Top Three Take-Aways and Why YOU Should Study Abroad Too

This was a favorite place of mine to just collect my thoughts and admire the view. Finding a place like this is so important when you study abroad so I recommend finding somewhere like this when you arrive to your study abroad.

Number One: I learned, and got to experience, another way of living other than the way I live my life in the United States. Everyone’s experiences are going to be different in every country because of people’s history, education, economic level, health, ect., but these factors are also treated differently by the governments and the local people of the country you are in. For example, Spain has one of the highest life expectancy rates and the doctors and dentists here cost way way less than any care you could receive in the US. The way classes are taught and the way they administer tests are also different- plus there is very little homework in a typical class. In the US we have about a month or two for winter break but here they usually have over two months. As you’ve heard me rave about before, the transportation system in Europe is ridiculous. On every social media page at home I hear about people making fun of the Boston train system because of how messy it is. Here people hop on trains and cross borders and still arrive on time. Sure, there are occasional delays, but it is not like in the US where it is a known fact that the transportation systems WILL be late. Also, a really sad fact that isn’t discussed enough is how it is not socially acceptable to pet dogs in public. In the US you can go up to anyone and they will understand if you ask to pet there dog, but here people will think you’re crazy. 

This was post visiting the beach so excuse our hair, but these are some of the close friends I’ve made since being here. It’s definitely going to be hard to leave them.

Number Two: There is always more to learn from the people around you. My school is full of Americans because only Americans can take the classes offered here. These students come from all different states and have many different majors so their outlook and experiences in life are all very different. In Morocco I spent the five days with a student from Michigan who goes to a school in Florida and spent her summer in Jordan and Greece. Learning about her experience helping the community in Jordan was incredibly enlightening and her input in our Middle East class comes from first hand experience. Another student from Michigan spent his summer in Wyoming and decided to go to Sevilla because of a flip of a coin. He told me about how all of his major life decisions come down to a single flip of a coin and how it has definitely changed his life for the better and worst at different times. One of my conversations with him included a discussion about the future of the world and AI’s role in it and it was all quite interesting. Two students that go to UMass Amherst are from a town right next to the one my friend lives in and one of the students actually worked at the town she lives in over the summer. Hannah, spent her summer working with the Democratic Party and her stories of her experience will certainly play a role in what career paths I pursue. 

Number Two (A) The important thing to realize here is that the people around you are invaluable resources you should spend time getting to know. Learning about your peers and where they come from can give you a better perspective in life and can connect you to people you may never see again but will remain in contact with forever. You only have a limited time with these people, so cherish the moments and never give up opportunities to learn more about each other. 

This is from the day the museums were free. It was at an exhibit where the art was done by different people but the central theme was Dracula. Random trips like this felt weird at first with new people in a new environment, but were so worth it in the end.

Number Three: It’s okay to take time to breathe. At school I am a very fast paced, always moving to the next place to do something else kind of person, but in Spain I’ve had more time to slow down and relax. I’ve been able to go on runs in the morning, cafes during the day, and parks in the evening. I have quite literally had time to stop and smell the roses. This laid back lifestyle has allowed me to enjoy my time in Sevilla, but I am ready to get back into action. I am grateful that I have been able to take advantage of my time here and explore the museums, architecture, and busy streets of Sevilla because it made me feel more welcomed in the community. 

Number Three (A) Students should study abroad because the feeling of getting acquainted in a new community with new people and a different atmosphere is amazing. Being able to walk around a new place and discover cafes that locals pass on an everyday basis, but that you find just incredible is so rewarding. It is in these moments that you treasure the little things and the reason that you studied abroad comes together. It is a recognition that even though in the beginning it’s hard to adjust it is so worth it to feel like you’ve found a new temporary home. That feeling alone is a worthwhile reason for anyone to study abroad.   

Surprise!

The geography and layout of Sevilla has been the most surprising thing for me in Spain. I didn’t have very many expectations coming into Spain, but when my plane flew into Madrid I was shocked to see all of the flat land that was full of olive trees, dirt, and grass. There is SO much open space all over Spain. Any time you try to go to another city or town in Spain you have to take a car or bus through at least an hour if not two hours of fairly deserted land to make it to the next city. Even when I went to Rhonda and Huelva I had to take about an hour long bus ride just to get to the nearby cities. The buses are not bad I’m just used to seeing cities next to each other and being able to travel through towns to get to other towns. Massachusetts doesn’t have much bare land until you get over to Western Mass. 

This is from my flight back to Madrid from Switzerland. You can kind of see how spread out the towns are in this photo.

