GENERAL ADVICE FOR PACKING

The whole reason I started this blog is to share the knowledge that I’ve gained through experience during my semester abroad that I wished I had known beforehand. That being said, not everything needs to have its own mini article; there are plenty of things I can tell you just by listing them out. General ideas, general advice, that sort of thing. I’ve been compiling thoughts all semester, and I want to put them all together.

  • Buy some cheap rain boots when you get to wherever you’re going. Don’t pack them from home, and don’t buy expensive ones that you’ll need to bring home. But definitely find a cheap pair that you can use during the rainy seasons, since it’s pretty much a guarantee that at some point during your time abroad, it will rain. Unless you go to Antarctica, but in that case none of these posts will really apply and you should probably be looking somewhere else for information and advice.
  • Pack your favorite shampoo and conditioner. Get the big bottles! Chances are, you won’t be able to finish them in the time you’re abroad, so you’ll never have to go buy more. If you do, you always can just run out to the store and pick some random brand up. But this is great for several reasons:
    • It takes up more space initially in your suitcase that will be freed up on your return trip home
    • You won’t have to go searching for shampoo/conditioner in your foreign country
    • It’s comforting to have the things you love from home with you abroad
    • You can use these big bottles to fill little travel-sized bottles for when you’re traveling around
    • It’s already one of your favorite products and you don’t know if you’ll be able to find it abroad
  • Pack warm and cold weather clothes. So this one is tricky, because you really don’t want to over-pack. The rule I had been told was to pack everything you initially want to pack, and then remove 2/3 of it. This was a good idea theoretically, but I would like to revise it.
    • **DON’T FORGET TO CHECK COMMON WEATHER PATTERNS FOR YOUR PLACE OF STUDY ABROAD– SUMMER HIGH TEMPS, WINTER LOW TEMPS, WHAT A TYPICAL SPRING OR FALL DAY MIGHT LOOK LIKE**
    • Assuming that you’re going somewhere with all four seasons and typical weather patterns….
    • Step 1: pack everything (clothing-wise) that you want to pack
    • Step 2: remove 2/3 of it
    • Step 3: check to make sure you have
      • 1 pair of athletic shoes that can get dirty (shoes you can hike/run/explore in)
      • 1 pair of casual shoes that you can walk in
        • (ex// flats, nice sandals, vans, etc.)
      • 1 pair of going-out shoes if you really want them
        • (keep in mind you can buy some in your host country, too)
      • 1 pair of boots for colder weather (WEAR THESE TO THE AIRPORT IF POSSIBLE)
      • approximately 5 days’ worth of warm weather outfits — dresses, skirts, shorts, such
      • 1-2 pairs of jeans, maybe 1 other kind of pants
      • a couple tank tops/t-shirts
      • a sweatshirt/cardigan/sweater (preferably one that goes with a lot of stuff)
      • a jacket
      • one outfit (if none of the above apply) that can be worn for a nice occasion
      • a scarf, if you have one that you really like
      • a lighter/heavier jacket, depending on how thick your other jacket is
      • a bunch of underwear (assume you only get to do laundry every 2-3 weeks, to be on the safe side)
      • about 5-10 pairs of socks (or more if you hate to re-wear socks)
      • THAT’S IT. NO MORE. SERIOUSLY.
    • Step 4: review the previous steps to make sure you feel relatively comfortable with what you’ve assembled
    • Step 5: zip it shut

I would like to reiterate that this will seriously depend on where and when you’re studying abroad. What your host country’s seasons are like will vary immensely, so you need to keep in mind the likelihood of some of these things. For example, if you’re planning on living in London for fall semester, it will be very different from what you should pack if you’re going to the south of Spain for spring semester. My big issue was that when I removed 2/3 of what I had packed initially, I was assuming that just because Spain’s winter only gets down to about 40 degrees F that I wouldn’t need many cold-weather clothes, because that’s nothing compared to the Wisconsin winters I’m used to. But the buildings here are not insulated at all, and they’re built to keep heat out, so I ended up having to buy more in the way of cold-weather clothes than I had thought. Also keep in mind the places you’d like to travel. If you’re studying abroad in the south of Spain but you know you want to visit Ireland, make sure you’re being realistic about what that might look like.

I would also like to stress that it is only natural to assume you’ll buy some new clothes in your host country. Don’t freak out too much about packing clothes, because anywhere that you’re going, I promise they will have some variety of shirts, pants, and underwear.

  • Buy some TSA approved luggage locks and combination locks. This was a huge thing for me. A friend of mine had recommended it, and it has been amazing. So you can find TSA approved locks on eBay or Amazon for super cheap, and combination locks at any hardware store/Target/WalMart/etc. and the uses are basically endless. For example,
    • use the combination locks to lock up bigger bags when traveling (take them off when going through security!)
    • use the combination locks to lock a locker when you stay in a hostel
    • use the luggage locks to lock your smaller bags while traveling
    • use the luggage locks to lock your purse when in a crowded space
    • use the luggage locks to lock your bags when you’re not going to be paying close attention to them (ex//at a club, a concert, an airport)
    • any other random uses you can think of; they’re incredibly handy. And they’re cheap, and small, so bringing them won’t be very difficult.
  • Bring hand sanitizer, and Kleenex, everywhere. If you have a purse, throw some in there. If you have a backpack, throw some in there. If you have a duffel bag, throw some in there, too. Seriously. You’ll thank me later. I’ve found that a shocking number of bathrooms in Spain don’t have toilet paper, or soap. Usually it’s one or the other, occasionally it’ll be both. But it’s a rare occasion when there are both TP and soap, so I’d rather be ready. It’s also good for traveling, because both are good things to have (airports are gross, dude). Just make sure the hand sanitizer is 3oz or less (or whatever your standard measurement for liquids in carry-ons on airplanes is).
  • Buy a bunch of the small travel-sized shampoos/conditioners/body wash/face wash/etc. while in America. You know exactly where to find them (Target, WalMart, Ulta), and it’s going to be much harder to find them abroad. So just grab a couple of the little bottles now, and throw them in your bag so you can get on with your adventuring as soon as you land.
  • Pack all your toiletries in your checked bag. This goes back to my previous points about the shampoo and conditioner, being that it’s less that you have to search for when you’re in a foreign country (and potentially foreign language), and it’s more stuff that you can pack initially, use up, and have as free space on your way home (or for souvenirs, duh). Most places will have pretty much anything you could need, but it can be a little confusing to know what you’re looking at when it’s in a foreign language. For example, I tried to buy some hair spray, and ended up buying mousse. Because I couldn’t understand what the labels were trying to tell me. Whoops.
  • IMPORTANT: DON’T PACK YOUR HAIR DRYER/STRAIGHTENER/CURLING IRON. Buy new ones abroad. The voltage of the ones in the US is much too high and will short out most circuits abroad. There might be a way to get around this with converters, but honestly I just bit the bullet and bought new ones because I knew I’d be using them a bunch.
  • If your lights don’t turn on immediately in your hotel room, look for a box on the wall near the door. Put your key card in it. Then you’ll have light. It’s a great idea, the whole energy conservation when you’re not in the room thing, but I was so frustrated and confused when I first arrived in Europe and couldn’t turn on the lights because no one had told me what the box was. So now I’m telling you. You’re welcome.
  • Bring some money in the local currency of where you’ll be staying. At least a couple days’ worth. If you’re traveling in Europe, it’ll probably be euros. Get familiar with the local currency, look at the different kinds of coins and bills, and what the different symbols mean (for example, a comma in the USA signifies something bigger than 999, but in Spain it means a fraction. The period and the comma are switched, so if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to get confused), in addition to exchange rates. I’ll write another post later on cards, budgets, ATMs and more money-related things, so if you want to know more about that, check back.
  • Squish up a duffel bag and pack it in your checked bag. Duffel bags are really nice for weekend trips, and some of the smaller suitcases won’t qualify as carry-ons. Neither will some duffels, but if you find a smaller duffel bag, it will be great for a few days’ worth of things, and not having to pay for a checked bag on your flights. When I came to Seville, I had one large suitcase, one small, and my backpack. I bought a duffel bag here, after realizing that the backpack alone just wasn’t gonna cut it, but the duffel bag was cheap in quality as well as price, and fell apart quickly. So, while you can find them here, for cheap, it might be easier to just bring one from home.

