly excited to arrive in Sevilla. As soon as our class got the opportunity to explore the city, it was evident Sevilla had a certain charm to it. Different from Madrid, the architecture appeared to be a combination of Roman and Islamic architecture. The Romans founded Sevilla, and they established the city of Italica. Sevilla eventually became an Islamic city in 711, and remained under Islamic control for 500 years, explaining its present-day style. 

While under this Islamic rule, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together— known as the convivencia. This union could be seen throughout Sevilla, as many of the churches used to be synagogues, but have Moorish architecture within them. Similarly, La Giralda is an Islamic minaret with a catholic bell tower atop. 

As a class, we had the opportunity to visit the Real Alcazar and Catedral. The Catedral is the largest Gothic building in Europe and is home to Christopher Columbus’ tomb, which my classmates and I found interesting as the tour guide mentioned it so casually. We then proceeded to the roof of the Catedral, where we were able to get a full view of the intricate architectural styles surrounding the building. All over the roof were large  stones called “mushroom caps,” which when lifted revealed a hole looking down into the cathedral. Peering through this hole was one of the most interesting parts of the day, as from the inside, the holes on the roof seem tiny and inconspicuous. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Granada as Text

“The Red Castle,” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Granada, España on June 21, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)
Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

At last, it was finally the day trip I had been looking forward to the most during our time in Spain. As a Muslim in America, it is not often I get to indulge in the intrigues and history of my religious beliefs in an academic environment. Many like me have grown up accustomed to most discussions about Islam being that of negative misconceptions. For these reasons, I was incredibly excited to dedicate an entire day to exploring Granada and its incredible history, and learning more with my classmates about Islam. 

The medieval part of Granada is formed by the Alhambra and Albaycin, the Islamic city. The Alhambra exemplifies decor and architecture constituting Nasrid art. The Generalife gardens were used for agriculture during the medieval period. As we first stepped through the gateway, we were greeted by these gardens with an intricate design which wisely utilizes the landscape. The view seemingly went as far as the eye could see, with incredible foliage and Islamic architecture. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

While it may not seem to be that big of a deal to some, it was quite surreal for me to be hearing Arabic words I speak at home being spoken in class. Even just seeing the Arabic calligraphy on the walls of Alhambra, it didn’t take long for me to think of the walls of my grandmother or aunts and uncles houses, adorned with our customary and religious art. But I also couldn’t help but to think how amazed my ancestors would be to know we traveled all this way to learn about the origins of Granada and the intricacies of the Islamic buildings. It was also by the interest of my friends and classmates that I was able to teach a few how to read some of the Arabic calligraphy. 

Coming into this course, I was not aware how little non-Muslims new about Islam. I’ve always had a slight chip on my shoulder that people may take what they hear about Islam from the news and use that to form their perception of the religion, or even me. Yet by the end of the day, hearing my classmates feel comfortable enough to want to ask me questions about my religion and where I come from truly made the excursion surpass each of my hopes and expectations for the day.

Sitges as Text

“Deering’s House,” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Sitges, España on June 26, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Having spent a few years now learning of Charles Deering’s cultural relevance to Miami, there was no better way to conclude one of the last days of our study abroad than by exploring Sitges. I admittedly did not know much about Sitges or what Deering’s business consisted of there specifically, but I quickly came to learn that he spent much time living in Sitges, collecting artwork and having them installed in his mansion, named Palau de Maricel. It is this collection of artwork that Deering brought with him to the United States. 

As Deering contributed much to Sitges, such as through funding the development of a new hospital and a school for girls, he became known as the “adopted son” of Sitges. As we discussed Deering’s generosity to the city during our walking lecture, I couldn’t help but to internally think to myself “…our Deering? The Deering I’ve spent years learning about back in Miami?” Being so far from home, it was a real wake-up call and reminder of the grand-scale connections that have happened across countries, forming our world, individual histories and cultures into what we know today. Having stood in his estate back in Miami many times before, to now exploring his former mansion in Spain, I was reminded that this was a direct, tangible connection that I could see right before my eyes. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Afterall, I suppose the whole reason we are in Spain was because of him– Deering was the biggest common factor linking us to Miami, bridging the large gap between our home and España.

Barcelona as Text

“Oh my, Gaudi” by Jena Nassar of FIU in Barcelona, España on July 25, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Of all the incredible works and designs displayed throughout Spain, nothing in my opinion quite compares to the magnificence of Antoni Gaudi’s creations. Much of his work is located in Barcelona, and we had the privilege of exploring the city and experiencing his marvelous designs while learning more about his life and influences. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Gaudi completely dedicated his life to the construction of the Sagrada Familia, putting aside all other work to submerge himself in its designs. It’s hard to imagine the decades spent constructing it, and it is yet to be completed. What struck me the most about the basilica is its sheer size. In the same way as a forest, your eyes immediately follow the columns straight to the ceiling, and incredible stained-glass shine vibrantly colored light into the basilica. I found that much of his work reminded me of some element of nature. Standing in Park Guell, I felt connected to the free-flowingness and beauty of the environment. The benches were curvy, reminding me of waves with vibrant colors taking over the landscape. The scene almost appeared like a real life candy-land, with buildings that resembled colorful gingerbread houses. It’s interesting to think how the parks and architecture compare to nothing I’ve ever seen back home. The only time I’ve experienced such a landscape has been in an Orlando theme park, where the towns are built as visual sets. But Park Guell was all real– with colorful mosaics, extravagant, rocky columns, history, and an incredible view overlooking Barcelona. 