The other thing I love about Spain, and that I’ve mentioned many times before, is it’s walkability. I am in absolute shock every time I take a bike around Sevilla at how EASY it is to travel. I still cannot comprehend how I can just use a bike to get to one side of Sevilla to the other and most of that route will be on a path specifically designed for bikes. I love that the city is so accessible and that I see people of all ages walking to school, restaurants, grocery stores, or the park every day at every time. I also don’t think I’ll ever get over how late the old and young generations stay out, because in most places I’ve been to in the US kids are in bed by 10 and you really only see the older generation out late during the weekends. 

This is a photo taken from the bus (hence the weird coloring) of one of the country sides of Spain. You can see how bare it is which always surprises me.

While I was in Spain I watched Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’s, Congresswomen from New York, instagram story where she highlighted the accessibility of the Netherlands. She talked about how the walking, biking, and driving lane were all built on different heights so it was less likely for anyone to swerve into an unwanted lane. This made me even more aware of Spain’s accessibility. There are some places where each lane is at a different height but sometimes it’s just a different color or there are little metal buttons separating the lanes. Fun fact: if you ever go to Spain STAY OUT of the lanes next to the metal buttons with bike symbols because you’ll either get hit or have a bell aggressively rung at you. Sevilla also has a really great bike sharing program with Sevici. All you have to do is pay for the weekly or yearly plan (the yearly plan is only 33 euro and is definitely worth it) and you can take out a bike wherever they are stationed. There are plenty of stations all over the city and although sometimes Sevici can be difficult with full or empty stations, I’ve found it to be very worth it. Between biking to and from frisbee twice a week and biking around town a couple times a week I have definitely gotten my money’s worth. I am very much an outdoor person who much prefers to walk somewhere if I can and to be able to strictly walk everywhere in Sevilla has been a dream come true. There are quite a few sidewalks in my hometown in the US and this experience has inspired me want to start walking more so hopefully when it starts warming up I’ll start to walk around Auburn more frequently.

Make sure to bring your walking shoes to Sevilla because there will be plenty of opportunities to explore! Sevilla is also pretty accessible for those who are not able to walk- most sidewalks are quite wide and there are plenty of cheap cabs and taxis that are available all over the city, so don’t get discouraged. Sevilla is a city for everyone and its sidewalks will always be there to entertain.  

 

Top 5 Things to Do in Spain

These are my personal top 5 recommendations for Spain, but keep in mind that I have not visited Granada yet so that might be added to the list after next weekend. Also! I want to emphasize that everyone’s top 5 places in Spain are going to be different so if you get recommendations to go somewhere else in Spain you should travel as much as you can. There’s honestly no “bad” part of Spain so wherever you visit I’m sure you will enjoy.

This is from my walk to the park in Salamanca. I didn’t capture any photos of the park because I was focused on finishing my book, but I think this photo is sufficient.

NUMBER 5: Salamanca

Salamanca is located close to Madrid but is like a 5-6 hour bus ride from Sevilla. However, I thought it was completely worth the hike to get to. Not only can you walk the graffiti lined streets for hours, but there’s a bunch of hills you can climb and the view overlooking the city is amazing. The University of Sevilla also has a spot that I stayed at for a while just taking in the full view of the city. There’s also a stain glass museum that has wonderful artwork and includes a collection of sculpted dancers that spin and their shadows really make them look like they are moving. Sadly, you cannot take photos in this museum, but all the more reason for you to visit yourself! If you like small gardens there is also a mini garden that I assume looks better in full bloom because we visited after the season was over and it wasn’t quite what I expected. If you’re flying in from Madrid, I would definitely recommend that you make a pitstop in Salamanca. The hostel I stayed in had a lot of food for breakfast and was very inexpensive!

NUMBER 4: Strap on your walking shoes and

You never know where you’ll end up in Sevilla. Sometimes you’ll find 3 floor fabric stores and take a mirror selfie!

walk around Sevilla without a destination in mind

Other times you’ll catch the perfect amount of light running down a street and snap a photo.

Sorry this isn’t quite one location, but I think it’s important for people to learn what a truly walkable city looks like. My hometown has the tiniest of sidewalks and there really is not much to do so when I got to Sevilla and realized I could walk for hours at a time in any direction and constantly have enough sidewalk to walk on AND there were shops, cafes, malls, and fun things to do all around me I was in awe. You can literally go in any direction and you will find a great cafe with cheap coffee. Depending on where you go you could also end up at a flea market, a food market, a fun sock store, a five euro movie theater, a trampoline place, or a fun new restaurant. I’ve also learned a lot about the opposite side of the city by taking the bus that’s about a 30 minute walk from my house. I go on runs around Sevilla most weekdays and I always find inspiration for new places to visit during that time. For example, on my run the other day I learned where the Betis stadium is- which by the way you should make sure you have a stance on Real Madrid vs Betis before you get to Spain because you WILL be asked about it AT LEAST 3 different times during your visit.

NUMBER 3: Rhonda

There are no words to properly describe Rhonda.