 

 

For more in depth topics, look at the subjects I’ve already covered in other posts to see if one will be more helpful to you.

 

Links to some of the recommended items

I saved a bunch of the links I’d used when packing, so I figured I’d link them below, in case anyone found them helpful.

 

All of this is just supposed to get you thinking, there are no hard rules about what you should or shouldn’t do. It will change depending on where you’re going, how long, what time of year, as well as a million other factors. But these were things that I didn’t find quite so obvious, and that I thought could be helpful. Hopefully they are!

 

8. Living with Host Families

Like it or not, the environment you live in during your time in a foreign country has a huge impact on your experience abroad. I say it that way because it’s not always up to you, or you might not know if it is.

Host families can be amazing, but they’re not for everyone. I thought I knew what I was talking about when we chose what kind of housing we wanted, but experiencing the semester myself and talking through the experiences of others has made me realize just how important it is.

My program has four options for us. You can choose to A) live with a host family, B) live with a singular adult, C) live with a Spaniard in a dorm, or D) live in an apartment. I don’t know anyone who’s living in an apartment, and I’m not sure if it was actually a choice offered to my specific program. Within the options of the study abroad company, there are more choices available to other programs that were not mine (so anything that wasn’t the Advanced Liberal Arts program), such as living with a host family WITH another American, or getting an apartment with Erasmus students (other study abroad students from places within Europe).

So, how do you figure out which one would be right for you? Well, it all depends on the experience you want to have. If you want to have more structure and someone who is more involved in your life an well-being, then a host family might be a good idea. If you want to live with someone who gives you more independence and freedom, you might want to live with a singular adult. I don’t know much about the dorm living or the apartments, so I won’t go into those as much, but keep in mind that they might be options for you.

 

OPTION ONE: LIVING WITH A HOST FAMILY

PROS:

  • People who care whether or not you come home at night
  • potential host siblings (you can usually choose if you want them)
  • potential host pets (same thing)
  • family dynamic
  • feeling like you’re a part of a family
  • automatically having a small network of people who will be watching out for you
  • if you get a cool host family, they can be super awesome.

Anecdote: for Valentine’s Day, my host family knew that it was my first time being away from my boyfriend of 2.5 years. I think they though it was a much bigger deal to me than it actually was because Valentine’s Day isn’t really celebrated here, but they see it in American movies as a huge deal… so they surprised me that morning with a heart-shaped breakfast, a super sweet hand-written card (from host sister, 11), and a dress! I was so surprised and overwhelmed that I started to cry because it was so sweet, and my host mom gave me a huuuuge hug. It was one of my favorite moments since being here.

CONS:

  • Family fights… where are you going to go?
  • not as much privacy
  • potentially annoying host siblings (or their friends)
  • exclusion from family events
  • feeling more like a guest than a family member

The family will keep on existing with or without you. That’s one of the things I found hardest about this experience. I’m constantly reminded that I’m not the first American girl, nor am I the last. And as much as I wanted to have as big of an impact on them as they will have had on me, that’s just not always the way it goes. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been a great semester, or that this is the experience everyone will have. Just that it’s a possibility.

 

 

OPTION TWO: LIVING WITH A SINGULAR HOST GUARDIAN

PROS:

  • More freedom
  • More privacy
  • More independence
  • Someone who cares about where you are/how you are
  • You will likely have your own space with limited interruptions
  • Cool host señoras can be super chill

Having a host señora can be great if you just aren’t interested in being a part of another family. They usually more or less keep to themselves, and they don’t seem to mind if you do the same. Most that I’ve heard of are 40-60 years old, and have their own lives, so they aren’t as concerned with being super involved in yours. This option is also supposed to be more ideal for someone with health problems, or someone who has a very restricted diet, because cooking special meals for one or two is much easier than cooking special meals for five.

CONS

  • If you don’t get along with your señora, things can get awkward quickly
  • Some are very nosy and want to be more involved than what you might have wanted
  • If you don’t like being left alone for extended periods of time, it might not be a good idea. I have a friend who didn’t see hers for two or three days, because she just left for the beach for a few days. She left my friend food and everything, but someone who doesn’t like actually being alone might not like this.
  • If one of you is in a bad mood, the entire house dynamic is affected
  • You might not like her cooking

Anecdote: One of my friends was placed with a woman, about 40 years old, who was flat out racist. My friend is black, and this apparently was a big deal for her host mother, and she routinely made rude comments regarding her hair, skin, odor, clothes, showering habits, etc. In addition, she made several comments of her assumptions about my friend, including that her family was probably not wealthy and that her clothes were dingy. Now, this woman was incredibly shallow to begin with — obsessed with her appearances and maintaining her “youthful” looks, and there is an element of Seville being relatively homogeneous, culture and look-wise. So that isn’t to say that this isn’t a real issue that still exists in Spain. But the likelihood that someone else will get stuck with a woman like this is pretty low, especially after she was reviewed so poorly by my friend, who then switched host houses and is now much happier with an older woman who loves to feed her insane amounts of food.

 

 

OPTION THREE: LIVING IN A DORM

I don’t actually know much about the dorm living, and I’m not super close with anyone who is living in the dorms, so I’ll give some more generalized information.

PROS:

  • Independence
  • meeting new people (roommates)
  • people who probably share similar schedules/daily routines to you
  • You have control (more or less) over your meals
  • You have complete control over your routine
  • No one will be upset if you go out at night
  • Spanish friends/roommates (maybe)

I’m sure there are more pros, this is just a baseline list that I thought of in comparison to the other options. By now you’ve probably lived in a dorm, and probably have more or less of an idea of what it would be like and whether it would be a better/more comfortable situation for you.

CONS:

  • The kids in the residencias almost never hung out with the rest of the kids in the program, unless they shared classes or something.
  • Located further away from the rest of the program (most of the host houses were located all within the same neighborhood)
  • Sharing rooms
  • Sharing rooms with strangers
  • Having to cook for yourself

Basically any thing you didn’t enjoy about living in a dorm, but in Spanish. The only thing I’ve really noted about the kids who stayed in the residencias is that they didn’t get to know many of the other kids in the program except for those who also stayed in the dorm. Their Spanish got significantly better, and they had more Spanish friends, but it all just depends on what you want out of the experience.

 

I don’t feel like I can accurately give information on an apartment, since I don’t know anyone in my program who had a living situation like that, but if it is an option for you, you will get information when you choose a homestay.

