-What was it like to study abroad in Spain?
While I loved my semester in Costa Rica, it was hardly a typical one. When people hear study abroad (at least for American students), images of Europe come to mind, so I was extremely grateful to have both a non-traditional study abroad experience (Costa Rica) and a more traditional one (Spain). I studied in Seville which many (including me) would say is the prettiest and most symbolic of Spanish cities. (By symbolic I say stereotypical images of Spain that come to mind for foreigners-i.e. flamenco dancing, bull fighters and golden landscapes.) Seville is the third largest city in Spain and while both Barcelona and Madrid are fantastic as well, I don’t think I would have had as rich an experience in either of them. (In Barcelona the Catalan language is spoken alongside Spanish, so I don’t think I would have achieved the full immersion I wanted. And Madrid, while I certainly enjoyed my two visits there, is a major city where one sometimes has to search out the pretty areas since pretty can sometimes be right next to urban “grossness.”) Granted, I lived and studied in Seville’s historic section which dates to the 15th century but day in and day out, I was surrounded by gorgeous views and incredible buildings. It truly was dreamlike at times. In addition, studying in a European country means close proximity to other European countries, so during my semester there I got to visit France and Italy. A $200 ticket to fly to a European country is sublime seeing as how when based across the pond (i.e. the United States) it generally means paying upwards of $1k to do the same thing. The no jet lag is another huge bonus.
-Did you know any Spanish prior to studying there?
Yes. I had taken Spanish for four years in high school, four semesters in college, plus studied abroad in another Spanish speaking country the year before (this was obviously the best experience). However, once living in Spain, those four months were when I achieved my greatest levels of Spanish fluency. My program required all students to sign a language pledge (this is fairly common) basically stating that they wouldn’t use English whether at the center where we took classes, at their host family’s house or when just out and about. Although I certainly broke it on occasion (sometimes more), I still did a wonderful job for the most part. Having classes taught in Spanish, doing homework in Spanish, writing papers in Spanish-this was the best way to learn it. None of my host family spoke English, so if I wanted to communicate with them, Spanish it was.
-If you don’t know any Spanish is it possible to get around?
In any tourist area, you’ll be fine since many Spanish people who work in this sector also know some English, French, and German. As is the case with most study abroad programs in foreign countries, they will vary considerably, ranging from those geared towards the complete beginner to those more advanced (i.e. what I did). I will say this-if you know some Spanish but have never traveled to Spain before, your ears will be in for a bit of shock when it comes to the Spanish dialect. Castillian Spanish is considerably different from New World Spanish and will take a while for you to get accustomed to. In addition, if you’re studying/traveling in Andalusia (the region where Seville and Granada are located), it’s even harder to understand the Spanish. There’s that much more of a pronounced lisp with the accents. But your Spanish will probably be better understood than you understanding a local.
-What was the hardest part about studying in Spain?
Unlike in Korea with the food and gaping and in Costa Rica and with the poverty conditions in some cases, nothing ever was really “hard” in Spain. Some of the cultural differences could be tough at times (i.e. eating dinner at close to 10 PM after having had lunch at 2 PM with no meal times in between and yet still having a normal AND early American class schedule). However, there was nothing I really struggled with. The worst was getting food poisoning and dealing with its aftermath for nearly a month, although that could have happened anywhere. On a personal level, I did feel that if you’re not a huge drinker or party person (consuming alcohol to the point where you’re intoxicated and staying out until 6 AM every weekend night), you’re not “cool.” Granted, everyone’s definition of cool is subjective, but Spain is definitely a party and alcohol driven nation, at least with its young people. However, lest any students not fit into this demographic, don’t worry, there is still plenty of incredible stuff to keep you occupied and amazed, no matter where you are in the country (save for a small Spanish pueblo).
-Did you ever feel unsafe?
Tied to my response to the above question, there are a lot of intoxicated individuals roaming the streets. One time I was meeting two girls from my program up near the Isabel II Bridge since we were going to share a taxi to the airport. As our flight was early in the morning by Spanish standards, the only people on the streets were either the workers cleaning them from the night before (this was done every day as a means of getting rid of dog caca or in some cases, vomit) or the drunks or homeless drunks. I remember hurrying along Calle San Jacinto (the main drag in Triana) and hoping I wouldn’t be bothered by anyone I passed. Seville had a rather large population of homeless individuals (many liked to hang out by the river) and in a few instances I had seen passersby harassed by them. Once I was harassed myself and had to move away from where I had been sitting. Other than that, the only times I felt were safe were unfortunately due to a man who was on the construction crew that worked in my host family’s building. He was incredibly creepy and said stuff to both my roommate and me as we came in and out. Looking back I wish I had said something about it to my host parents.
-Would you recommend studying abroad in Spain to others?
Yes. Studying in Europe has innumerable benefits and Spain is no exception. You have a beautiful language, an astounding and rich history with its Moorish legacy, and a country that is vibrant and lush for anyone who visits. There is no shortage of programs there; the problem is deciding which one is right for you.
-Would you do it again if you had the chance?
Oh my gosh yes. Every international experience I did in college was unique in some way, but nothing left me feeling more fulfilled or just mind blown than my semester in Spain.
For anyone interested, I studied with the Center for Cross Cultural Studies, whose website you can access here (they have a variety of programs and not all for just college students, not to mention programs in numerous Spanish cities-Barcelona and Alicante for starters, as well as in Puerto Rico and Argentina).