THIS is one of the most amazing sweet potatoes I’ve ever had.

If you like nature and adventure this is the place for you. Rhonda has some of the most scenic views I have ever seen in my entire life. Depending on how daring you’re feeling you can also go past the man-made paths and into the river bends under the bridges. There’s also a few caves you can peak into, but I wouldn’t go too far into those. I went with two friends who were ready for a hike so make sure your partners are in for a full day of walking. We started the day at a cafe that happened to sell sweet potatoes and being a BIG fan of sweet potatoes myself  I had to order one before I left. You don’t see a lot of sweet potatoes in Spain so I didn’t want to waste my chance. If you’re on a budget this is also a great place because we brought lunch but also bought jamon y queso sandwiches and did not spend money on much else. There’s no admission fee for the hike unless you want to go to fancier parts of the city and the museums sometimes cost money but we just skipped the ones that weren’t free and still had a great time. We ended the day playing cards and eating ice cream so I’d say it was a very successful day.

NUMBER TWO: Plaza de Espana

This is Plaza de Espana during a colorful sunset. This is only a glimpse of what you’ll see when you visit it yourself.

Most Spanish cities have their own version of “Plaza de Espana” but I would argue that Sevilla’s is the best. When my program first took us there I knew from that moment that I would love Sevilla. The intricate architecture that makes the three towers stand out, the detailed painting that form seats in a crescent shape, and the flowing water fountain right in the middle make this a must see destination in Spain. The best time to go is when the sun is setting. I like to bring a book, my journal, and some headphones and find Toledo (each sitting spot is painted for a different Spanish city) and watch the sun go down and the lights come on. If you’re lucky (I was not because I was in Morocco) you might even catch a concert or two in Plaza de Espana. The MTV festival was held here and Green Day was the main act. You can also just walk around the park in front of Plaza de Espana. There are plenty of pretty places to sit on a bench because there are so many twists and turns in the park. The park next to Maria Luisa (the park in front of Plaza de Espana) also hosts the International Festival every year which lasts for a little over a month and has booths with food from many different parts of the world. During the day time there are also vendors that sell clothes, jewelry, and trinkets that are worth a walk through. Overall, Plaza de Espana is worth the trip not only for its ideal location but for the effort you can tell it took to make it. Also, a quick fun fact, scenes from Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia were filled in Plaza de Espana. 

NUMBER ONE: Toledo

Oh Toledo. I knew this was going to be my favorite spot even though it was only the second place in Spain I visited. Toledo was special because of its cooperation with nature and its old architecture. Our bus dropped us off almost at the top of the city and I love that the whole city was just built around the winding paths of rock and dirt. As someone with a deep appreciation for nature I loved that I could walk around the cobblestone pathways and look over the cliffs to see water flowing. I also loved that everything had a story and a history to it and that the tour guides tried to tell us as much of that history as possible in the short time that we had. It was also the first time I had ever heard of nuns making pastries and selling them out of the church so that was a fun story to hear. I don’t really know how to describe Toledo better than showing a lot of pictures of it so I have included my thousands of words of explanation here:


Spain and My Future

This study abroad experience has greatly influenced what I want to do with my life. It has confirmed what I thought I knew I wanted to do beyond a reasonable doubt and given me a push in the right direction. I needed this opportunity to go so far out of my comfort zone that I recognized the importance of what I was doing before.

This is the group of people I did a photo petition event with in Worcester, MA before I left. Many of them were people I had never met yet we were able to come together over a common cause.

Since my second semester of college I have always been overwhelmed with things to do. I love this lifestyle of always being active, constantly trying to balance the many important things that really must be finished, and at the end of the semester being able to look back and feel like I’ve accomplished something. From MassPIRG, to Sunrise, to SGA, to Model UN to frisbee I’m kept on my toes at all times and I definitely prefer it that way. Between all of these things I’ve always felt like I was making some sort of “difference.” Whether it was running the new voters project for MassPIRG in which we registered over 550 students at UMD to vote in the 2018 midterm election, or talking about international issues at Model UN, there has always been a problem to solve, and I have always been up for the challenge.

Spain is honestly one of the most politically engaged countries in Europe. On the second Friday of my time and Spain my friend and I joined one of their climate strikes in the middle of Sevilla. The line of people stretched into what felt like infinity and it was amazing to be able to witness!