As previously mentioned, there was another set up, in another program, where each host family had two Americans. This seemed to work out very similarly to random roommates in college– sometimes it went great, and they were best friends, other times it was awful and awkward and they resented each other because they were forced to share a room. Just something to keep in mind — explore all options!!!

 

The ultimate point I want to make with this post (aside from giving information about what to expect) is that many kids changed host families, some even multiple times. I talked to one guy in my program about his change of host family, and he told me that he thinks everyone should change home stays. When I asked why, he told me “When you change host families, you get the option to shop around, meet tons of new people and families and find a place you truly feel comfortable with people who you really mesh with.” So, if you find that your home stay is not feeling the way you wanted it to feel (aka comfortable, enjoyable), please don’t be afraid to change home stays. I don’t regret my home stay decision, and I love my host family, but I wish I hadn’t been so worried about changing host families. I had it in my head that it was a huge deal and that it was awkward and the host family would hate me — in truth, it’s not a big deal. The host families will get another shot next semester, with another host kid. Except maybe that racist lady. Not every student will mesh with every family, and the programs know that. Don’t be afraid to explore your options, and do what you think will make you most comfortable. As I’ve mentioned before, a semester abroad is a huge undertaking, and it’s mentally exhausting, so you want to have a place that feels comfortable. It probably won’t feel like home, and that’s okay, but you definitely don’t have to actively be uncomfortable. Just explore your options, and see what feels right to you.

 

 

 

 

7. La Semana Santa and La Feria de Abril

La Semana Santa (Holy Week) and La Feria de Abril (the April Fair) are two of Seville’s biggest, most extravagant festivals. And they happen about two weeks apart. Although I had heard a little bit about them before coming, I really underestimated the extent of the intricacies and excellence that these festivals hold. Granted, they are most likely older than the United States as as country. But still. So I wanted to write something talking about them, and my experiences. There’s a lot to say, so it’ll probably be somewhat long, so get nice and comfy.

 

 

La Semana Santa

(lah  say-mah-nah  sahn-tah)

This Holy Week spans the week before Easter Sunday, and ends then. While I haven’t encountered much in the way of forced religion (I was worried my host family would expect me to go to church and everything even though I’m not currently practicing, but they aren’t practicing either. It’s only as involved as you want it to be… although the elderly might still have some choice words for your decision should you not be practicing!), Seville is extremely engrossed in tradition. As they should be, since their traditions are hundreds and hundreds of years old. That’s what Holy Week was described to me as being; a chance to embrace a centuries old tradition and admire all the culture and decoration the celebration contains. If you want to take it a step further and attend mass, participate in the processions, etc., for your own personal worship, you can definitely find a way to get involved.

Semana Santa fell about the third week of March this year, as I believe it typically does, and it’s a week off of school. (woohoo!) Because of this, lots of people choose to travel. My host family told me that while the spectacle is incredible, most Sevillanos (the people living here) choose to leave Seville, because it’s a lot of people coming into town, and it’s relatively similar from year to year. So they went to the beach. I traveled the first few days of the week with my boyfriend, to Madrid and then Granada, before ending up back in Seville for Wednesday onward of the Holy Week. We did see processions in Granada, but I believe Semana Santa is really only very seriously celebrated in Andalusia (which would include Granada and Seville, but not Madrid). While I’m not sure how the entire upper half of the country celebrates, or if they celebrate, I do know for sure that Valencia has their own traditional celebration, called Fallas (fah-yahs), where they spend the whole year constructing hundreds of fantastical wooden sculptures, spread all around the city, to finally light them all on fire and set off fireworks in the sky. I don’t know a ton more about it than that, but it looked like a blast (I have a friend abroad in Valencia right now, and my host dad is originally from Valencia, so he was the one telling me about it).

So Semana Santa is basically a week of nonstop processions. That doesn’t sound too crazy, right? I mean, a little bit, if you think nonstop all week, but like not too insane. Okay, but this. These processions are huge. Like thousands of people type huge. And each church (of which there are MANY) likely has its own procession that will occur some time during the week. To my understanding, it’s people who attend the church that participate in the procession, but that could easily be incorrect. Each church with a procession will have these gigantic scenes that are set up on floats (they’re at least life-size, for some idea of scale), and the floats are carried by about 50+ men, on their shoulders. It is preceded by members of the church of which a majority will wear the traditional uniform, a robe and tall-pointed hat (sound familiar? The members of the KKK took their inspiration from this traditional uniform, not the other way around!), and they’ll be colored according to the Holy Week day and church. Each member carries a candle, or a cross, and several wave out incense that they burn. There will also likely be a band in uniform that marches ahead, playing traditional music. Most processions have one or two floats depicting biblical scenes, and then the final float (the main one) will depict a scene of the Virgin Mary. This float will be decorated with hundreds of candles, at least as tall as her (and she’s at least life-size, remember?), and the float is intricately carved out and decorated, gilded, painted, and designed by hand. All of them are, but the Mary floats are extremely precious. There is something said about her tears being lucky, more or less. You can also go see churches before their processions, to admire the scenes, and one in particular allows the public to kiss the Mary’s hand for good fortune before she is mounted onto the float and paraded through the town.

34crossFullSizeRender21

The processions take about 2-4 hours to complete. Because there are so many churches, there are now many times apps that will have the schedules (or you can find them printed out) and potentially interactive maps, to show where the processions are. Due to the fact that there are thousands of people participating or watching this gigantic parade around the city, it can be hard to do anything else if you’re not trying to participate. For example, if you wanted to go to the city center and go shopping, I would highly recommend you pick another place to go (Nervion is good, too, for shopping. Just go there). Avoid getting caught in the processions, because it’s hard to get anywhere when they’re happening. The crowds slow to a stand-still. And while many times you can navigate other streets to move around the chaos, you’d have to know every church’s individual parade route to avoid getting stuck. If you happen to be in Seville during Semana Santa, also be warned: every route goes through an intersection near the cathedral (in between the Plaza Nueva and the Catedral de Sevilla, there will be thousands of chairs set up, you can’t miss it). Tourists and Sevillanos alike pay money to get tickets to sit in the chairs and watch, as every single procession will pass. It’s tricky to navigate around that.

 

While the Holy Week begins the weekend before Easter, it’s Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday) that is considered the biggest day. The processions occur at all hours of the day, but as of Holy Thursday, the processions run all night long, too. And several of the biggest, most incredible churches will have their processions. For that reason, people stay up all night Thursday to see the processions. The one that we watched, for example, La Esperanza de Triana, began the procession around 2 AM, with the Virgin leaving the church around 3:30 AM. This particular procession did not finish their route and return to the church until 12:30 PM the following day. We only watched a few hours of it, because it truly is something unique and beautiful. It’s also quite haunting. The scenes are not usually very happy ones (Jesus getting nailed to the cross probably wasn’t his best day), and the music is slow and serious. The procession moves slowly, and you can hear the shuffle of feet of the men carrying the humongous scene. Combined with the incense, it’s a very surreal feeling. Especially at night, when it’s all lit by moonlight and the glowing candles being carried by the members of the procession.  As host dad said, it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life. After that, it’s up to you to attend more or not, but it’s something everyone should see at least once.

