Last Monday I shared some tips on choosing the right study abroad program. Today, I;m going to go through the tips I shared in this last post and share with you why Sevilla ended up being the perfect study abroad choice for me.
Sevilla wasn’t actually the first program I had applied for. I initially applied to a program in Pamplona, Spain that’s through UNC’s School Media and Journalism. It just made sense to me. I’m studying journalism, I wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country in Europe, and the MJ-School offered that with Pamplona. However, I didn’t end up getting in to the program. The only accepted one student for the semester I went abroad. While I was a little bummed out, I was immediately glad that I wasn’t the only person going. I’m not sure if I would’ve taken that offer. While I wanted to stay away from UNC-heavy programs like Sevilla so that I could meet more Spaniards, I wanted at least one other American with me!
So after getting denied from the first program, I decided to apply for “UNC in Sevilla.” The only other options were to study in Madrid or Barcelona, but I knew one thing when I applied to Pamplona and that’s that I wanted to study in a smaller city. I also knew that “UNC in Sevilla” has been one of the most popular study abroad programs at UNC, so it must be a pretty good program. So I applied, got accepted, and the rest is history.
1. I wanted to study Spanish.
While I want to go to so many places all over the world, I knew I definitely wanted to study Spanish when abroad because I would likely never have an opportunity to be that immersed again in my life. That automatically narrowed my search down to Latin America or Spain. Having never traveled to Europe before and having already traveled to Latin America and lived with an Argentine host family one summer, I knew that Spain was the choice for me. The next step was just to narrow down my choices within Spain. This want in practicing Spanish is what eventually helped me decide not just to study abroad over the summer but to go for the whole semester. It’s what also drew me to the program in Sevilla, since it was the only program offered to me that involved homestays.
2. I wanted to travel. I couldn’t travel enough.
On Pinterest, I have a Pin board entitled “My Wanderlust is Killing Me.” And it really was killing me (and does is sometimes). I distinctly remember getting so wanderlust-y during winter break of my freshman year that I had to put on Eat Pray Love. And really any time I watched a movie taking place abroad, I dreamed of experiencing the beautiful places in which it was set. For instance, in watching The Sound of Music, I just dreamed of prancing along the streets of Salzburg singing “Do-Re-Mi.”
I was dying to just set myself free and travel all over the world if I could. So Europe made sense. Sevilla, too, made sense in this regard. I love how Sevilla is a bit of a smaller city but it’s still large enough to where it’s fairly easy to travel in and out of. For most of my travels, I was easily able to get direct flights to the places I wanted to go. And even if I needed to fly out of Madrid, it was just a short 2.5 hour train ride away (I love those high speed trains!). Not to mention, Sevilla, located in southern Spain, is so close to Africa, which made going to Morocco very easy.
3. I appreciated not having to spend much in Spain.
In choosing my program, I didn’t think too much about how cheaply I wanted to live. In really all of my travels I had the philosophy that I didn’t want to be too stingy with my money. I had been saving ever since I got my first job my freshman year of college, and I knew I really wanted to enjoy wherever I was and not worry too much about the money.
With that being said, it was so nice being in Spain, especially since I had that philosophy. If I had been somewhere else for a whole semester, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to spend the way I did or travel as much as I did, so I’m thankful for that.
4. I didn’t want to be anywhere too cold or rainy.
This is the initial reason I picked to study abroad in the fall because I had heard that Pamplona had rain constantly in the spring. Luckily, Sevilla’s weather was perfect for me. While the beginning was incredibly hot, I’d much rather prefer the heat to the cold, and later on it was so nice to have 60-degree weather, even in December. It also hardly rained, which is bad for Spain, but selfishly, I loved it.
5. I definitely wanted an authentic cultural experience.
Having an authentic cultural experience was the whole reason I chose to go abroad, especially for a semester. I didn’t want my experience to be UNC 2.0. I didn’t want to go abroad just to take advantage of the lower drinking age or to have an “extended vacation.” I wanted to go to perfect my language skills and to not just learn about the culture, but to really live it. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t get into the Pamplona program because had I gotten in, I wouldn’t have had one of the most authentic cultural experiences you can have abroad: living with a host family. I ate Spanish food, I ate at Spanish times (2 p.m. and 9 p.m. for lunch and dinner, respectively), I spoke only Spanish, I watched Spanish TV, I listened to Spanish music, etc. These are all experiences I wouldn’t have had without my homestay.
6. I didn’t want to go with good friends.
Don’t get me wrong, traveling with friends would have been so much fun, and I also dearly miss my best friend, who is actually abroad in Sevilla this semester. But going into study abroad decisions, I knew that I wanted it to be my unique experience, and I knew that I didn’t want any close friends in my program because I felt that it would hold me back from meeting new people and really exposing myself to the culture all on my own.
Looking back on Sevilla, I’m glad I made that decision because now I have 16 completely new friends, with whom I traveled, but I also took several trips all by myself, something that I think everyone should do, and something that I never before thought that I could do.
I also think that going into a semester-long program abroad without knowing one person is a bit more challenging and frightening. You don’t have that safety blanket of a friend with you. Facing that bigger challenge makes you grow and learn more and makes you stronger. As someone who has always been very shy and timid, I’ve spent my whole life trying to tackle things that frighten me so that I can become stronger and more outgoing. Choosing to study abroad thousands of miles away for four months and not knowing a single person was one of the best decisions of my life. I don’t feel like a totally different person than before study abroad. Sometimes I feel the same, but at the same time I am different. I’ve grown stronger, become more independent, gained more self-confidence, and although I felt like I was a globally minded person before, I am even more so now. Had I studied abroad with a friend, I don’t think that all of these things would have happened. It probably would have been more like an “extended vacation” or UNC 2.0.
7. You can see above all that I wanted to get out of the program.
Sevilla fit all of these things that I wanted to get out of the program and more. I knew going into the program that I would likely get all that I wanted out of it, but now that I’ve done the program, I can’t help but feel that my experience in Sevilla was so much more than I ever thought it would be. For example, I’ve been surprised at how much what I learned in Spain has applied to my life back in the United States. My time in Sevilla has added a new lens to how I look at everything: myself, the upcoming presidential election, the media, history, the refugee crisis, you name it. Sevilla gave me so much even from the very first day when I looked out the window of the taxi and saw the tall La Giralda looming up – up into the sky, and it immediately felt like home.