My first Friday in Spain fell on September 20th, the same day as the International Climate Strike led by thousands of young activists around the world. The semester before I left I co-led a Green New Deal Town Hall with Esmeralda Bisono and witnessed students and local leaders present about how the climate crisis affects local communities, labor, low-income communities, and everyone nation-wide. We discussed the necessity for the Green New Deal that will create thousands of new jobs and completely transform our transportation, agriculture, and all other ways of life. This semester some of my peers put on a Climate Walkout at UMD. Missing it was heartbreaking, but watching the livestream filled me with so much emotion. Seeing all the student leaders I’ve come to know over time speak about the importance of taking action on the climate crisis and how it’s affecting our campus, our students, and our community was empowering. Watching on my phone was sufficient in the moment, but a part of me felt as though I wasn’t doing enough. Here I was, stuck in a foreign country where the politics will only affect me for the three months I am here, but I was watching as over one hundred students at my college campus took action to show administrators on campus and politicians worldwide that we are done waiting for them to do things on their timeline. This moment made me realize how passionate I truly am about ensuring America makes drastic changes to the way they do so many things. 

Right before I left for Spain I started working on an initiative to create an infrastructure within our campus to register voters. Voting has always been a passion of mine, and so when a peer reached out to me saying that the Sunrise hub on campus was going to start registering voters I knew I had to help out. I ended up organizing 2 different information sheets about how students should go about registering voters and skyped into their weekly meeting where I answered questions and went over the process of how to register students to vote. Doing this made me realize how much I value the work I had been doing back at UMD. I’ve loved this time in Spain and being able to experience life in a new way, but at the same time, I am so excited to go back and continue the hard work there is to be done at UMD. When I get back to the US, I am jumping straight into preparation for voter registration in the spring. I love that the work never ends in the US and that I have more of a personal connection to the work there. I care about democracy being accessible to all and about ensuring that my generation understands the impact of their vote and who they elect to represent themselves. 

This is another photo from the Spanish climate strike. It was amazing to witness and I’m so happy friend and I were able to walk and chant with them a little.

I have loved being able to learn about the Spanish election, and I’ve had conversations with my host family about who generally votes for what party and their opinions of American politics. When I came home from frisbee the other day my host mother and her daughter had the debate on and I got to watch the format of their debate (turns out it’s basically the same as our own but with no women running instead of two). I’ve been trying to reconcile with this feeling like I’m not doing enough about the things I care about in America with the feeling of this amazing opportunity I have in front of me to learn so much more about another culture and language and community that is changing my perceptions about things everyday. With the reelection in Spain coming up this Sunday it has been wonderful seeing all the signs and propaganda for each candidate, it’s made me feel like I am back at home with all the politics that surround me. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity I have to study abroad, but I’m ready to get back to work. I’m ready to focus on voter turnout and I’m ready to collaborate with my peers to make meaningful changes on campus. There is always more work to be done and I am ready to get back to action.

In my explanation of my work on campus I hope I’ve made it clear that that is the kind of work I want my career to center around. I want to use my new skills of the Spanish language to be able to communicate with more people and my passion for social justice and voting to work with nonprofits and NGOs in their fight for a more equitable and fair future in America. I’m not entirely sure what organization I want to work with, but I know the main ideas of what I want to see in a mission statement of the future community I work with. Coming to terms with a passion you’re not sure about is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever felt. I now know that I can and will spend the rest of my life fighting for a better world and I have a better idea of the standards we can and should hold America to. My future is going to be full of hard work, but I am looking forward to every single moment of it.

 

Cultural Immersion

The frisbee team here is amazing!  Not only have I been able to stay fresh with my frisbee skills, but I am also able to interact with the locals and learn more spanish. Granted, a lot of the terms they use are specific to frisbee and I’ve learned that there are also a lot of frisbee words they just say in English, but when I talk with them on the sidelines I learn a lot more. One of the guys is originally from Granada and since my program is taking a trip to Granda in few weeks I asked him about the differences between Granada and Sevilla. I learned that Granada is a lot smaller so I’m happy that we are traveling to both Cordoba and Granada in one weekend. He also mentioned that it’s a lot easier to get around just by walking which was interesting because I think Sevilla is very walkable. It would be hard to get from one end of the city to another by walking, but all the things I need are basically within walking distance, and if it’s not I just take a bike! 

These are a few of my friends from frisbee! Usually about 25 people show up throughout the night, so this was after a few people had already left.

This is from El Gato En Bicicleta. The art and decor are very lively.

I’ve also been going to a specific cafe a lot called Gato En Bicicleta (Cat on a Bike) and I found an article about the cafe while I was there! It was a brochure full of interviews of locals and students studying abroad. The group who made it was actually the other American study abroad program around here called CIEE. (ISA was less expensive, which is why I chose this one over that one.) The article talked about how the cafe used to be in a different location and had a location for presentations and small theater productions. The owner is very community oriented and even in his new space there is a small space designated for people with laptops but the rest is full of tables and books because it is also partially a bookstore. The first time I went there I tried to buy a very feminist oriented planner but my debit card hasn’t been working anywhere but in the ATMs so it got rejected, but I told the owner I’d be back. I was so excited to buy the planner that I went back that afternoon forgetting most places close in the middle of the day for siestas so I had to wait another day. But of course, the next day as soon as my morning spanish class finished I ran over to the bookstore again and bought the planner- only to find out that it started in 2020 so I have to wait 3 months to use it. But alas, at least I’ll have a good story to share if people ask about my spanish planner at school.