If you’re curious, you should watch some YouTube clips:

 

La Feria de Abril

(lah  fair-eeh-ah  day  ah-breel)

Feria takes place about two or three weeks later. In this case it was the second full week of April (12th-17th), and it’s another week off of school (woohoo!). This time, however, instead of being a serious religious ceremonial week, it’s all about dancing and drinking and festival activities. Feria originated in Seville as a way to more easily trade and sell cattle. “Curiosity led many women from Seville’s society to visit the fair with their buggies, which mainly was a horse market.  The show went on to become a distraction and a meeting place for the city. The tents were transformed into houses where the owners then invited friends to drink or sing. The humble calico frilly Andalusian gypsy and peasant robes were copied by the wealthy and over the years classes were constituted in an authentic fashion. And so, year after year, the fair grew to become the spectacle of joy and color we know today.”

The date of the April Fair always depends on Easter, normally celebrated two weeks later. Thus it is possible that the April Fair is held in May.

— http://www.andalucia-web.net/feria_abril_sevilla.htm

Feria is a week long fair, much like a county fair or a state fair in America. There are food stands to buy junk food (chocolate drizzled street waffles– oh good lord), amusement park rides, shows, and tons and tons of people. Traditional clothing to wear to the fair is a flamenco dress, or a suit for men. As the times grow more modern, fewer people wear the dresses and suits, but I would say a good 70% of the crowds were dressed up. Those who choose to not dress up should look nice, it’s considered a somewhat formal occasion. It’s a bit surreal to watch the women in flamenco dresses on all the amusement park rides, but it surprisingly felt quite natural. During the day, you can watch horses draw carriages of people around, and the general vibe is more family friendly. During the night, it’s typically more suited for adults, and it’s stunningly lit all by the colorful carnival lights.

carriage

daytime 2

daytime

horses

It opens Monday night at midnight, with a ceremony conducted by the city mayor. This ceremony, called the Alumbrado (“the Lighting”), draws a huge crowd and illuminates the “portal” to Feria, La Portada, and then illuminates the entire village of casetas (tiny linen houses) spread across the fairgrounds.

alumbrao

The casetas are privately and publicly owned, and contain mini bars on the inside, so if you walk through the village, you’ll be able to watch the people dancing and drinking and eating and laughing. You may be invited into a caseta to participate with them. If you don’t know anyone in a private caseta, you might not be invited in, but some of my friends have said that people don’t really mind as long as you’re not being disruptive. There are some public casetas, but I’ve found them to be extremely crowded and uncomfortable.

If you attend, you have to try the drink of Feria, called manzanilla. It’s a white wine and 7-up mixed drink, and it’s sweet and delicious. They sell it on every corner and in every caseta. The only drawback is that many people underestimate the alcohol because it’s so sweet, and end up drinking more than they want to. With that in mind, definitely have a sip or two, and go get yourself a gofre (waffle). Just make sure to pack your lipstick when you leave the house, because you’ll want to reapply. You’ll also see many people dancing Sevillano, which is a special kind of dance native to Seville. It looks a little like flamenco, but much smoother, without the stomping and clapping. It’s more about turning, twirling, twisting. It’s a beautiful dance, and though I did not choose to, my host family told me that several of the previous host girls have taken dance classes during their stay to learn how to dance Sevillano before Feria, so they could dance Sevillano with the native Sevillanos. I was told that if I wore a flamenco dress, I’d have to dance, but luckily that was proven false.

Feria goes from about mid morning until the wee hours of the morning. I left around 5 AM the other day, and it was still going. Although I didn’t personally partake in a ton of eating and dancing within the casetas, the people watching is absolutely amazing. It’s said that every woman’s dress is designed to be different.

pano

strolling

toro

 

Throughout the week, there are several other spectacles associated with Feria that occur. The weekend before the Alumbrado, there is a show of the different horse-drawn carriages that will be around Feria, and they all move around the stadium to show off the horses and the carriages. It’s called the Exhibición de Enganches, and it takes place in the Plaza de Toros la Maestranza. There are also bull fighting shows. This is a controversial subject among study abroad students, because in traditional bull fights, they kill the bulls. And it’s not just one, it’s 6 or 7 per two hour show. There are two kinds of bull fights, though, one that kills the bull, and one that doesn’t. So many will go partake in these cultural shows as well.

 

Basically, Feria is a gigantic dirt fairground with a village of mini houses built for singing and dancing, and a carnival park for screaming and laughing. Overall it’s a huge, fun, crazy, exciting time, and it’s absolutely magical to watch. You’ll be instantly transported back in time.

IMG_5483

 

 

The two festivals are complete opposites, but they’re both incredible to experience. Although many people spent the weeks traveling, I feel as though staying and participating helped me to understand the culture and history a bit better (I know, that sounds super cheesy to say), and I got some killer street waffles and churros. 10/10 would recommend. The festivals. And the waffles/churros.

 

6. Things You’ll Notice on the Streets

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything, but I’ve been compiling a list of things to talk about. Some of the most noticeable differences between the lifestyles at home and the lifestyles here are the things you’ll notice while walking down the main streets. The behaviors that we’re used to are probably not quite so normal when you’re abroad, and it can be a little jarring. My host dad told me that he can identify an American within the first three seconds of seeing them walking down the street, because we act so differently from them. On that note, here are some things you might see walking down the Spanish streets…

 

PDA

Okay so this is a big difference from at home. In America, it’s not like PDA (public displays of affection) doesn’t exist, but it has limits. If you’re in a crowded place with lots of people, hand holding or maybe a couple pecks of kisses would be considered normal. If you’re full on making out with your SO on the bus, it’s not cool. Because we’re taught that those things are meant to be private. In Seville, children are raised to live with their parents until they marry and move out to start their own families. That means they live at home through their college years, until they’re literally walking down the aisle, and even sometimes after that. Once you reach a certain age where play-dates are considered too little-kid-ish, you really don’t have people over to the house. It’s considered a familial place, and it’s not abnormal to have three generations living under the same roof. Friends usually don’t have a place in the home, and this is even more true for friends with benefits, or a significant other. For that reason, they take to the streets. So, where it’s considered crude to see in America, you’ll easily find couples necking in a cafe. Because where else are they going to go? Even more extreme, if you go for an evening walk, there’s a decent chance you’ll find couples going at it. Like… full on. In the street. Or in the park. By the swing set. No biggie. It’s a little uncomfortable if you come from a place where PDA is frowned upon… so just a heads up. If you see a couple at night doing something weird on the playground, you probably don’t want to go investigate.

 

No Smiling (at least not as much)

This was explained to me within the first few weeks of arriving, when my classmates were complaining about how angry everyone seemed all the time. You’ll be strolling down the street, and you’ll see a dad playing soccer with his toddler, and you smile at them to acknowledge them and their cute little game. And the dad will stare back at you, unsmiling, until you pass. Huh. The explanation was this, that in Spain, people tend to focus more on themselves than others in their surroundings, so when you acknowledge someone else, and you’re not friends, it can be uncomfortable, even taken as an unwelcome sign of aggression. My director told us that Spaniards might roll their eyes when we smile and wave, because they think that Americans are all on happy medicine (such as anxiety or depression medicines), so we’re obviously just doped up smiley little things. I mean, I’m from the Midwest, where it’s good to be friendly to your neighbor, so this was a little hard to believe. And I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule. For example, if you see a family in a cafe, and there’s a baby cooing at you, and you coo back, it’s about 50/50 for a negative reaction. I’ve had people smile and wave back, and I’ve had people stare at me as if I was a bomb about to go off. If we relate it back to the top paragraph, they pretty quickly know who’s an American, so they have mixed reactions anyway. Don’t take it personally, and keep in mind that lots of them are super friendly. It just might not look like it right away.