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

While still working as an architect for the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi was struck by a trolley car. After being mistaken as a beggar, he was left to lose consciousness on the street, as no one would bother taking a poor street beggar to the hospital. Once a police officer finally took him, he received low quality care. By the time Gaudi was recognized as the architect of the Sagrada Familia, he was in poor health and passed away on June 10, 1926. Clearly if they had known who he was early on, Gaudi may have lived. Why is one’s right to care and human decency contingent on their status in the world? It’s saddening to know Gaudi never got to see the completion of his life’s work, but even more so that a person was lost due to bigoted individuals around him. 

Jena Nassar: Miami as Text 2022

Jena Nassar Miami as Text 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Hello everyone! My name is Jena Nassar and I am currently in my last year at FIU as a Nutritional Sciences major. I am on the pre-optometry track and will be attending the NSU College of Optometry in 2022. Since my freshman year, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to Study Abroad as an Honors College student. Through the tribulations and uncertainty of the past two years, it was unclear whether an experience like this was still feasible. So as we’ve returned to in-person learning, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I have to broaden my knowledge through this interdisciplinary course, and to do so with Professor Bailly and the lifelong friends I’m sure to make along the way. I cannot wait for the experiences that are to come– I’ll see you in España!

Deering Estate as Text


by Jena Nassar of FIU at the Deering Estate on January 28th, 2022

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Charles Deering’s lavish estate and grounds have been an excursion I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a few times with Professor Bailly. With such a grand home and an incredible Biscayne Bay view center stage, it’s quite easy to be captivated with the material aspects of his estate– but this is just merely the surface. With each visit I have to the Deering Estate, there is a new aspect of the grounds I can hone in on and feel enthralled by. What truly resonated with me this time was the theme of erasure. 

Charles Deering was an incredibly wealthy, white man whose home was built during a period of intense racial segregation. While appreciating the beauty of the estate, the genius of its architecture, and the grandeur of the basin, it is owed to the people who built it that we remember who they were. Many of the workers part of the estates construction were African-American or Afro-Bahamian. Despite the efforts and incredible contributions they provided to the grounds, their working conditions were dreadful. Some were even injured and killed in a fatal dynamite explosion on the estate grounds. Yet their relevance in the history of the Deering Estate can be so easily, and unfortunately, overlooked.

Perhaps why the story of the forgotten workers resonates so deeply with me is that this erasure is still a commonplace in today’s society, though some wouldn’t believe it is. Everyday, in countries from all over the world, thousands of people, including women and children, are subjected to atrocious conditions and die as a result. Even worse, the rest of the world doesn’t bat an eye because, “it’s not our people.” Just as the African-American and Afro-Bahamian workers of Deering’s estate, subjection to horrible conditions and erasure is just part of the sick and twisted price one pays for being from a different world. One would think that the blotting-out of groups from historical timelines is an atrocity the present day world would not come close to repeating; yet, today we stand with the erasure of Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, and more in a similar way. 

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Following the acknowledgement of the estate’s unsettling but relevant past, the grandeur of the Mediterranean revival style house can be appreciated for its magnificence. With its large Prohibition Era wine cellar, views of Biscayne Bay that are never short of breathtaking, and the sights Deering was sure to have from the balconies, the house showcases the peaceful life he enjoyed during his residence. Throughout every part of Miami, it’s incumbent upon the explorer to search beyond the postcard destinations and to truly understand its incredible history– both the good and the bad. 

Vizcaya as Text

“J’ai Dit”

by Jena Nassar of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on February 18th, 2022

Photos by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

James Deering’s extravagant villa and gardens are a little piece of Europe right in the heart of Miami. Its grandeur is a culmination of Italian and Spanish architecture, while the gardens boast Italian and French attributes. 

With year-round staff maintaining the grounds as house-workers and gardeners, Deering’s home is comparable to that of a little village. And in his village, what he says, goes. Deering did not care for societal restrictions or taboos– he played by his own rules. But how is it possible Deering managed to incorporate so many aspects of European art and architecture into his South Florida villa, with its own set of limited resources and unique environmental conditions? 

Many of the installations within James Deering’s villa are a result of transatlantic shopping-sprees. Many prominent sculptors and artists within Europe were commissioned to create work for his estate in Miami. Because sculptors of the skillset he desired were not present locally, an example of this are the Italian sculptors brought to create oolite sculptures of lions at the entrance of Vizcaya. However, when he couldn’t bring the artists, he would simply bring the art. There was no limit to what he would import– whether entire, intricate ceiling installations, or grand fountains. Many of his most magnificent artworks were brought from Europe in pieces and put back together in Miami.

Photo by Xsaiver Horn (CC by 4.0)

“J’ai Dit”

The words shine brightly through the stained glass at the top of the North staircase. Meaning, “I have spoken,” the phrase perfectly encapsulates the idea of a God complex James Deering seemed to have. Deering never married, never had children, and has no evidence of romantic relationships with women. I can’t help but to think his way of life didn’t just revolve around filling his home with lavish materials and prominent house guests, but was an attempt to fill a void of companionship.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Scattered Fruit”

by Jena Nassar of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11th, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Downtown Miami is a historical hub for culture, art, food, and diversity. The perfect representation of this diversity stands right in front of the Government Center, representing to all who pass by the city’s unconfinable multiculturalism. The statue, now a landmark in downtown Miami, is of a dropped bowl of scattered fruit slices and peels. Appropriately, shattered bowl fragments and orange peels are scattered enough for people to weave through the art themselves. The chaos of the scene perfectly symbolizes the booming, urban growth of Miami.

If the spreading of the slices and peels are a symbol for the city’s growth, what exactly is the unshattered “bowl”?