This is me and Jasmine’s lunch one day. I will admit, I had already eaten a few pieces of chicken and because Jasmine is a vegan she didn’t have any chicken.

To be honest I still have not gotten used to the food. The meal times just make me hungry all the time so I’ve been buying a lot more fruit and nuts to make sure I’m maintaining a healthy diet in between meals. I’ve been hooked on walnuts specifically recently. Also, Bekah who’s staying at the residencia invited me over to make crepes and she got me hooked on nutella so of course I still have a jar next to my bed- whoops. My host mother Aurelia’s portions are also all over the place so I never know if I’m going to still be hungry after a meal or not be able to finish it. I am very grateful that she always gives us bread with our meals and even when she says she’s dieting she will still leave bread out for me and Jasmine to eat. The food she cooks is delicious it’s sometimes just a little less than I’m used to, which I’m learning to adjust to! I had couscous for the first time today and she cooked it with mushrooms, broccoli, and onions and it was absolutely amazing.

Whenever I go to a cafe to simply get coffee I’ve learned that you’re supposed to wait until right before you leave to pay. In the US a lot of cafes I go to require you to pay up front and then they’ll give you a number to bring to your table. Here the cafes are smaller so I’m thinking it must be easier for people to recognize who got what. This style also comes with a certain level of trust that people won’t dine and dash so I can appreciate that attitude. I’ve been studying for my midterms and working on projects so I haven’t had time to go to an intercambio recently, but I’m hoping I will get to go back soon so that I can engage myself more with the spanish culture through conversation.

This is a cafe bonbon. Basically it’s just a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of milk and sugar but it tastes good! This cafe is also in an artsy district of Sevilla called Alameda. It’s kind of far from my house but I try to go when I can!

Academics

My program in Spain gave us two different options for how we wanted to take classes. We could either take spanish culture and language classes at the Universidad de Sevilla or take business and economics classes at the study center. Most of the students at the Universidad de Sevilla are either spanish major or minors taking classes to fulfill their requirements. Since, I have a lot of economics classes to finish I chose to take classes at the study center instead. I do wish I was able to take classes at the spanish university, but it did not fit my schedule. Besides, no matter where we take classes they are only with Americans in the ISA program- which I was little surprised to find out. I wish we were able to connect more with the spanish students but alas- that is why I go to frisbee twice a week. There is also one other student from UMass Dartmouth at the study center and we are taking two different economics classes together. She is an accounting major so I didn’t know her very well at UMD, but I do know that her and her roommate are having some difficulties with their host mother being a little dramatic so I’m hoping that gets resolved for her soon! 

I don’t have any photos of the Universidad de Sevilla but this is one of the Cathedral right next to it!

The ISA Center is run in coordination with the Universidad de Menendez Pelayo which is how all of my credits are able to transfer. Two of my teachers are from Spain but learned English in a different country, while the other is a native Sevillian. For example, my International Trade and Economics teacher is from Sevilla but learned English in England so he has a bit of a British accent. His class is at 6 pm Tuesdays and Thursday and by 4 o’clock Thursday the only thing people can think about is the weekend. On one of our Thursday classes less than half the class was there because most people had left Sevilla early to travel so instead of teaching us something relevant to economics he put on a 50 minute video about how the king of the UAE built three giant man-made islands to attract tourists. Even though I almost fell asleep multiple times it was honestly kind of fascinating (but definitely had nothing to do with international economics). After we finished watching the video we somehow got on the subject of cars and all of a sudden he was googling the Ferrari Amusement Park in the UAE and we were watching a video of  it. I certainly feel much more informed about tourist attractions in the UAE, but can’t quite say the same about economics.

This is a photo of the UAE islands if you were wondering! They are completely man made.

This is my daily morning view from the balcony at the study center.

 

My favorite place at school is the balcony. After my morning spanish class I’ll head over to the balcony and sit there until the heat becomes too much to bear. Generally I can survive until 12:30, but after that I have to find somewhere else to sit or I’ll head home early for lunch. I have a pretty sizable gap between the end of my spanish class and my next classes which allows me to go on a run before lunch and study for afternoon tests/ do homework. This gap is such a different lifestyle to me. At UMD I’m always running from class to work to club meetings to frisbee practice and somehow eating meals between all that. In Spain I have a set time to each lunch and dinner and I’m usually not rushing from place to place (unless I wake up late from a siesta). I can admire this laid back lifestyle for a bit, but I have to admit that I’m glad it will only last for three months.

