This is my first COB post, and since it has been practically 2 months since I began my semester in Sevilla, some people will say that I have been procrastinating in writing this. For me, however, I do not think it is so much as procrastination as it is a lack of time. In my ten weeks in Sevilla, not only have I completed a two-week intensive Spanish course, but I have also traveled to seven Spanish cities, and visited five countries on the weekends: France, Morocco, Portugal, Great Britain, and Germany. This amount of traveling is very exhausting, but each weekend I am so grateful for the opportunity to explore Europe (and in the one instance Northern Africa). I am not going to lie…there have been moments when I have second-guessed studying abroad this semester. However, I would never change my decision to be in Spain if I were given the option.
I feel like I differ from the majority of people who have or are studying abroad now because I would never describe this experience as a fairy tale or a dream that you are afraid will end. I promise I have enjoyed my time here, but I do miss greatly my family and friends and the majority of the aspects from my culture. The Spanish cuisine, for instance, became quite repetitive after the first few weeks here. What I originally thought would be healthy, flavorful food, has turned out only to be food drenched in olive oil and salt. Each day I miss my buffalo sauce and fried chicken more and more, and I continue to imagine my dream meal when I return to the US on December 5. Maybe it started out as a game or a way to remember my favorite foods with my friends, but now when I stare at the tortilla española on my plate—the fifth instance this week—it is quite calming to imagine in its place a big, juicy steak in only a matter of 18 days.
Even though I definitely miss home, I feel like my two months abroad have accomplished the goals that I had created before leaving Louisville in September. Not only did I want to improve my Spanish language abilities and confidence in the subject, but I also wanted to become a more independent person. When I came to Spain, it had been approximately two years since I had taken any Spanish course, and I hardly practiced the language in Louisville outside of a classroom. Ask any of my friends or family, and I am completely positive that they could relay to you just how afraid I was to be studying in a country where I had not practiced the language for so long. Even though I never believed those people who told me that my language abilities would come back to me quickly, those people were for the most part correct. At the beginning of the semester as I sat in my intensive Spanish course—reviewing those obscure verb structures and endings that I had once learned—it finally felt as if a flood gate had been opened as all the old knowledge I had grasped from my Advanced Placement high school teacher Mrs. Robke, came flooding forward into my memory. I am still surprised as to how much vocabulary I had retained after so many years, and I continue to increase my confidence in my Spanish writing skills.
As for my Spanish speaking skills, however, that is a different story. While I may be slightly disadvantaged due to my gringa Kentucky accent and the fact I cannot roll my R’s (thanks genetics), I do continue to struggle with oral communication. For the most part, my professors and my host mom understand exactly what I am saying; it is every other native who has difficulty understanding me. Sometimes, I repeat a word or phrase three times to a person, only for them to repeat it back to me exactly as I had said it, before they understand me; but other times the people give up on me. Granted, many Sevillans are friendly and are willing to help you, but I feel I have a tendency of finding all the people who become annoyed easily with Americans.
Despite this, there are times when all the cards fall into place and something special happens, something that makes you retain your faith in the whole reason why you are studying abroad. If you are lucky enough to stumble upon this when you go out at night, make sure that you appreciate it and fully take advantage of it. The first time I stumbled upon a group of Spaniards who wanted to practice their English speaking, I was completely surprised as to the impact this would produce. During this weird intercambio in which I spoke in Spanish and the Spaniards spoke in English, a judgment free zone was created since both the Spaniards and I were struggling as much as the other one. It is in this zone where all the pressure of speaking perfect Spanish vanishes and you can finally enjoy speaking the Spanish language. You learn so much more in these random intercambios about the Spanish culture and the colloquial phrases used in Sevilla than any amount of time you can spend in a classroom. It is during these intercambios that you stop questioning your study experience, and you start only focusing on the positives of your time abroad—at least until the conversation ends and you remember you have assignments due in the morning.
While it was difficult for me to finally take the plunge and to sign up to study abroad in Spain, this was only the start of becoming significantly more independent. Before coming here, I already felt that I was independent since I lived in my Louisville apartment six hours away from my parents’ house. However, that does not compare to what happens in Spain. It is not only the significant distance between Europe and the US, but it is also the fact that you—and only you—are solely responsible for your own well-being. Before studying abroad in Sevilla, I had never once before traveled alone and I had increasingly relied on my family and friends for all planning. In Europe, it becomes your responsibility to plan and book everything, navigate places usually without the use of a working phone, and somehow still manage to evade the pickpockets of Europe. It is time consuming and exhausting, and it forces you to grow up and mature even when you thought you had matured as much as you could. In my time abroad, I have become wiser—especially with traveling—and I now feel that I possess street-smarts even though two months ago I only had book-smarts to my name and could not even navigate anywhere without the use of my GPS.
When I am not traveling, and the Spanish culture and people are starting to weigh heavily on me, I just have to laugh. I have to laugh at myself when I make mistakes speaking Spanish, and I have to laugh later at some of the cultural differences that earlier in the day angered me. I have to laugh when my host mom turns some of my clothes into tie-dye and yells at me for not eating my olive oil soaked vegetables. I have to laugh when I mispronounce the ending of the word for chicken (pollo), and it turns into a word completely opposite of what I wanted. I also have to share in other people’s laughter. I have to laugh with my roommate when she shares the story of her having to run to class with her backpack as Spaniards videotape her; and I have to laugh when we all share host parent stories, each more horribly funny than the previous one.
When I reflect on my study abroad experience, I realize how much of these past two months have been full of funny memories, especially over things that I never thought I would be able to laugh at. In an environment that is so different from the one that I am accustomed to, I have to place a positive spin on my daily failures and on my slight annoyances with the city. My experience has not been perfect, but I realize the great opportunity I have to experience the Spanish culture first hand for three months. I know when I return to the US, I will have these funny memories to share with my family and friends and to continue remembering my experience abroad.