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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