One of my more interesting professors teaches three different classes all of which me and three of my peers are taking. All of his quizzes are quite difficult and there’s a lot of information he spews at us during our two hour classes but I am learning a lot. His classes are about the Middle East, the European Union, and migration trends all of which I only know very basic information about. Not only are the classes themselves interesting but I like that I’m learning about these topics from a different perspective than the one I would hear in the US. Learning about the European Union from someone who has lived his whole life in the EU is enlightening and his first hand experience is helpful in understanding the EU. For the migration trends class he is bringing in speakers who either worked with migrants and refugees or are refugees which is another great way to learn from someone who has experienced what we’re talking about in class directly. For me, the fact that I’m able to learn so much new information in such a short time frame is incredibly exciting and I can’t wait to see how the rest of his classes go. 

 

 

 

 

 

These two presentations are from my classes with Javier (the teacher I mentioned above). The left is from my Middle East class and the right is from the European Union class.

Adjusting

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been transported back to my freshmen year of college where your parents drop you off at a new environment and you have to just fend for yourself, make new friends, and figure it all out. Adjusting is difficult; especially since I’ve never been abroad before. I knew I had to get myself as involved as possible with the Spanish culture otherwise I would go crazy with too much time on my hands.

This is a photo from some of the people from the intercambio playing the spanish equivalent to “One Night Werewolf” (or mafia) I play it a lot at school with my board game friends so it was nice to be able to play again.

My roommate, Jasmine, and I started to go to intercambios which are just language exchanges where people from all over the world meet at a central location and just talk. If you want to learn more spanish you find a local and start talking with them, if you’re a local hoping to learn more English you find someone who speaks English. At the first intercambio I went to, Jasmine and I met a few people around our age who we really clicked with. Two of them are from the UK and the other is a local who has lived in Sevilla all of his life. One of the people from the UK is spending a year here to study while the other is here doing software programming for a couple years. We spent a lot of the night chatting in Spanish and English and at the end of the night we made plans to go rock climbing together that Sunday. The intercambio was supposed to last from 9-11:30 so by the time I left I figured it was about 11:30- it turns out it was actually 1:30 am and we had stayed long past the intended end of the event. I was quite surprised I had let all that time slip away without noticing but it was cool to get so wrapped up in conversation that I had not even thought it might be past 11:30 (It also helped that I don’t like checking my phone at bars/restaurants and I only wear an analog clock that I’m still learning how to read). 

On Sunday my body hated me. We spent two hours at the rock climbing facility where we met a few other students who were in Sevilla studying and a couple pros that knew what they were doing and willing to share tips and tricks. The first hour went well and I felt energized and confident, but by the end of the first hour my body was begging me to slow down. I’ve never had the arm strength to do a push-up let alone lift my entire body up with one arm. There was one path where you had to start hanging by your arms and then like jump up without touching the ground and I spent at least an hour trying, but was unsuccessful. I watched as multiple people did it with ease, but I just could not figure it out. I left feeling a little unsatisfied with myself for not being able to complete it, but confident that I would have a chance to redeem myself when I went back.

This is me attempting a beginning path up the walls- it’s a lot harder than it looks I swear!

One of the more important adjustments that has been difficult for me is the eating times. I knew coming into Spain that everything is later: lunch, dinner, the going out time, siesta time, ect, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for me to fully adapt. At school I usually just eat a lot of snacks during my classes or I’ll eat around noon and then eat an energizing snack before frisbee practice at 4. In Sevilla, not a single soul east lunch before 2. When I asked my host mother if I could eat at 1:30 because I had class at 2 she looked at me like I had three heads and seemed almost disappointed. She wasn’t reacting that way to be rude, it was just very out of the norm for her and she liked eating with us, but was unwilling to do so at 1:30 (Luckily twice a week and on the weekends we eat lunch with her because we don’t have class at 2 everyday). The first week I also had to get used to eating a lot of soup and salad drenched in olive oil. Usually I like to eat my salads dry because it’s better for you and I like vegetables on their own, but I will say that I’ve come to really like the salad with dressing. Even when she just puts lettuce, corn, and olive oil on a plate and calls it salad I still tend to enjoy it. I’ve also had a lot of gazpacho and vegetable soup which I do enjoy, but I did have to get used to the smaller portions of each. At home and school I am a big eater because I’m generally super active so that was a bit of an adjustment as well. One day I mentioned something to Becka, a friend of mine living in the residence halls, about the smaller portions and I could have sworn Aurelia heard me somehow because since that day I’ve never had a problem being hungry after meals. I was also worried that I would not be able to get used to going out later, but honestly the siestas in the middle of the day can make or break a night out. If I’ve had a siesta the day of or before I go out I’m set to go, but if I haven’t had one in a while let’s just say #kidcanthang. 