 

Staring

As mentioned, they know you’re American. And they stare. Because even though you think you’re doing everything right to blend in, there’s something you’re doing/not doing that sets you apart. It’s cool, don’t worry about it. They depend on tourism as a valuable source of income for their economy. But they stare at you, because they know you’re different. People in general tend to be a little more aggressive, especially men in pursuit of women, but in general the staring can feel very aggressive. A friend of mine is a beautiful, amazonian African American woman, and when we walk down the street people definitely stare. Some will even walk around us an exaggerated distance away, or some will walk up to us, pause, walk back, and walk past us again. It’s weird. But I think it’s just them being curious, and not having the same cultural norms that say hey dude staring isn’t cool. It’s right up there with pointing, which children are taught in kindergarten to not do. But when in Spain…

 

Random Stray Cats

This is one way to immediately identify Americans. There are stray cats pretty much everywhere, and where most people ignore them, Americans are the first to demand to know where the family is so they can return the cat to their owner. Or to try to play with them (not a good idea). They’re strays, and should be left alone. Just like squirrels. Or if you’re in the Keys, chickens. Except here, it’s cats. Just leave them be. It does make the walk to the university a little more fun, though, when you can count the kittens on your way.

 

Dogs Not on Leashes

When people walk their dogs here, they rarely use leashes. It’s much more common to see them strolling ahead of the owner, or trailing behind. This can be a little confusing if you don’t know, because again you assume there must not be an owner. They’re just a little more free to roam.

Dogs in general are a little different too. Most people live in flats, not houses, which means that if they want to have a dog, it must be small. Lots of people also keep their dogs on the balconies. Like, all the time. So small dogs are typically preferred, because it’s easier to care for them in a small environment. For this reason, any big dogs you see are usually imported. I met a yellow lab named Terra, and she was originally Canadian, for example. It’s also worth noting that expectations for how to take care of your dog are different, as well. One example is keeping it on the balcony/patio, another is the use of muzzles. It’s not uncommon to see dogs muzzled while being walked. And while it’s sad for us to see, it’s important to keep an open mind about how they are simply differing in the cultural expectation. It’s not considered animal cruelty, and the dogs are still plenty loved.

 

Dog Poop

Ah yes. Dog poop. You’d think it’d be universal, and it pretty much is. You’re supposed to pick up after your own dog. But that doesn’t mean everyone does. Just like in any big city, if you’re not paying attention, you might step in something, and it will probably ruin your day. The difference here is that there’s a real effort in trying to prevent this. If someone gets caught not picking up after their dog, it’s a 150 Euro fine. Which is a big deal considering a barista job pays about 5 Euro/hour.

Despite this, people will do what people do, and they’ll leave it for you to step in anyway. So keep your eyes focused on what’s in front of you, and maybe take extra care when wearing white shoes.

 

Reckless Driving (biking, walking…)

It’s not that Spain doesn’t have traffic laws. They do. They’re just somewhat less enforced. From my experience, it feels like they operate more as guidelines, or suggestions, than laws. Because of this, the Spanish can be crazy drivers. Combine the cultural expectation of aggression with flexible driving laws and crazy small streets, and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster. You’d think. Except motor vehicle accidents seem to be pretty rare here. My host dad talks endlessly about how he misses having a motorcycle. They weave in and out of traffic, take up less gas and parking, and people generally have a good eye for motorcycles when they drive, so it’s usually pretty safe. It can be a bit nerve wracking though to sit in a taxi and have the driver run every red and swerve in and out of lanes with the motorcycles. If you get motion sick, you’ll probably want to pop something before getting in a Spanish taxi.

Their aggression in vehicles is not just limited to cars or motorcycles. Biking, and even walking, have similar aggressive rules of the road. Bike lanes tend to be small, and sometimes fall in the middle of the street, so you need to be aware of where the bike lane is because bikers will rarely go around you…. you go around them. And if you’re in their way, they’ll let you know; usually with angry bell ringing and maybe some choice words.

The same attitude is expressed even when walking. People walk arm in arm, and they like to walk slowly. I walk quickly, even by American standards, so it’s absolutely aggravating when you’re trying to get somewhere. Just be sure you plan enough time ahead of schedule so as to not be late, since you might get stuck. The best idea when walking though is to just be assertive. They’ll bump you if you don’t move, so you can do the same right back. If a pack of people are walking your way and the sidewalk is only so big, just square your shoulders and walk straight ahead. It’s not weird to them. It’s weird to us, but hey, it’s also important to make it to class on time.

 

Pick-pocketing Scams and Street Performers

Finally, talking about Pickpockets, Street Scams, and Street Performers. I know lots of people who were excited to talk about these in their own blogs, but I really just have a few things to say.

Firstly, be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets usually train from childhood to be sneaky and quick, but they really only go for people who seem to be easy targets. Seville’s number one crime is petty theft, and they’re good at it. I’ve taken to locking my purse shut with a luggage lock when not in use, so that I don’t have to worry about it.

People will try to trick you, too. Most commonly here are the gypsies who want to give you a strand of some flower, claiming it brings peace and love, and then demanding money from you. The same can be said for palm-readings, or other tactics. They’ll approach you, offer you something, and essentially force you to take it. When you do, they’ll demand money, even getting physical if they have to. The important thing to do in this case is if you see someone coming towards you and talking to you, just say no and walk away. I even had a woman grab my shoulder, saying “chica, chica, ven, es un regalo para ti,” and I just shook her off, yelling “NO, GRACIAS,” until she finally found another tourist.

Similarly, there are people on the street, who claim to work for a company, and will offer you things you don’t need. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The common one here is the “company” that hands out free SIM cards for your phone. A) you don’t need it. B) it’s not real. C) it’s a scam, and D) they’re probably going through your pockets while you stand there talking to the person offering you the gift.

I had another friend who was studying in Madrid, and he mentioned that he’d seen gypsies using another popular scam, which is the baby-toss. Gypsies will wrap a baby doll in clothes, pretend like it’s real, and then throw it at you. While you’re caught off-guard, some other gypsy will be there, going through your pockets. Some will use real babies, but that’s muuuuch less common. Still, keep your wits about you when sightseeing, because these gypsies have been doing their jobs for a while.

Street performers are different, but still something to be wary of. Many are lighthearted and mean well, and maybe are performing as a means of making some secondary income, or possibly a primary income. There are dancers, there are singers, there are skaters, illusionists, magicians, all of it. The common rule of thumb is that if an act is good enough for you to stop and watch, you pay a coin. Usually if you don’t, nothing will happen since the performer likely doesn’t want to break character, but it’s considered rude and you risk possibly getting some angry street performers coming after you.

Basically, if you want to get to where you’re going with all your money, lock your purse shut and say no to anyone who offers you anything on the street, and just walk without paying attention to anyone on the side of the street.

 

 

Although it’s possible that you’ve experienced some of these at home, it’s still a good idea to keep an open mind when going abroad. It’s similar to home, but also entirely different.

