Spain has many great things but what I’ve missed the most from home is the ease of communicating in a language that is comfortable to me. Although my Spanish has improved immensely it is still not nearly as comfortable as English. Nine months without being surrounded by my native language reminded me how fortunate I am to live in an environment that I find comfortable. Spain is a beautiful country and I’ve loved living here, what I will miss the most are the friends I’ve made while abroad and the beautiful places in Seville. Becoming friends with local students was one of the highlights of my semester, because of it I got to know Spain and its culture better. When I return home I don’t think I will experience any culture shock. While home for Christmas break I adjusted back to culture and had time to reflect on my first semester before going back to Spain. Now at the end of my second semester I am already familiar with the feeling of returning home after being gone for a long time. Now at the end of my nine months I’m ready to go back to the states and reengage with life at Western. Studying abroad provided me with many wonderful experiences that I would love to keep in my life. Speaking Spanish with native speakers is one experience that I plan on maintaining while I’m back in the states, Spanish friends and I have planned to keep speaking by Skype to practice. My nine months abroad have changed my appreciation for other cultures and have inspired me to travel more of the world.
Since September I have been studying Spanish for my Spanish major in Seville Spain. After finishing the first semester and going home for Christmas break I’m now preparing to return to Seville for my last semester abroad. While I’m studying abroad in Spain I hope to gain fluency in Spanish so that I can be a more culturally educated person competent in communication. Mastering a foreign language is a ubiquitous goal for many students studying abroad, but many underestimate the effort and commitment a full language emersion requires. Last semester I started my year abroad intending to be fluent by the time I finished the school year but after weeks of only being around American classmates I realized that a full language emersion requires much discipline and motivation to accomplish. My experiences last semester have better prepared me to accomplish my goal because I know what to expect and how to avoid being only around Americans. This semester I’m most excited to engage more with the Spanish language and see what opportunities arise from being around locals more. Last semester I spent most of my time adjusting to Spain and traveling with American friends but now I want to be primarily focused on speaking Spanish. I’m nervous about having a hard time finding consistent Spanish contacts to talk with every week but I’m confident that locals are eager to practice English as well. To overcome these obstacles I’m going to find volunteer opportunities that require me to talk to locals so that I can practice Spanish. This semester I optimistic and motivated to accomplish my goals and go back to Western fluent in Spanish.
It’s a little over a week until I will depart on the biggest adventure of my life thus far. I will be boarding a plane to travel half way across the world, to a place that I have only dreamt of. I have studied, read about and seen movies about this place but now I will be stepping foot on the very land itself.
It is surreal for me to think that I will be in Spain and destination of my dreams. I had fallen in love from afar when I first saw Real Madrid play in person and from there on I took an interest in the city. I began to study Spanish in high school and immediately took to it and later on after three years I knew I had a passion for the language and the land from which it came.
I have been in Madrid for a little over three weeks by now. I still haven’t quite adjusted to the heat yet and the fast pace of life but I am finding a sense of rhythm and routine. One of my favorite things thus far is the architecture of the city. It seems like around every corner there is a new and interesting building to stop and admire. Even down a simple alley way, you can find a colorful pink building with Juliet balconies lined with flowers. In the busier parts of the city the grand and ornate buildings of the Plaza Mayor or the Palacio Real are easy to encounter.
I take classes at a local university that is located just outside the city and easily accessible by the Metro. Tucked into a quite area of Madrid is Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. I attend classes there most of the week unless I am having class in one of the various museums in the center of the city. I am taking two classes while I am here, a class about European art and another about travel writing. Since it is the summer and many students are away on vacations it seems the only students on campus are the ones in my program. There aren’t many activities or clubs since it is summer holidays but on the flip side, the spare time allows me to explore the city more.
My experience with the locals is at times brief, I spend much of my time with the locals on the Metro (the underground subway of Madrid), ordering at restaurants and conversing with my host mom. But overall despite the busyness that there is in Madrid, the locals are kind and willing to help, despite the lack of Spanish vocabulary in some instances which can make conversing difficult at times but worth it since it can be used as a learning opportunity to learn new words.
My university in the U.S. had prepared me for what was to come: culture shock. I thought I wasn’t going to have a problem with culture shock because I knew the language and I felt like I had studied the culture and history my entire student career. But was I wrong. In my mind Madrid wasn’t a big city and it was going to be one of the small Spanish towns that you see on postcards. I had an idealize version of the city and when I first arrived I was struck with the sheer size and multitude. I should have expected it to be as large as it is because it is the capital of Spain. Upon arrival I quickly realized that I would have to use the Metro system to get about everywhere in the city. The web of lines, trains and stops was intimidating at first but once I understood how it worked, it became much easier to navigate my way to the various parts of the city.
In hindsight, I wish had researched more about the city and how it functioned. Much of my research has been on the job training as I have been going about my days here in Madrid. I feel that more research of the city would have lessened the shock I received when I first arrived. But on the other hand, having to figure things out on the ground has helped me grow as a person and as a traveler.
It’s been 17 days since I arrived in a bus to Granada, my body full of sleep and my mind full of the chatter of strangers. The world looked blue out of the tinted windows as I watched hill after hill go by, white houses like snowflakes scattering the countryside. Andalucia is beautiful. History here is so tangible and common – most of those snowflake houses are now in ruins, a fragment of the family that used to live there. These places in the US would be hunted out, given a groundskeeper, and to visit you’d have to brave through no-trespassing signs.
So, yes, for those of you who’ve read my last post, I’m not over it.
This post comes to us from student blogger in Seville, Leah Sharaby. Leah is a linguistics major from Western Washington University. She was in Seville for the academic year and captured one second each day from the whole year abroad. The video below is a compilation of those little moments:
One of the things that drew me to API was the abundance of included trips, excursions, and activities… and the first week of the program was no exception!