One of the biggest things I still haven’t gotten used to is the size of their coffees. They are so small! I prefer large mugs so that I can take my time and read a book or scroll through Twitter but these coffees take effort to finish slowly!

Getting into a routine is the key to success. It’s something you’ll hear from anyone who goes somewhere new for a long period of time because it is the most important part of adapting. For me this routine meant getting used to late meals, making plans to go out with friends on the weekends so I could stay active, going to the market every Saturday, journaling in Plaza de Espana at least once a week, and discovering new cafes or parts of Sevilla. These past two weekends in Sevilla I’ve dedicated a lot of time to just walking around and acquainting myself with the city. I adore the fact that I live 5 minutes from Plaza de Espana, but I also find it important to know what else is around me. I’ve found a few really great cafes in the cute, hippie-ish district of Alameda and there’s a big district of stores with thin roads that I’ve learned are not supposed to be biked on after having the police glare at me as I walked/kinda rode with my bike. I was also super lucky to be able to find a frisbee team here that practice weekly as well as a fellow runner who is willing to run around the city with me after our spanish class. I really love the walkability of everything because it has allowed me to get to know the city better and experience all that Sevilla has to offer.

 

Arrival to Spain

Little known false fact: “The City Upon a Hill” was actually about Toledo.

Staying in a city I knew I was only going to be in temporarily felt like a very strange introduction to Spain for me. Instead of flying right into Sevilla, all of us flew into Madrid, stayed there for two nights, took a bus to Toledo, stayed there for another night, and then took a final bus from Toledo to Sevilla where we met our host families. As someone who craves routine and finds it important to know what I’m surrounded by, the first few days were very difficult. Not only had I just been introduced to my roommate, but we were sharing a hotel room for three nights and learning a lot about each other and about our surroundings. One of the things that surprised me most when I met the other students in my program was how many of them had not only been abroad before, but had stayed in Spain before. Back home, I don’t know too many people who have traveled to Europe let alone spent an extended time in Europe so it was a little scary thinking I might already be falling behind.

I couldn’t choose one picture of the beautiful city of Toledo, I had to do more, so here is another. We crossed this bridge to enter the city and go to a few churches and museums.

The first thing I learned about Spain was that people walk everywhere. Taking a taxi/uber or driving places is not very common because almost everywhere is accessible by bike or walking. In Madrid we did a lot of walking tours through El Prado and La Plaza Mayor which took up most of the day. In Toledo, a bus took us to the top of the hill, but we walked all the way down and around to El Catedral de Primada, El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, La Iglesia de Santo Tomé, La Puerta de Sol and La Santa Maria la Blanca. I loved Toledo because of its deep roots in history and the evidence of its foundation all around. All the streets were narrow and wobbly from the out of place bricks and the views from the top of each hill were breathtaking.

My roommate and I are both huge art fans so we found the “artsy” part of Madrid and spent most of the first day walking around finding street art and little cafes. My roommate is vegan and we found a vegan cafe that also had kombucha that drastically improved my cold (*jetlag) for about 5 minutes.

After the three jam packed days of traveling were done it was finally time to go to Sevilla. From Toledo it’s about a four hour drive, but the bus drivers are required to take breaks more frequently than in the US so we stopped at a lot of places that held cafes, cafeterias, and convenience stores to give everyone a break. Getting back on the bus for the final time before we got to Sevilla was extremely nerve wracking. The bus was abuzz with people freaking out about not being able to communicate with their host families, saying the wrong things, not liking the food, or having a curfew. Some students even worked on writing out a whole speech so they would know exactly what to say the moment they met their host family. One of the more important reminders my program’s staff gave us was that we were going to have to kiss our host mothers on each cheek as a sign of greeting. Obviously, in America this is not customary and as someone who strongly believes in everyone having their own personal bubble I think this was the thing I was most worried about. I knew I could rehearse any phrase I wanted, but as soon as I saw my host mother all of that would go out the window. 

Standing next to the bus, trying to hold onto my broken suitcase and carry ons all I could think about were worst case scenarios. If I thought I was nervous before this was a whole new level of emotions. As I looked around at all the faces of the other host mothers and the other students anxiously awaiting their fate, I felt a sense of solidarity among everyone. No one knew what would come next and for some reason that sense of collective mystery comforted me. All of a sudden I was hearing my name called and I was being ushered into a car and I was trying to fit all the luggage in the car and then we were driving to our new “home” and my brain was still trying to catch up. My host mother, Aurelia, asked if we spoke spanish and after admitting we were not the strongest of speakers, the most silent car ride of my life began. Upon arrival to our house we were eagerly greeted by Pipe, the three year old beagle, that we would soon learn was ALWAYS hungry. Everything felt awkward and different, but I knew it would only be a matter of time before things started to normalize. Aurelia told us she had been hosting students for fourteen years which reassured me that she must be doing something right if she keeps welcoming new students into her house. Unpacking all of my things into a new room that I would somehow call home for three months felt strange and intimidating. The pale walls and single window weren’t exactly the most welcoming of decor, but the promise of a future full of Tortilla España (quiche with potatoes) for dinner boosted my spirits. After being sent out of the house to explore the city and find our school, my roommate and I met up with other students from the program to share reactions. We all seemed to be having a positive start and were all ready for Sevilla to feel like home soon. We were all craving a sense of familiarity after four days in three different cities and were excited to see what Sevilla had in store for us.