5. Food in Spain

Food is a huge part of any given culture. It’s important to know what you like and don’t like, but it’s more important to be willing to try new things, and you should try EVERYTHING — unless you have a food allergy, in which case you should not try new things containing foods you are allergic to. Do not do something stupid because a blog post told you to try new foods. Please.

The food in Seville is definitely different from the food in America. How can it not be, right? Obviously. But there are some things I’ve noticed in particular having to do with food that I figured I’d share, so you know what to look for.

 

The Ice Cream is Not Real Ice Cream

This feels really important to mention; probably more so because I grew up in the Dairy State, but still. They’re big on gelato. You can find tons and tons of gelato, there’s a Gelatería on every street, the same with ATM’s and pharmacies. But. Gelato is not ice cream. It’s close, but it’s like craving a fresh-baked brownie drizzling in hot chocolate sauce and walking away with a kit-kat instead. They do have occasional Haagen Dazs Ice Cream stores, and every once in a while you can find a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. But it’s not super  common. So if your go-to stressed out comfort food is ice cream, be ready to look for the nearest HD or B&J places.

 

Meals and Snacks

Let’s be real here. Snacks are super common in America. I don’t think I went a week in college without at some point packing a granola bar, or stopping to pick up an apple or something during the morning or afternoon. In Spain, they eat breakfast around 7-8AM, lunch around 2-3:30PM, and dinner around 9-11PM. There are occasional snacks around 6-7PM, called meriendas [meh-ree-ehn-dahs], which are usually something light and sweet, like a pastry to go with afternoon coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing). Otherwise, you really don’t have a lot of eating times. And that’s a long time to go in between meals if you’re coming from a place that usually eats their meals approximately 4-6 hours apart with snacks in between. The other part of this topic is that because of the cultural difference, there really aren’t a lot of snacky foods to choose from. Some people were able to find granola bars or crackers, sometimes nuts, but most likely the closest thing you’ll find is some kind of fruit. Which is fine, but it took some getting used to. Like everything else.

Spaniards also tend to think it’s kind of funny to watch us fumble around, asking for food every few hours. It’s such a rare concept to them. But I think we’re more familiar with the concept of grazing; eating less, but eating more often- like, every few hours. In the Spanish culture, lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day. Breakfast is about the same, small or big depending on the person, sometimes even can be forgone. One thing about breakfast though– the typical Spanish breakfast? Tomatoes with olive oil. Toast optional. Yeah, not quite the same as a pop-tart. Lunch is treated more like dinner. Everyone comes home from work (for siesta–favorite part of the day!) and they all eat lunch together before resuming their activities, work, studying, etc. in the evening. Dinner, which falls later at night, is about the size of lunch. It’s not uncommon to have some form of bocadillo  [boh-kah-dee-yoh], sandwich, and then get ready for bed. Dessert isn’t really a thing that I’ve seen. If there are sweets, it’s usually part of a merienda. Which leads us back to the ice cream thing…. Know where your desserts are. Even if that means hiding some oreos in your room, like me. But then you need to be careful about the ants…

 

Know Your Food Words

It might be my host family more than most, because I know they love to cook, but I’ve had a significant number of conversations about food. What I like, what I don’t, how we make things, what we eat, what I’ve never tried, what I want to try….  Especially important if you have food allergies. Luckily, food is usually one of the first units in Spanish class, so if you’ve studied Spanish in school you might know a decent amount to begin with, but if not, you might want to brush up before jumping the pond. My host family usually makes sure at least one of us has our phone near the table during meals in case we hit a language barrier during our discussions, usually them describing a type of food to me and waiting for me to figure out the English equivalent. It’s pretty handy, to help the conversation. But I do feel like I’m going to return with a better food vocabulary than academic vocabulary. Oh well. There are worse things.

 

American Food Stores

They exist. Not many, but they do. My host dad was so excited to tell me about the American food store (Taste of America, in case you’re in Seville or want to look one up). He wanted to know what kinds of food I usually ate that he had never seen before. Tomorrow I’ll be feeding them Pop Tarts (cookies and cream flavor), peanut butter (most Spaniards have tried it, but it’s always imported so it’s also not unusual if they’ve never had it–most of them don’t like it because apparently it tastes too sweet?), and macaroni and cheese out of the box. #America

 

Taking Things To Go

It doesn’t happen. Food to go is an extremely American concept. A typical Spaniard would rather be a half hour late and drink their coffee in the cafe than be on time and bring the coffee along to drink on the go. It’s actually one of the fastest ways to identify an American. Sometimes when people-watching, we’ll play games of Spot-The-Americans, and anyone who is eating and walking at the same time is instantly recognized. So, if you have somewhere to be that you CANNOT be late to (another American concept. Spaniards are notoriously late to everything, all the time.), plan ahead, because your meal will 99% likely be to eat in the restaurant. Even if you ask for it to go, they assume it’s to eat at home. Not on the go. AKA if you ask for a coffee to go, there is a chance that they will put it in a cup with a lid that doesn’t even fit because you are the first person in at least three months to ask for a coffee to go and they don’t even stock disposable carry-out cups, which means you’ll go to take a sip of your steaming hot coffee and the lid will fall off and spill down your entire front and down your pants and you’ll make a huge scene in the middle of the street. Ask me how I know…….

 

 

 

 

But the most important thing to know about Spanish food?

 

T H E   F O O D   I S   S O   G O O D   I T   I S

  I N S A N E .

4. Stress

This topic isn’t as fun to discuss, but it’s super important. I don’t think anyone ever told me just how hard studying abroad would be. Not in an academic sense, though that is true enough in some regards too, but emotionally. Obviously it is different for each person, and some people are doing significantly better than others in coping with the stress, but it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into.

The Staring

People here in Spain, probably in other parts of Europe too, are not shy. The general population seems much more aggressive and in your personal space than in America. Which is fine, it’s just a cultural difference. But part of that is the staring. People will not look away if you make eye contact. It’s usually just part of their curiosity, especially if you are with a group of friends speaking English, but it can also be for things you can’t control as much, such as having blonde hair or dark skin. Their stares usually don’t mean anything but curiosity, but it can be uncomfortable to receive all the unwanted attention just for walking down the street. A friend of mine had to change her path to class because there was one older woman who stood out on her balcony and yelled things down to her any time she passed. We don’t know what she was saying, but it always started with “hey, blond girl!” and it made her uncomfortable enough to change her path.

Personal Space

Your personal bubble is about to get way smaller. This is another cultural difference, and it’s fairly well discussed. In America, we’re usually comfortable having a couple of feet in between us if we’re having a conversation. If it’s just you and another person, it’s about a foot and a half, two feet, if you’re talking with a group, it’s closer to 3-5 feet, if you’re sitting in a class it can be anywhere from 6-10+ feet. In some countries, that feels uncomfortably close, in others, it feels awkwardly far. Spain is one of the latter. Spaniards don’t worry too much about personal space, so walking up next to you on the sidewalk isn’t abnormal, subways and buses are nice and cozy, and conversations, even with teachers, can take place up to six inches in front of your face. Not always, and obviously it depends on the context, but it can be a bit unnerving if you’re not expecting it and your professor is suddenly lecturing you about 8 inches from your face.