This question is difficult to answer, as there are many aspects which have contributed to the city’s “boom.” However, what we do know is that early Miami was built by black Bahamians. As the only ones who really knew how to use oolite, they constructed an oolitic limestone building in 1844. This building, still standing today and currently known as Fort Dallas, is one of the oldest surviving buildings from Miami’s pioneer era. It’s difficult to lay your hand on the oolite stone wall without feeling the overwhelming and undeniable connection to the slaves who built the very structure.

A particular landmark, which has grown to be one of the most impactful to me throughout my exploration of Downtown Miami, is the Freedom Tower. The tower served as the Cuban Assistance Center from 1962 to 1974. Besides the time I’ve spent in Professor Bailey’s class, the other opportunities I’ve had to visit the Freedom Tower have been when I’ve either attended or witnessed protests and fights for peace. The Freedom Tower, for this very reason, now stands as a symbol of hope and freedom.

South Beach as Text

“Art Deco Beauty”

by Jena Nassar of FIU in South Beach on April 1st, 2022

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

South Beach, with its seemingly always beaming sun, beautiful coastline and neon lights, is the picture-perfect backdrop that brings tourists from all over the world to Miami. The destination has been the alluring setting of multiple big-name movies and television shows– such as Scarface and Miami Vice. But before it became the star-studded postcard destination we know it as today, South Beach was actually large, unsettled farmland. One hundred and sixty acres of the land were purchased by the Lum Brothers in 1870, for which they used it as a coconut farm. Following the land’s purchase by the Lummus Brothers, and many other collective efforts, the coconut farm blossomed into the city and architectural wonder we see today. 

One of the most distinctive features of South Beach is its unique and striking architecture. All along Ocean Drive, various styles of styles can be seen. The three dominant forms are MiMo (Miami Modern), Mediterranean Revival, and most famously, Art Deco. The Art Deco style is unique in that it attempts to use industrial materials, but manipulates them to look organic and natural. An example of this would be the steel found along the front of buildings, but shaped to look like leaves cascading down.

The residences, restaurants, and hotels along South Beach are marked by nautical-style porthole windows and “eyebrows,” which jutt out from the building and serve to provide some shade. At the time of construction, any building taller than three stories would require an elevator to be installed. To cut down costs, most of the buildings were no more than three stories high. For this reason, the architecture also adopted characteristic vertical lines along the front– to make them appear taller.

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

My favorite part of this Friday’s excursion was certainly when our class was guided into an alleyway and instructed not to look behind them. All at once, when told to turn around, every student was greeted by the Betsy Orb, an enormous egg-looking structure wedged between two buildings. Compared to the silver, futuristic looking skyscrapers that take over some of Miami, South Beach is a refreshing dose of funky, architectural artistry. Around each corner, there seems to be a quirky little hotel or piece of art I’ve yet to see before. And I mean– literally. The faces speak for themselves.

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

The journey across the MacArthur Causeway onto Miami Beach feels somewhat like being transported to a Miami Vice paradise, and I will quite honestly never get tired of spending time on South Beach. 

Jena Nassar

Help fund my Spain Study Abroad this summer!


Jena Nassar: Miami as Text 2019-2020

Hi everyone! My name is Jena Nassar, an 18-year-old undergraduate student at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am majoring in nutrition and aspire to complete my Masters in Physician Assistant Studies. From an early age, I discovered my passion for global conservation and experiencing the natural world through travel. I hope to understand worlds vastly different from my own and shed light on those whose regular lives consist of unimaginable, untold hardships.

Despite having lived my entire life in South Florida, even proudly exclaiming to be from Miami for the sake of simplicity when traveling, I can’t say I’ve experienced nearly as much of the city as the typical south Floridian. It has become apparent that my perception of Miami- mile-long beaches coupled with bipolar weather patterns- just barely scratches the surface of everything that is this beautiful city. That is why Miami in Miami is more than a course- it is an opportunity to finally explore beyond the extravagant facade of Miami and discover the far-reaching history of the city many of us call home. Through hands-on interaction and exploration, I hope to surpass the boundaries of my own secure world and take the knowledge gained through this opportunity to leave a positive impact on people near and far.

Miami as Text

The Miami Experience by Jena Nassar of FIU at Miami Metro Station

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Prior to this first class excursion, the extent of my interaction with Miami was limited. I had visited the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens when I was 14, and that’s about it. So unsurprisingly, I was unsure what a day of hopping from Metro stop to Metro stop would entail. I did, however, have a few preconceptions. I envisioned a plethora of historical statues and beautiful paintings; I envisioned a multitude of restaurants serving cultural cuisine; and most intimidating of all, I envisioned unconditioned train carts overcrowded with herds of people. Miami met some of those expectations exactly, and in other ways, truly surprised me.

The first time I visited Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, I had primarily focused on the intrinsic beauty of the luxurious villa before me. This past Wednesday’s visit to the gardens was unlike the previous in that I reached beyond just appreciating the glamour. I pondered the story that led to the miraculousness standing before me and thus, came the history that is James Deering, commissioner of the estate’s construction. Vizcaya’s entrance was notably surrounded by a deep moat, which Deering ordered to be filled with cacti to deter trespassers, a feature left unnoticed my first time there. Yet the most surprising takeaway was that art found itself way beyond the entrance walls. Statues influenced by Vizcaya’s architecture and antiques could even be found at the Vizcaya Metrorail stop. 

Mural by Purvis Young in Northside Metrorail Station

Jackson’s Soul Food offered an authentic and delicious southern menu by an even more gracious staff. Professor Bailly pointed out that he had spotted an image of a blended, collage painting hanging on the restaurant’s walls; this was the same unmistakable mural by Purvis Young found scaling the wall of Northside Metrorail station. Art is entwined into every aspect of Miami culture- a theme I noticed throughout the day.

