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.
After 6 months living in Spain my favorite part remains the slow paced Andalusian life. Every day I wander the winding cobblestone streets of Seville and watch Spanish life unfold as it has for centuries. Seville is a very relaxed city known for its life ‘sin prisa’ or without hurry. The locals here are very friendly and outgoing, I have met many Spanish students who are eager to do Spanish-English language exchanges with Americans. Every week I meet with locals over coffee to practice Spanish and help them with their English which has been a great way to make new friends while also learning the language. The university I go to is one of the oldest buildings in the city, once a royal tobacco factory it is now one of the prominent tourist attractions in the city. Every day hundreds of tourists walk through the school amazed at the university I have the privilege of attending. My classes are a mix of fun and educational with topics ranging from Spanish cooking to painting the city. My classes are only for Americans so I have met many unique and creative people from all over the country. Once a week I volunteer at an elderly residence for men in the city center which has helped me practice my Spanish while acquiring volunteer hours. The residence is a historic former-hospital in Seville that has been converted to part museum and part elderly residence. At the residence I’m given a different task most visits, normally I do puzzles or play dominoes with the men but sometimes I help staff with chores. Since this is my second semester in Spain I didn’t experience any culture shock when I arrived, I was already adjusted to life in Seville. Before I arrived I wanted to speak more fluently by the end of the semester, my Spanish has improved significantly since I’ve been here and I expect with more practice I will eventually speak fluently. My semester so far has met my expectations, I’ve stuck with my goals and hope to continue improving over time.
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 has been some time since I have finished my stay in Madrid. I often think of the city that I called home for a month and reflect on my time there. One of the biggest takeaways that I have gained from my international experience is just that, international experience. My program abroad gave me the skills to become a more global citizen, I have now lived in another country and I have had the opportunity to understand and live in another culture. I have spoken a different language, lived life, eaten, went to school and enjoyed life like a Spaniard for a month. My experience has given me the opportunity to understand Spanish life with a deeper understanding than I have before. Also, since I have Spanish for many years I have gained a confidence with the language that I would not have otherwise gained if I was not immersed in a Spanish speaking culture.
My advice to students considering study abroad is to do it. There might be some hurdles in the way of you doing it but once you have overcome them and studied abroad you will be grateful that you did. Studying in another country is an experience like no other and will serve you for a very long time. It might seem scary or daunting but the obstacles of study abroad will make you a better person for it. I would also advise that students, once they have picked a location, research the place they will be living and become as knowledgeable as you can about your new home. It will serve you well.
As I reflect on my experience, there is just one thing that I would change. I would have liked to have traveled more. There are not very many weekends in a month and I was able to get the most out of them but I would have liked to travel to different locations and to have seen more of Spain and Europe. But it does provide me with an incentive to return again. I would one day like to travel and live abroad again, perhaps as a teacher.
My overall experience has been a tremendous achievement of mine. There are things about Madrid that I miss and long to experience again. The opportunity to live in Spain was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am glad that I did it. The experience has meant a great deal to me and can’t put it into words as there is a mixture of emotions about my experience. But there is one thing that I can say, it was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.
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.
It is strange for me to think that I will be one of the few of my family that has made it back to the land from which our ancestors left almost 600 years ago. To think that I will be seeing parts of cities and a land that they too had seen is hard to believe but also humbling as my trip to study abroad is not only one for study and self-discovery but one of familial discovery.
Since I have studied Spanish for many years, I feel like I have been preparing for this trip my entire life. I have heard stories of our ancestors and their origins, taken classes about Spanish culture and have studied the very language that they speak. But the more that I learn about and discover from my research I know I chose the right destination for myself.
One thing I hope to gain from my experience abroad is to become more confident in my language skills. It is not often that I find myself using my Spanish in my everyday life since in the U.S. we mainly speak English but I hope being in a completely immersive environment I will be forced to use the language, learn and to put myself in awkward language situations where I will have to push through the awkwardness and to navigate successfully.
Part of the experience abroad is to experience the culture and this is one of the things I am most excited about. Madrid is home to some of the most famous pieces of art in their many museums in the city. I’m sure anyone that has studied Spanish, history or art has seen one of the most fampus Spanish pieces, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. It is one of the most studied and celebrated pieces of Spanish baroque art and bring many people to Madrid to see the mysterious art piece. I am looking forward to visiting this piece among others in the multiple museums throughout the city.
I am most apprehensive about navigation. I know this is essentially what travel is, navigating my way through the new and unknown places. But the best piece of advice I have been given for this is simply: ask questions. If you are unsure of where you are going, ask. Despite my nervousness for navigating the unknown I am also excited for it. I am excited to travel into uncharted territory with my language and knowledge of the city and country, I will begin one of many journeys to Spain.
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.
As enchanting as the country side is, I am here to be a student. Studying at Universidad de Granada is (and there’s no other way to put it) freaking cool. El centro de lenguas modernas is based in a beautiful, all white building, with a courtyard in the middle and big trees that grow up the pillars. There are free pencils in case you can’t find your own. The books cost never more than 25 euros.
The teachers are a lot calmer here. There is more flexibility to talk about other things – the ultimate goal is to improve Spanish, and the teachers get that. It’s so nice to be in my Culture of Spain/Flamenco class and have long conversations about the gitano population in Granada specifically, and fun things to do in the Sacromonte neighborhood. The professors also talk wonderfully slowly so that I can keep along with my clunky Spanish.