Judging

This has been the hardest one to deal with, honestly. Like all of us, Spaniards have opinions on everything. Unlike all of us, they are not worried about sparing your feelings and will share their opinion, even if it doesn’t align with yours. There is also a lot of murky area for misunderstandings, which is a tricky spot even without a language barrier, but if you’re talking about your upcoming trip, and your host parents just stare at you and say “hmm,” it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. It could be affirmation that they’re listening and hear you, or it could be an “I don’t agree with you but I’m not saying it” hmm. The best thing to do in this case is just assume it’s the first and try to not worry about it. It can be difficult, though. The other part of this is that they’re usually fairly vocal about their disapproval. I wasn’t expecting that. I mentioned something to my host father about difficulties my boyfriend and I were having with our tickets for a trip we were planning due to a cancellation of one of his flights last minute, and my host father kept asking why it was a big deal, and implying that my boyfriend and I wouldn’t last as a couple if we couldn’t handle small changes like this. Never mind the fact that we’re on opposite sides of the globe and cancellation of a flight is frustrating for anyone. Oh well. It can be strange to get peoples’ unwanted judgment, but most people in your group will be going through something similar, and you can all commiserate together. I’ve had teachers straight up tell us that they don’t like having Americans in their classes. What do you do with that information? You really can’t do anything with it, so you have to try to not let it bother you.

School

Depending on your program, you’ll have more or less control over your classes and where you take them, but taking classes in a foreign country is difficult, period. It’s really hard to not understand everything even on a basic level, and still find the motivation to attend class and focus and try. Many of us had to learn how to study when we got to college, if we hadn’t figured it out in high school, but this takes it to a new level. Again, it depends on your program, but most are going to be flexible with regards to class type, as long as you take a certain number of credits. For example, it’s going to be rare to have a program that says “you must take calc 2, chem, and spanish while abroad.” But the reason for this is that it’s significantly more difficult to handle topics in a foreign country, and a foreign language. Duh, right? But I’m serious, it’s harder than I ever expected. I’m learning a ton. But even in basic conversations, I have to think and flounder for the words, and it’s taxing. Be realistic with your skills and give yourself a break.

 

Coping

The biggest thing to remember is that if you’re studying abroad, you’re doing something that only a fraction of the population do, and if you’re doing it in another language, it’s an even smaller fraction. It’s challenging. But the other side of it is that there are communities that are there to support you if you reach out to them. There was a death of someone from my university in one of the programs in another city in Spain, and within two days I had received emails from the program, my directors personally, the study abroad office, the university, and concerned friends. Although I didn’t know him personally, it was a nice reminder that there are so many people who are invested in your mental health and safety. So, with that being said, it’s exhausting to be abroad. But you should do it anyway. Just be realistic about what you have to do with regards to your sanity. Call your mom. Find some ice cream and eat it. Eat it every day if you want to. Go for a run, if that’s your thing. Read a book. In English. Draw a picture. Go on a walk. Buy a new shirt. All of the above. You being in a foreign place is difficult on its own, and being in a foreign language where you’re constantly running into language barriers and judgment is taxing, and you need to do whatever you need to do to make sure you can get through it.

 

And you will. And it’ll be great.

 

For as many things that happen here that upset me, there are 5 that make me happy and grateful to be here. Stress sucks, but as long as you’re taking care of yourself, a little more stress for a few months will come back tenfold in reward.

 

3. Traveling (to Germany/Austria)

So this last weekend was a long weekend (Monday was Día de Andalucia, a day off specifically for southern Spain), so obviously we had to travel. I went with a group of 5 other girls, and we went from Seville to Madrid, Madrid to Munich (Germany), Munich to Füssen, Füssen to Munich to Innsbruck (Austria), Innsbruck to Munich, Munich to Madrid, Madrid to Seville, over the course of 4 days, 5 nights. It was a lot. It was really cool, but it was a lot. So, here are some things that I’ve learned as an American studying abroad in Seville, traveling to Germany and Austria.

General things:

  • Not everyone will agree all the time, and this is normal. Especially with a bigger group, you get lots of opinions, so try to be patient.
  • Go with the flow. Things will go wrong, and it will suck, but it will be okay, and it’ll be a funny story once it’s over.
  • If you are one of those people who cannot sleep on cars/trains/buses/etc (me), plan for some long days and late nights, and brace yourself for some exhaustion, but know that it’s worth it.
  • Keep a list of who pays for what, then split it up at the end. Too much time was wasted on “I owe her this much, but I owe you that much, so can you just pay her and then I’ll pay you?” Also on this note, Venmo is apparently super useful for these occasions (I have not yet gotten the app myself, but I have heard nothing but wonderful things and most of my companions were slightly annoyed that I wasn’t able to pay them using it, so consider downloading it).
  • Having international data doesn’t mean your data will necessarily work internationally. Know where you’re going and have your tickets printed out ahead of time.
  • When dealing with tickets, be sure to read the directions when you’re printing them out. Some specify that you need to be on certain sized white paper, which is good because our free printing service prints on a grey colored paper, so we would have not been able to use those.
  • Airbnb is the shit. Seriously. Get on it.
  • Have a list (even if it’s just mental) of places you’d like to go, things you’d like to do there, and things you’d want to see. It’s amazing how many things you can squeeze into a day when you have the locations and times of everything happening.
    • This does require some research, but doing a little bit of research before traveling is a great idea anyway!
  • Keep in mind that bouncing from city to city to city is a good way to see a lot in a short amount of time, but is exhausting. If that’s not how you want your trip to be, plan a less condensed trip with some breathing room.

 

Germany/Austria:

  • If you go in the winter, it is cold. Pack a coat, scarf, gloves, hat, boots.
  • The people aren’t always known for being friendly. There is some truth to that. Obviously the super touristy spots are paid to be nice to you, but we had several waiters roll their eyes at us when we were fumbling around with our orders. This would seem to be normal, so don’t take it personally.
  • They DO leave tips in Germany (they don’t in Spain), but it’s usually only about 10% being average.
  • Be ready to walk. Like, everywhere. Up lots of hills. This is especially true in rural Germany/Austria.
  • German airports have really high security. Like dudes standing there with machine guns. Also seen in the train stations. If you’re not expecting it, it can be a little unnerving.
  • Be wary. They are known in Germany for their pick pocketing skills. I used a combination lock and a tiny padlock to lock my purse and bag when we were navigating the train stations, and it helped me feel a little more at ease.
    • If you want to, you can usually ask to leave your bags in a hotel/hostel before you check in, and they’ll keep them locked away somewhere safe. But again, be wary. We asked one hostel, and the man, who looked like any other guest, offered to keep them in his personal bedroom. If a situation seems sketchy, do not do it. We easily found another spot to pay 2 euro/bag to keep our stuff safely locked away while we went out for the day.
  • Look up some German phrases before you go. Yes, everyone speaks English. They even speak it fairly well. However, there were some times when it came in handy to have the basics down, and on top of that it was fun to feel like I was blending in slightly more with the locals.
    • On that note, even in the most touristy spots, there will be people who DON’T speak English. Be prepared. Our group was so big that we needed 2 taxis, but while our taxi driver understood English, the other taxi driver did not, and dropped our friends off at a random house on the other side of town. He then got angry at them and yelled in German until they were able to give him the address (again), and then he charged them. Again.
      • See point number one/two, about being patient and going with the flow.
  • Have some schnitzel. Also have some spaetzle. And some Radler. Maybe not at the same time, but try them all. It’s all amazing. Unless you’re a vegetarian or have some dietary restrictions, then just make sure you’re checking the ingredients. It’s still all amazing.
  • Germans like creepy dolls. I’m not sure if that’s just because of all the touristy shops we were in because we were in the touristy places, but it’s like Grandma’s porcelain doll collection on every street corner. I’m not a fan.
  • On a similar note, getting a real, authentic German cuckoo clock (glockenspiel) costs around $300+ dollars. One friend on my trip bought one for her parents, who are very German but never got to visit, so for her it was worth it. But if you’re the 2% or so German tagging along for the trip because hey-why-not friend like me, then it’s not worth it. Unless you have enough money to blow on a cuckoo clock, in which case, go for it.
  • New Town Hall is very cool. If you’re in Munich, go see it. And then wander around the market and all the stores. It’s a good way to spend a day. But bring your own water, because it’s super expensive to buy.
  • If you’re looking for something to do in Germany and you have a day to kill, go to Füssen, and see the Neuschwanstein Castle. It was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle. And the views are breathtaking. It’s definitely worth going to see. And if you go on the guided tour, you get to ride a horse-drawn carriage on the way up. How cool is that?
  • Innsbruck (Austria) is underrated. If you can, I’d highly recommend going. I wish we had more than 1.5 days there, since there was a lot I would have liked to have seen.
    • Side note, if you do go to Innsbruck (probably anywhere in Europe, actually), skip the Mexican restaurants. It’s just not good, and not worth the money.
IMG_4425
The view from Neuschwanstein Castle (not edited)