Miami Metrorail

As for the glue that held each piece together, the machine that allowed us to visit these sites in the first place, I could not have been more wrong. The system I thought I would never need to use was nothing short of enjoyable. From the uniqueness of the domino-styled pillars (art!) to the comfortably conditioned train carts, nothing had contrasted from my preconceptions more than the Miami Metrorail. 

I am astonished at how much more there was to the day than I had anticipated. Even having visited Vizcaya once before, truly learning its history made me feel like I never had– like this was an entirely new experience. The gratuitous welcome from Jackson’s Soul Food, the complex Metro system that reliably runs round the clock, the history found anywhere you choose to look– these all cultivate to make Miami a piece of art in and of itself. 

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya as Text

Standing in the Steps of the Forgotten” by Jena Nassar of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Miami River

If you were asked to think of the historical figures who laid the foundations of Miami, who would come to mind? You’re probably thinking of Henry Flagler, the famous railroad visionary–  or perhaps your brain went to Julia Tuttle, the Mother of Miami. Regardless of which notable dignitary popped into your head, behind them are innumerable, unnamed individuals whose stories are rarely told. This week’s excursion was all about discovering the unknown realities of those forgotten names.

Fort Dallas

Alongside the waters of the Miami River stands Fort Dallas, which was purchased to be a military fort. Lucia Meneses, a kind woman who offered to give an impromptu look inside the barracks, explained its various functions overtime. The properties were used as slave quarters for the then prosperous plantation. However, fear of the seminole war conflicts resulted in it being abandoned. It then went on to become Miami’s first courthouse. While I was only vaguely familiar with Julia Tuttle’s remarkable involvement, I was more captivated by the idea of standing in the very same quarters that slaves once lived in.

Stepping into James Deering’s lavish mansion of Vizcaya, you cannot help but to become, simply put, entranced. Each room, each tapestry, each sculpture– each encompassing a story waiting to be told.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Vizcaya is a cultivation of elements taken from extrinsic sources; various countries, traditions, religions, etc. To put it simply, one might say it is cultural appropriation. Vizcaya’s renaissance room is just one that exhibits this form of appropriation. The intricate tapestry towering along the wall of the room showcases Islamic artistic traditions, all the while, a Catholic painting of the virgin Mary hangs opposite of it. 

Although the class may have ended with me leaving Vizcaya, I was leaving Vizcaya with a new lesson. Everything that we have comes from a lot of different people, not just the one celebrated individual. As explained by Professor Bailly, “there are the people with the money, there are the people with the idea, there are the people with the engineering, and then there are the people who actually build things.” It was truly an eyeopener having the opportunity to stand in those same steps of the forgotten and nameless figures of Miami’s history. 

Deering Estate as Text

“Fossils. Dun dun dun!” by Jena Nassar of FIU at the Deering Estate

The Deering Estate is a house museum located along the edge of Biscayne Bay. While today standing as a prominent historic site, it stood in the 1920s as the home of Charles Deering: industrialist, philanthropist, and American businessman. The structure built in 1896 was originally known as the Richmond Cottage. After closing for business in 1915, Deering purchased the Richmond and began on multiple renovations, as well as structural additions to the property that would serve as a winter home to him and his wife. 

As an avid collector, Deering spent his years residing at the estate filling it with paintings, books, and antique furnishings. Deering passed away in 1927 and the estate was purchased by the State of Florida in 1986. The Deering Estate then became a magnificent cultural landmark and historical site. While most of his art collection was donated to museums by his daughters, some of his items were brought back. The estate, as if frozen in time, showcases the 1920’s Miami era with its antique contents. 

Even before Deering’s residency, the land had already cultivated 10,000 years of human occupation, including the town of Cutler and Tequesta settlements. As you marvel the acres of land surrounding the estate, flashes of its past are hinted in the form of the fossils spewed around. The Cutler Fossil Site consists of a large watering hole packed with Pleistocene fossils. Similarly, there lies evidence of a Tequesta community that once resided there. 

Image by Fauzan Sheikh

Fittingly, the Deering Estate is also a hub for diverse wildlife. In contrast to the previously discovered bones of ancient, extinct species, I was astonished to see the estate fosters a thriving ecosystem with natural plants and wildlife. My fascination only grew stronger once I made the connection that this current ecosystem is quite literally living on the bones of a past one. It also serves as a reminder to preserve what we do have and to acknowledge the natural beauty we can find when we take a moment to appreciate nature.

Chicken Key as Text

“Us vs. Nature” by Jena Nassar of FIU at Chicken Key

There are not many people who can spend their Wednesday morning canoeing out to a beautiful, sunny island and also say they’re actually in class. Fortunately for me, I’m one of the lucky ones. What I love most about this class is that I know each excursion will be an adventure, and this Wednesday was nothing short of one. We were scheduled to canoe out to Chicken Key, a small island about a mile out from the main Deering Estate. I had been kayaking before and was well versed in how strenuous this trip could be. What I was not prepared for was spending the next two hours muddy, bruised, and downright frightened.

The first ten minutes of canoeing went as expected; it consisted of my partner and I attempting, but failing, to steer in a straight line for more than 10 seconds at a time. Right as we finally discovered an efficient rhythm, Professor Bailey enthusiastically invited a small group of us to follow him into a mangrove river off to the side. Clearly, we had forgotten anything we had just learned about paddling synchronously as we were all over the place- turning right when we wanted to steer left, backward when we wanted to steer forward, and so on. 

It was not long before we lost sight of Professor Bailey, and soon my partner and I found ourselves in a narrow pathway enveloped by mangroves along with three other canoers. Before we knew it, the tide had gotten so low that it was completely impossible to row through the river, and most definitely too late to turn back. Expecting to get only minimally wet throughout the day (how naive of me), you can imagine my hesitation as I was told to get out of the canoe and trudge through the muddy water. 