One of our first group trips in Sevilla was to the Catedral de Sevilla. It’s in the middle of a busy part of the city, right after La Universidad de Sevilla-which used to be the Royal Tobacco Factory- and has a beautiful view (that you can only experience once you’ve climbed 32 flights of stairs).

 

 

Departing the United States

Getting ready to depart for Spain was a rollercoaster in and of itself. A lot of study abroad programs start before UMass Dartmouth is back in session, but I had a unique opportunity to visit campus before I departed because of the short duration of my program. Going back to campus, as amazing as it was to see everyone, was also very difficult because it made me realize how strong the community that I have built at UMass Dartmouth was and knowing that I won’t be able to experience that same atmosphere of people for 86 days was not easy. I am grateful to have such a community to come back to when I return, but it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that I might have a similar community that opens its arms to me in a new country very soon. 

This cat belongs to my friends James and Peter and I met it on my visit to UMD. Every person that meets the cat gets to name it something different. I haven’t quite settled on a name for it yet.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until the very last second to do almost everything- and yes this includes my application to study abroad and my application to renew my passport… but it also includes packing. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy for everyone, but if you can make it work follow Tim Gunn’s law. I started packing less than 24 hours before my departure time, but had a strategy in mind and I had finished all the laundry I needed to do in preparation. Part of my strategy included a plan to put anything I would need for the first four days in my carry on just in case my luggage got lost. (When I eventually settled in Madrid I learned that only one student out of about 70 of us had lost her luggage). I also tried to keep things as organized as I could by keeping any electronics together because like the Gen Z that I am- I need my electronics close by at all times. My parents seemed worried that I would forget something, so I had to keep reminding them that most of the things I might forget I could always get in Spain or order online. Overall, my packing strategy worked out and I was able to rummage through my big suitcase when I needed to. 

I think a major reason I waited so long to pack was because I knew it wouldn’t feel real until everything was ready to go next to my door. As soon as I started weighing my suitcase and moving things towards the front door things really started to hit. I realized that the next few months in front of me were going to be some of the most difficult and culturally different experiences I had experienced and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that. I had been looking forward to this moment since my junior year of high school when my friends came back from the exchange program in Spain and talked about their incredible experiences. All of a sudden I realized that I would soon be that person coming home sharing stories of my time abroad and it was incredibly intimidating. Not knowing what the future would hold for me was scary, but I know I wouldn’t change this opportunity to expand my comfort zone for anything in the world. The only way to grow as a human being is to do things that petrify and surprise you and as I stepped onto the plane in Boston confidently I certainly experienced that shock.

The beginning of my adventure started with two different flights which went surprisingly well. My arm didn’t have trouble falling asleep on my six hour flight to Amsterdam, but I sure did. Luckily, I was able to talk to the woman next to me whose son had studied abroad in Barcelona last year and who was headed to Italy on vacation with her husband. The flight to Madrid was super fast and the egg and cheese sandwich made me second guess the stereotypes around airplane food. Finding my group in the Madrid airport took me at least half an hour, multiple circles around a single staircase/escalator, and at least one person laughing at me for passing them so many times, but alas, I eventually found them. That initial introduction to everyone felt really promising for me. I met some people I really clicked with and it gave me hope that maybe I could create a new community here- even if we were all jet lagged and really just trying to hold it together. Even with all the nerves, sleep deprivation, and time zone difference, I felt excited for the new beginning I was fortunate enough to have in front of me and the opportunity to experience life in a new way with a new group of characters.

This is the last bit of land I saw as we started to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. As someone who loves to have two feet on the ground at all times, this was one of the most petrifying moments for me.

This was my first hint of Madrid. Seeing all the empty land and the towns separated by miles of farms was very strange to me. As a Massachusetts native, I don’t see hours of farmland separating towns too frequently so I was curious to learn what the local thought of Spain’s landscape.

 

Hola, buenas!

I am Liz Anusauskas, a political science and economics major and I am studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain. This is my junior year and I am looking forward to spending it abroad. I will be documenting my travels weekly and will also have pages where you can learn more about the specific locations I travel to and the people I discuss in my blog. I am looking forward to sharing my experience and I hope that my stories encourage others to take a leap of faith and study abroad in a country that fits them!

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