However, it isn’t all perfect – the Spainard schedule is something that is so hard for me to get used to. I pride myself on being annoyingly punctual and everyone in Spain is always. Late. I have a 25 minute walk to classes, and at 8:00 in the morning my brain is in overdrive to get me to where I need to be on time – I can tie my shoes in under 5 seconds – and I speed walk up hills, through crowds, across streets, down alleyways, past croissant and cafe for 1 euro shops, through plazas, down another alleyway and finally through the doors of el centro – just on time, a minute left to get to class. And so I do – and the professor doesn’t get there for another 5 minutes.
This might seem like a silly thing to be struggling with – those are 5 minutes more I could sleep, right? I could walk slower? I could buy breakfast along the way? I could chill out????? I understand common sense. I understand that these are all perfectly normal reactions to having professors that are consistently late and attendance that doesn’t start until 15 minutes into class time. I get it, I do, but, in the words of every 16 year old from 2010-2017, I just can’t.
Growth and adaptation to Spain, I guess, will be measured in how late I start to arrive to classes.
As you can probably tell, I am a functioning adult ready to thrive in society (haha). So something else that has been a huge struggle for me is food. I have lived on my own for 2 years, and cooked all my own meals. I’ve gotten proud of my cooking and even adopted the title “All Right at it”, so I know what my body likes and needs to feel good and healthy.
Here, someone else cooks all my meals.
And I’m grateful! It’s nice to be able to just waste time until I get called to eat something someone else put effort into. It’s really nice not having to do the dishes. But everything here is salty. Incredibly salty. As in even the salad is salty. And there is very little of said salad to begin with – I have gone from a diet of 70% vegetables to a diet that’s 80% bread. It has been incredibly, incredibly difficult for me – I’ve resulted to sneaking arugula on my dinner when my host mom isn’t eating with me, to picking up cucumbers at a fruteria and eating it whole, to keeping a stash of munchable greens under my bed.
However, I do have to say, my senora sometimes gives us these delicious, tiny empanadas filled with what must be a tuna/tomato sauce. It is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my life abd makes all the salt worth it.
So, here’s my advice for anyone considering living in Spain with a host family – open your mind. There is no amount of research that can prepare you like how opening your mind can. Communicate. Don’t hide vegetables like I do. Find easy, clever ways to get the food and the things you need (like how arugula can go on literally anything). Make things easy for both of you!
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:
First Days in Spain
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!
Upon our arrival in Spain, we were directed to meet in an area of the Madrid airport at the pickup time. Our program director took us to the bus that was waiting outside, before continuing on to the other terminal where some other members of our group were waiting to be picked up. As the first students to arrive, we were lucky in that we had almost the entire day to spend exploring Madrid, and exploring we did!
Madrid is a beautiful city, big but entirely walkable, touristy but somehow not (we were able to speak Spanish at most restaurants), and affordable in terms of food and drinks, which brings me to my favorite things that we did during our brief stint in the capital of Spain.
1. Palacio Real
Beautiful, extravagant, and a good introduction to the history of the royal family in Madrid. The signs inside the palace are minimal, so I would recommend visiting on a guided tour. With API, we had a great tour guide who was sure to point out the size of King Charles III’s nose any chance he got.
2. Mercado de San Miguel
If you’re looking for a fun way to try a whole bunch of different kinds of food upon your arrival in Spain, Mercado de San Miguel is the place to do it. The market is filled with tapas stands, bars, kiosks, and every sort of food you would find at a tapas bar but more! We stumbled upon this during our free time in the city. The paella was delicious, and the tapas selection was larger than any one restaurant could offer.
3. Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado is Spain’s national art museum, with the world’s largest collection of Spanish art, originally the Spanish Royal Collection. Give yourself at least two and a half hours to walk around the museum, but you could certainly spend an entire day here. We had a tour guide, which was definitely helpful if you aren’t very familiar with Spanish artists.
4. Plaza Mayor (and Surrounding Area)
Plaza Mayor was built during the Reign of Phillip III, and is now a good place to sit outside and have lunch. The area around the plaza was great to walk around, and there are many tapas bars, gelaterias, and other plazas to walk through. Fun fact: some restaurants in Spain raise the prices of items on the menu if you eat outside, although mostly just by a euro or two (this will be shown on the menu). We opted to eat outside to enjoy the sunshine, but most restaurants also offered indoor seating.
From Madrid, we stopped in San Lorenzo de El Escorial to see El Escorial, which is a historical residence of the King of Spain, and currently houses a school, a monastery, a cathedral, and a pantheon. Having once functioned as a summer palace, the simplicity of the building was a bit of a surprise after Palacio Real.
After El Escorial, we headed to Toledo, which is the religious capital of Spain, and was the actual capital of Spain at one time. The walled city is comprised of winding roads and Moorish, Jewish, and Christian monuments.
Following Toledo, we hopped on the bus to Córdoba, which was a very charming city with history rooted in the Middle Ages, most famous for La Mezquita, which I can’t rave about more. It is definitely a must-visit if taking a trip in Andalusia, and our entire group was in awe of the Cathedral turned Mosque turned Cathedral.
After a day well spent in Córdoba, the twenty five of us loaded back on the bus, headed to our new home: Sevilla!
Sevilla is the capital of Andalusia, most famous for being the home of the Alcázar and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, as well as Plaza de España. So of course, during our first two days in Sevilla, API arranged for us to visit these places!
Sevilla has the character, history, and culture that one would expect of a city in southern Spain, with endless amounts of restaurants, tapas, bars, clubs, shops, bullfights, flamenco shows, and sights to see. Unsurprisingly, I am already in love with our new home, and can’t wait to explore it some more!