Walking through the water barefoot was not an option. It was knee-deep, mushy, and we couldn’t see what we were stepping on. The scariest part of all was the sporadic, waist-deep holes we would every so often plummet into. I was informed that these “holes” were alligator burrows, which is exactly what you want to hear while you’re walking through unclear water.

There seemed to be no end in sight to this ceaseless mangrove river, but there came a point where we collectively decided that no matter how miserable we were, we would not stop pushing until we were out. Two canoes, one kayak, five exhausted people dragging them, and one bleeding student later, we made it past the never-ending mangrove hell. We finally tracked down Professor Bailly and met up with the class. You can imagine our reactions when after talking his ear off about our mini-survival expedition, Professor Bailly simply asked, “wait… you were following me?”

The remainder of the day was spent exploring the island and picking up trash and debris. Seeing the overwhelming amount of garbage that soon flooded the canoes made me realize the difference just a small group of people can make. Although I had missed a large portion of the class, I certainly left Chicken Key with a new-found understanding of the planet’s condition. The lesson could not have come at a more relevant time, as the current state of the planet only grows more and more severe. Another thing I realized: if I were to ever appear on “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” I would totally survive.

Wynwood as Text

“Canvas City” by Jena Nassar of FIU at Wynwood and the Design District

Wynwood, although just a mere 30 minutes from my home, manages to somehow feel like a world away. If you’ve ever stepped foot into Miami’s Art District, you know what I mean. But for those of you who haven’t, just imagine a community used as a canvas, and only the most imaginative minds are free to depict any message that speaks true to them. That community is Wynwood- a cultural phenomenon so distinct from our typical, unostentatious neighborhoods, that you can’t help but feel transported to an artistic land far, far away.

Our first visit in Miami’s art district was the Margulies Collection. It featured a large array of fine art in the form of paintings, vintage photography, and sculptures. What appealed to me the most about this collection was that it went beyond what is usually seen as “orthodox”. While the conventional paintings existed, many of the pieces were unique, bizarre, and jarring. However, as Mr. Margulies explained, art doesn’t need to be pretty. It simply needs to mean something; to challenge an idea.

One piece that stuck out to me the most was a display of countless burlap human silhouettes, varying sizes and height, but all headless. It was strikingly reminiscent of the holocaust, the headless bodies indicative of how people were dehumanized and degraded to just numbers. 

The second visit was to the De La Cruz Collection in the Design District. I have never been more fascinated by artwork than I was when viewing this collection. Each piece told a story much more complex than anyone could have anticipated, and I found myself avidly walking up to each, prepared to guess its story. One of the very first pieces we viewed was by Felix Gonzalez-Torres known as the 31 Days of Bloodworks. At first glance, the white canvases may not appear to be much, but I soon discovered their format was indicative of a calendar. More specifically, the month his lover passed away.

31 Days of Bloodworks by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Photo by Gaby Lastra.

Towards the end of our visit, we ran into Carlos and Rosa De La Cruz, the owners of the art gallery. The two could not have been more gracious to us, and Rosa left us with these words: “Always give, and try to help someone.” Both Mr. Margulies and Carlos & Rosa De La Cruz offered to share their love for art, and that’s what they gave to Miami. 

HistoryMiami as Text

“Close to Home” by Jena Nassar of FIU at the HistoryMiami Museum.

The story of Miami is one that began 10,000 years ago with the arrival of prehistoric Indians. Their arrival to Florida was one full of acclimation- crucial to their success in the new environment. Their lifestyles were restricted to the resources the early South Florida climate had to offer.

Boats used by Cuban and Haitian immigrants on their journey to South Florida

Our excursion was supplemented by the gracious insight of our HistoryMiami Educator, Maria Moreno, who accompanied us on our tour throughout the museum. At one of the final installments of the tour, we witnessed boats used by Cuban and Haitian immigrants during their travel to South Florida. As Maria had informed us, a museum visitor who had once stood within the exhibit for hours actually claimed the small, wooden boat as the one he used on his journey to Florida. Able to recall the materials he used and the way he had constructed it, the boat was indeed verified as his. I cannot even begin to imagine the sense of admiration the generations following after must feel. Their family’s arrival to South Florida is indeed an awe-inspiring piece of history that will continue to be told for generations to come.

The Freedom Tower, known as the “Ellis Island of the South”, served a crucial role as the Cuban Assistance Center from 1962 to 1974. Today the building illustrates the story of humans seeking political asylum who were welcomed with open arms.

The Freedom Tower

Every step I took toward the Freedom Tower, the more I gained this sense of familiarity. It was not until we were standing beneath it that I realized I had been here once before: eight years ago protesting for the safety of Syrian refugees. As a ten-year-old, you cannot fathom the idea that anyone would deny innocent humans safety and protection. Standing beneath the tower, Professor Bailly’s lecture suddenly hit close to home. As a child waving my Syrian flag and dawning my “free Syria” t-shirt with hundreds of other Syrians, no one had bothered to explain to me the reason why the protest was here. Being at the Freedom Tower eight years later, I now understand why. The tower is a symbol of everything we were fighting for: hope, safety, and freedom.

Miami Art as Text

“Louder than Words” by Jena Nassar of FIU at Art Basel

Unsaying It by Joana Choumali

Miami Art Week is a cultural whirlwind fueled by creativity at every corner. The first week of each December brings the city masterful paintings, sculptures, and performances for art enthusiasts and collectors alike. Although having lived in South Florida for the entirety of my eighteen years, this was my first Miami Art Week- and I could not have imagined a better way to wrap up the Miami in Miami semester.

