With its barrels of olives and abundant displays of pigs' and sheep's heads, whole fish and shellfish, huge hanging salamis and other cured meats, if there's one memory that encapsulates Motherwell College student Fiona Winning's work experience in Murcia in southeast Spain, it was her visit to the city's bustling food market.
"It wasn't quite Tesco or Sainsbury's," she says. "It was so different, so alive, noisy and colourful. I can still remember the smells of the cheeses and cured meats that filled the air. Everything seemed so fresh."
Fiona was one of 10 hospitality and professional cookery students from Motherwell College who took part in a two-week "international mobility experience" last summer, funded by the Leonardo da Vinci programme for vocational education and training.
During their two weeks there, each student undertook three work placements in different hospitality establishments, ranging from Spanish, Indian and French restaurants to an international-themed restaurant and a five-star hotel.
"I learned a lot about the industry working in the very busy Indian restaurant and the five-star hotel restaurant, both of which had 200 covers," says Fiona, who last year completed her City and Guilds Professional Cookery Gold Diploma and is presently working towards her HNC.
"I learned a lot about five-star quality and presentation of food, about new ingredients and new techniques including using liquid nitrogen to make a rice pudding dessert and baking naan bread in a tandoori oven," she says.
"I was very proud to have completed the programme, to have worked abroad successfully and to have learned some Spanish, my first foreign language."
The language barrier did prove challenging for most of the students, though they did a four-week advance course at college and spent at least one hour per day learning Spanish while in Murcia.
For some of the students it was their first time abroad and for a few it was the first time they'd flown.
"The programme was about personal and professional development as well as about raising employability levels and the students' self-confidence," says Garry Allan, head of hospitality and professional cookery at Motherwell College.
"It was about them working in - and developing communication skills in - an international context, about opening up ideas including the idea that they could seek professional careers abroad," he says.
The students' visit was highly structured, each keeping a Curriculum for Excellence journal and an employability skills journal, along with a work placement profile and peer observation notes, completing a daily diary log and a learning aims and objectives plan.
Sixty-nine students applied for the 10 places on the da Vinci programme, and the successful applicants were chosen through a "strenuous" interview process that also took into account attendance, time-keeping, motivational qualities and how the students presented themselves.
"These students were acting as ambassadors for Motherwell College and it was important they presented themselves in a professional manner at all times, which they did. Some of them were even asked back to work in Murcia next summer," says lecturer Darren Pettigrew, who accompanied them to Spain.
"The Spanish experience was invaluable to all these students in terms of self-confidence, new skills, industry knowledge and being given a realistic experience of working and living in a foreign country.
"It makes them aware of the international context, of the vast opportunities available in the hospitality industry," he says
For Fiona Winning, it was "a 10 out of 10" experience. "It took me out of my comfort zone, especially having to speak Spanish which I'm going to learn more," she says.
"I'd go back and I know now that I'd like to work abroad if the opportunity came. The visit gave me an insight to working abroad and I know I'd like it. It gave me more confidence and made me feel more professional."
Of the 10 students who took part in the mobility experience, nine are continuing their studies at Motherwell College, six at HNC level, and one has found employment with a hotel group. A new group of students will undertake a similar visit in May-June 2013.
Tuck into a daily diary
Murcia daily diary excerpts from Andrew Mackay (SVQ patisserie amp; confectionery):
"Today I went to the creperie, learning new skills and techniques on how to prepare and cook crepes and chop vegetables for roasting.
"The Inter-continental Hotel was goodexcellent. Prepared small components of dishes. The language has been a challenge but worthwhile. When I go back home I am going to continue with the Spanish language.
"The Alhambra Palace was excellent as we were thrown into a busy service where we made a range of curries, naan breads, tandoori chicken, garlic prawns and a range of dips and sauces. I felt I learned loads.
"It was a totally different environment from the five-star golf resort, the kitchen was a lot more basic, different equipment but everything they needed. The chefs were very friendly and very willing to share techniques and show off their style of cooking.
"Overall the past two weeks and the three work placements have been excellent. I have learned so many new skills and techniques, learned more about Spanish culture and their way of life.
"The overall time was absolutely fantastic, especially working in the five-star Intercontinental Hotel. It opened my eyes to the skills they have and I would love to work for a similar five-star place."