Coherance by Faig Ahmed

There is no form of expression more unmediated than a piece of artwork- and this stands true for all forms. Something as wordless as a painting is able to transcend all boundaries of communication and provoke a thought into the minds of every viewer. It just takes one second of a glance. Another second later, and the viewer may feel something entirely different. The power of art expression lies in the fact that its significance is up to each individual beholder.

Speaking about transcending boundaries, UNTITLED, Art and Art Miami featured some of the most conceptually astounding pieces- one of which was Super 30 by Peter Halley. The piece featured vibrant-colored squares and lines resembling prison cells, as well popcorn-ceiling textures that immediately caught my eye. Halley’s work represented the monotonous life constraints many fall victim to, despite living in a vibrant world of adventure. Two other artists who truly captivated me with their work included Faig Ahmed and Joana Choumali, who made use of distinctive mediums. Ahmed created wool carpets by hand, whereas Choumali utilized photography and embroidery to create tapestries through which she explored her identity.

Super 30 by Peter Halley

Perhaps the most personally influential and thought provoking exhibition was the one where each of us as students were able to play a hand in the installation. Environmental artist Xavier Cortada developed collaborative art projects as a part of the Futurescape Miami: Skyline to Shoreline exhibition, just outside of UNTITLED, Art. The project we participated in was Letters to the Future, in which each of us wrote a short letter to those living in year 2119. Cortada aimed to address the current climate crisis by provoking thoughts of the impending threat that is the state of our planet. As this is an issue I care about immensely, the project allowed me to reflect on what I have been doing, but also how much more there is that I should be doing.

Everglades as Text

“Alligator Adventures!” by Jena Nassar of FIU at Everglades National Park

The Everglades National Park hosts one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems within its 1.5 million acres of land. It’s five habitats– the Hammock, Mangrove, Pineland, Sawgrass, and Slough– are home to an array of wildlife. Some inhabitants include manatees, bobcats, and the endangered Florida Panther. Yet, not one of those compares to the monstrous creature that is the American Alligator. 

I’ve always had a difficult-to-explain sense of enticement towards alligators. Perhaps it’s their ability to stealthily lurk through the depths of our very own backyards, or the fact that they look like 21st-century dinosaurs. In my opinion, they are one of the creepiest creatures, which only further drives my fascination with them. 

I had been excitedly anticipating the Everglades class day for weeks– just until the morning of. Of course, of all days, Florida had randomly decided it wanted to take part in this year’s winter. My outfit very quickly proved to be insufficient. Professor Bailley was quick to call out my poor choice of footwear (crocs because I didn’t want to ruin a pair of sneakers!), and suddenly the water didn’t seem too welcoming. But with the added warmth of a friend’s beanie, our slough slog adventure had begun.

Our class was led through the Everglades by Park Ranger Dylann Turffs, who expertly guided us through the mangrove trees and slushy water. Prior to this excursion, I had never heard of slough slogging, but I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity we had to experience the Everglades in the most hands-on way possible. The slow move through the water and uneven terrains was never short of thrilling, not to mention the looming threat of possible gators or snakes encounter.

If there were to be just one “I’m in class right now, wtf?” moment, it was without a doubt as I ventured off for a minute to an area where the water was undisturbed and crystal clear. I looked up through the tall canopy of trees, beams of sunlight casting though gaps in the leaves, with the soft sounds of my class’ water splashes in the distance. I wish I had a picture of my view in that exact moment– the intricate beauty, the light twinkling on the still water and greenery all around. But perhaps it would have just been futile. Surely, no photo would have been able to capture that concealed magnificence deep within the Everglades National Park.

South Beach as Text

“Architectural Artistry” by Jena Nassar of FIU in South Beach

Photo by Jena Nassar CC by 4.0

South Beach is located on the southernmost tip of Miami Beach. For years, the destination has remained a travel favorite for tourists coming in from all over. South Beach has become the setting of countless of movie and tv sets– Scarface and Miami Vice, to name a couple. And with its coastline views and alluring nightlife, it’s easy to see why. 

Prior to making its way to our tv screens, South Beach was nothing more than unsettled farmland. The Lum Brothers purchased 160 acres of the land for coconut farming in 1870. In 1912, the area landed at the hands of the Lummus Brothers, who envisioned an oceanfront city. Thus, South Beach was born. Through many collective efforts, the city then grew into a renowned playground for the rich and famous. 

One of South Beach’s most notable aspects is its architecture. The uniquely structured, white and pastel colored buildings all along Ocean Drive are a part of the Art Deco Historic District. The hotels and residences along the island are marked by nautical port-hole windows and “eyebrows” to block out the Miami sun. Because no building was to be taller than three stories, vertical lines can be seen on many of the hotel faces to make them appear taller. 

Photo by Jena Nassar CC by 4.0

Compared to the futuristic, silver skyline that takes over much of Miami, South Beach is a refreshing dose of architectural artistry. The MacArthur Causeway is a machine that transports you somewhere entirely different. One minute, you’re driving through skyscraper central, and the next, you’re walking on the grass in front of a strip of short, vibrant, and quirky hotels, each with an element unique from the last.

The Deering Estate as Text

Deering Estate Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0

My time in Professor Bailly’s course has offered me the chance to uncover many hidden places I would never have otherwise experienced. But none have had a history quite as staggering as the Deering Estate. Located along the South Dade coast, the Miami estate served as the former home to Charles Deering in the 1920s. Today, it stands as a 21st century museum, hosting many grand events, various classes, and tours. Its goal is to protect the historic legacy of the estate and preserve its beautiful, natural landscape.

The most unique aspect (and certainly my favorite) of the entire estate is its grand Boat Basin. It was built by Deering between 1916 and 1918 as his own boat harbor. Currently, no watercrafts are allowed into the basin due to the fragility of its marine life. The basin is also a common manatee spotting-site, and occasionally a spot to see sharks, turtles, and dolphins.

The estate lies on the shores of Biscayne Bay, just a short distance from Chicken Key Island. Chicken Key was formed of quartz and limestone sand depositions from the ocean currents. One of the most memorable experiences I had in this course was kayaking out to the island one mile off the Deering Estate shore. The day was spent collecting waste and debris from Chicken Key and bringing them back to the estate. The sheer amount of debris piling into each of our kayaks was at first disheartening, but only reiterated the reasons why cleanups like this are crucial part of cleaning the environment.

Lotus House as Text

“Our Last Class” by Jena Nassar of FIU at the Lotus House

The Miami in Miami class at the Lotus House. Photo by Katy Roth (CC by 4.0).

The Lotus House is a non-profit organization committed to ending family and child homelessness and poverty. The aims of the shelter are to improve the lives of women, youth, and children by providing education, sanctuary, support, and resources to empower them and help them blossom. As a class, we had the opportunity to connect with its residents and lend a hand in its daily operations.

As a part of the sanitation crew, I helped in disinfecting the surfaces on the first floor of the center. We began by sanitizing one of the classrooms, wiping down each table, chair, handle, and cubby. We then continued into the children’s playroom, where once again, we wiped down every surface. Everything from the large play bins, down to the smallest, wooden toy block was disinfected. While to some it may seem a little excessive, the sanitation of all surfaces in reach of everyone is a large aspect of ensuring the health and safety of the shelter’s residents. Later on in the afternoon, my classmates and I got the chance to speak with the incredible, empowering women working on the staff. We were told the stories of their upbringings, how many of them came from backgrounds not much different from those at the shelter today. In fact, some of them had been residents of the shelter growing up and wanted to return as a part of the commited and empathetic staff.

Although we were not aware of it at the time, this March 11th class would turn out to be our last– at least of our in-person meetings. Our entire year of learning the ins and outs of Miami, the authentic stories that make it what it is, and the people that served as its backbone, ended in just the perfect way: giving back to the Miami community. Getting to work alongside these strong, courageous women for the day was an unbelievably humbling experience. Whether our impact was large or small, being any part of making the lives of those at the Lotus House better is an opportunity I do not take for granted. 

Quarantine as Text

“A Month at Home” by Jena Nassar of FIU

Spending lots of time outdoors. Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0).

The severity of the current situation first truly struck my family around mid-March. At the time, my sister had been working at an urgent care clinic. Due to the shortage of PPE and other vital protective gear, she actually came into contact with an ill patient– no gloves and no mask– who wasn’t diagnosed with COVID-19 until days later. By the time my sister was notified that she should get tested, we feared that everyone in my house may have already gotten it. Yet after what felt like an eternity of waiting, my sister received her test results– she was negative. While we were incredibly lucky this time, it did not mean we were safe. I have an elderly grandmother, my father is immunocompromised, and my other sister is 7 months pregnant. The risk of any one of them getting the virus is a fear we, as well as many other families, are struggling with daily.

My cat wondering why none of us have left the house in a month. Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0).

This entire past month of quarantine has ensued with great uncertainty. While a scare like that hasn’t repeated itself since, my anxiety lies in the unknown of how this will all end. When is the next time my family will be together again? Telling my brother, who has no choice but to keep his stores open, that he can no longer visit us for fear that he may get my parents sick is something I never imagined having to do. And as we near my sister’s due date, we can’t help but feel worrisome not being with her on that day, let alone visit her in the hospital at all. 

I’ll admit, for a long while I felt hopeless. Each time I’d watch the news I’d feel a heavier weight of despair fall onto my shoulders. Part of it due to the back to back stories of families losing loved ones, and my thought that it is only a matter of time before something happens to someone I love. Another is partly due to the possible end that is seemingly far away in sight. Each time I catch myself falling into that dangerous mindset, I have to remind myself that this is not the concern of one age group, one racial group, or one country. The entire planet is going through this, together. And in turn, we have been able to see the way people can come together for the greater good of mankind. I also find it important for me to remember, no matter what my situation may be, it could always be one million times worse. With just an ounce of perspective, it is easier to think of my anxieties as minuscule and to think of those who truly need our help.  

With that being said, I believe a healthy mindset serves as the strong foundation necessary when enduring troubling times. I found that sticking to a daily routine is what would do this for me– It helps each day at home feel less abnormal. Quarantine has brought the opportunity to do more of the things I enjoy the most, such as spending time outdoors and exploring the night sky through a telescope. It has also allowed me to dedicate more time to learning new things, like strengthening my Arabic and painting skills. Above all, I’ve taken this time to reflect on the things in life that matter the most to me. It has reminded me that my days are numbered, and I do not want to let one pass without having achieved something or made a positive impact, being big or small. In the end, this will be a part of all our lives that we can say we experienced together and I hope we can all come out of this experience having gained more than we lost. 

Spending lots of time outdoors. Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0).

Jena Nassar: Miami Service Project 2020

Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

Jena Nassar is a first-generation freshman student at FIU’s Honors College pursuing a B.S. in Nutrition. Upon completion of her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to gain her M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies and work in neonatology. She enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures, and learning about conservation. Alongside her professional aspirations, she hopes to one day combine her experience and passions to contribute to humanitarian relief efforts abroad.

Friends of the Sea


Friends of the Sea is a nonprofit organization that hosts monthly beach cleanups at Hollywood Beach in Hollywood, FL . The organization aims to bring awareness to the community of the detrimental effects single-use plastic has on the environment. 

Hollywood Beach, FL. Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)


Hollywood Beach is a place that has grown to be really special to me. My family, friends and I have been visiting the beach together ever since I could remember. We’ve celebrated many occasions and have made countless memories along its beautiful shore and boardwalk. I selected the beach cleanup as a part of my service project because I want to help bring the beach one step closer to the clean and beautiful sandy shore I remember growing up. 


As this is a student-led nonprofit organization, many students within my community were spreading the word about the cleanup through social media. I had been seeing and hearing a lot about the work these incredible volunteers do on the beach each month. Their photos showed the amount of waste picked up each time they went out — it was absolutely astonishing. Seeing the difference they could make on Hollywood Beach in a single day, I knew I wanted to get involved.


The cleanup began at 9:30am on the shore of Hollywood Beach. Upon arrival, we were provided with rubber gloves and reusable bags. I had attended the cleanup with my sister, and we were told to walk across to whichever part of the beach we’d like, trying to stay away from other volunteers to maximize the area covered. 

Right off the bat, we began to find litter peeking out from beneath the sand. Bottle caps, empty bottles, straws, destroyed shoe soles, wrappers, glass, old sunglasses, paint cans and countless other oddities were scoured along the shore. We even discovered, to our dismay, a used condom. 

Waste found on Hollywood Beach. Photo by Jena Nassar (CC by 4.0)

It wasn’t long before our bags were already roughly half way full with trash. As we were instructed to meet back at the starting point by 12:30, and we had gotten pretty far, we decided it was a good time to begin heading back. On our walk, my sister and I came upon a large, beautiful seagull laying on its side. As we approached it, we realized that the seagull was lifeless. Once we got past the initial sadness of the majestic bird laying limp on its side, we decided we wanted to bury him beneath the sand. We buried him in a remote area surrounded by plants, a spot we felt surely no one would ever dig into. Although it might seem silly to have a “burial” for a bird, the thought of leaving him to be pecked at, or to rot with people all around him broke our hearts.

We discovered the seagull in the area we had just previously walked through, so we assumed he had just died recently. He did not appear to have any external injuries, so we were perplexed as to how he could’ve died. Seeing the state of the beach, we couldn’t help but wonder, maybe he died from ingesting too much plastic from the ocean? Just the thought of the possibility reiterated to us the reasons why organizations like Friends of the Sea are crucial in creating awareness on how the actions of humans are affecting wildlife.

Separating waste into “recyclable” and “non-recyclable”. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Sea.

Upon returning to the group, all the volunteers compiled what they had collected into a large pile. We sorted our collections into recyclable and non-recyclable piles.



The Friends of the Sea beach cleanup was an incredible experience and I cannot wait to take part in the next one! What surprised me the most during the cleanup was that plastic bottle caps were to not be recycled. The City of Hollywood recycling facility does not have the capacity to recycle bottle caps. So when organizing a cleanup it’s important to reach out to the city’s recycling department to determine what they will and will not accept. Nonetheless, as a group, we had collected 67.5 pounds of waste from Hollywood Beach! This is far more than I had expected the group to collect, but it truly shows the impact a group of people can have when working toward the same goal together.

I also volunteered for…

16th Annual Seafood Festival

The Deering Seafood Festival is an annual celebration known for its fresh fish and seafood, celebrity chefs, and kid-friendly activities. The festival includes a section called “Discovery Cove,” which is dedicated to hands-on science. As a part of the FIU Honors College, our Chicken Key Cleanup crew were offered a table at the event to showcase an Eco Art Exhibit. Our goal was to bring awareness to the state of the bay and inform people on how they can help with coastal cleanups.

Our plan was to create a sculpture of a sea turtle entirely out of the waste collected during the chicken key cleanups. On a piece of cardboard, we drew out the shape of the sea turtle and cut it out. We then began laying out the items that had been collected on Chicken Key– various bottle caps, plastic bottles, cans, sandals, and more. We slowly began to pile each piece onto each other, seeing what could be used as the head and what could be used for flippers. The turtle shell design was made from a mosaic of broken glass bottles and colored caps. The flippers were made from weather-beaten slippers.

Admittedly, it was daunting to see the buckets of old bottles and broken glass and think “we’re somehow supposed to turn this into a sea turtle?” But I am incredibly proud of the way it turned out! The 16th annual Seafood Festival was scheduled to take place on March 29th, 2020, but due to the outbreak of Covid-19, was rescheduled to October 18th, 2020. Until then, the turtle will be in safe keeping!

The Lotus House

3/11/2020: The Miami in Miami class at the Lotus House. Photo by Katy Roth (CC by 4.0)

The Lotus House is an organization committed to ending family and child homelessness. They aim to improve the lives of women, youth, and children by providing education, sanctuary, support, and resources to empower them and help them blossom. On March 11th, through the Miami in Miami class, my classmates and I spent the day at the Lotus House offering our help to them in any way we could. 

As a part of the sanitation crew, we helped in disinfecting nearly all the surfaces on the first floor of the center. We began by sanitizing one of the classrooms, wiping down each table, chair, handle, and cubby. We then moved onto the children’s playroom and my classmates and I disinfected each and every surface. Later in the evening, as more and more families and children began to appear for lunch, I realized how vital it is to thoroughly sanitize the room– especially with the looming threat of Covid-19. 

During our time at the Lotus House, we had the opportunity to speak with the incredible, empowering women working there. Many of the staff members who shared their stories with us came from similar backgrounds as those at the center. It was an unbelievably humbling experience to get to work alongside these women for the day. Even if we just played a small part, being any part of making the lives of those at the Lotus House better is an opportunity I don’t take for granted.

Works Cited:

“Where Hope Blossoms.” Lotus House Shelter,

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