 

German Phrases

I went hard on my research, and looked up a few YouTube videos in addition to the random websites, and skyping my sister (who studies German) for pronunciation help. I made a list of phrases that was short enough to keep in my pocket, and handy enough that I actually did (or almost did) use. Feel free to do some research of your own, specifically if you’re going to a region with a certain dialect or you need some specific vocabulary words. This was my list. ((Capital G means hard G, like in guess or gasoline)) **keep in mind the pronunciation won’t be perfect, but it will be close enough that people will probably know what you’re trying to say.

  • Hallo [HAH-low] – hello
  • Guten tag [Goo-ten  tahg] – good day
  • Wie heißen sie?  [vee  high-sen  zee] – What is your name?
  • Um wieviel uhr das Geschäft öffnet/schließt ?  [oom vee-feel  oor dahs Geh-shahft Geh-shloh-sen/Geh-off-net?   – What time does the shop open/close?
  • Kann ich mit Kreditkarte bezahlen? [kahn  eeh  mitt  creh-dit-cart-eh  beh-zah-len] – Can I pay with a credit card?
  • Ein glas wasser/leittungwasser, bitte [eye-n glahs  vah-ser/leye-toong-vah-ser  bit-teh] A glass of water/tapwater, please
  • die rechnung, bitte  [dee reck-noong  bit-teh] the check, please
  • wo ist die toilette? [vo ihst dee toi-leht] Where is the bathroom?
    • ***NOTE, Herren/Männer = Men, and Damen/Frauen = Women. That means, if you see a bathroom with D or H written on it, take a deep breath and remember that D is for Damsel in distress. Or whatever other device helps you from walking into the wrong bathroom.
  • Entschuldigung, [ehn-shool-dee-Goong] Excuse me
  • Wo ist das Bus/die U-Bahn?  [vo ihst dahs boohs/dee ooh-bahn] Where is the bus/metro?
  • Ich verstehe nicht [eeh ver-shtay-neh neehkt] I don’t understand
  • Sprechen sie Englisch? [spre-kehn zee English]  Do you speak English?
  • Können sie mir helfen? [kuh-nen zee mi hehl-fehn]  Can you help me?
  • Es tut mir leid [Ehs toot meeh leyed]  I’m sorry
  • Danke [dahn-keh] Thank you

2. Clothes (and Shopping)

So this is a bit of a broad topic, since there’s a lot that I’ve learned with regards to clothing in Seville. Before I left home, I tried to look up blogs and figure out what people were wearing, if it’s super formal, if I needed to wear heels every day, etc. but wasn’t able to find a lot of helpful information. So that’s where I’ll start.

What to Pack, and What to Wear (At Least in Winter Months)

Pack shoes you can walk in. That is the number one most important thing. Converse style shoes are super popular, as well as stylish flats and boots. A lot of “going out” shoes are sparkly oxford-looking platforms, or booties with heels. Side note: Heely’s are also making a comeback, apparently. Tennis shoes are surprisingly common in everyday wear, but if you have brightly colored running shoes, save them for your runs. Black or white tennis shoes can be seen in everyday outfits. Seville’s Mediterranean culture is a bit more relaxed than, say, France (where you’re actually supposed to look nice to go get a coffee), but still a bit more formal than in America.That means you can wear a dress if you want, but you can also wear leggings and a flannel… but probably not at the same time. It is important to note that they do have different clothes for staying in the house and for leaving the house. Within the home, it’s appropriate to wear sweats, but make sure to leave them at the house. On this note, make sure you pick up a pair of house slippers. Those are huge here, and a friend of mine actually was scolded by her host parents for not having them (more like a “you’re going to catch a cold” type thing, but still). Since it’s technically winter, a lot of people also have winter jackets (it was about 40 degrees F on the coldest days, so think accordingly– in Wisconsin it means something very different from Florida). Finding a decent jacket here was pretty easy though, and fairly cheap. Next, scarves. Scarves are huuuuge here. My host mom was stunned that I would leave without something covering my clavicle (like not having my jacket zipped up fully) because she insisted that I would get sick from freezing. Not sure about that, but scarves are a huge part of the style here. If you have a favorite from home, definitely bring it, and if you don’t, you’ll definitely be able to buy some here. In addition, the other big staple of style seen in Seville: leather jackets. For class, for bars, for clubs, for ice cream. Literally everywhere, all day, every day. Again, if you have a favorite from home, bring it and wear it in. If you don’t, no worries, you’ll definitely find some here. So basically, if you want to dress like the typical chica Sevillana, I’d suggest layers of some shirt, sweater combo, with a leather jacket on top, skinny jeans (leather-style leggings work, too), sparkly/platform oxfords, with a scarf and some lipstick to top it off. Also, during the day, don’t forget your sunglasses. As much of a necessity as an accessory.

For men, the general same rules seem to apply… Leather jackets are still big, button downs/sweaters are good, nice jeans, maybe slim shape(?), scarves and sunglasses… yeah. I can’t get too much more specific, since I’ve spent a significant amount of time studying the women and not as much on the men. But they also seem to have a little more flexibility with casual/formal-wear. So you probably have a little more leeway.

Shopping: What are Stores in Spain Like?

Everything is very specialized. So, think of a Target or a Walmart, and then think of all the stores you’d have to go to if those didn’t exist. That’s what my experience has been. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, as it encourages exploration of the city and usually there’s a better range of products available. It’s just a switch in thinking to have to plan a trip to look for things you never thought twice about before… things like clothing hangers or toothbrushes or gum. Every once in a while you’ll find a store that seems to sell a little bit of everything [[See Tiger]], but for the most part it’s fairly boutique-y.  Also important, pharmacies are not like Walgreens. Over-the-counter is not really a thing here. Every pharmacy (and there is one on literally every corner- look for the green plus sign) has a pharmacist working, who went to pharmacy school and has the degree and everything, and you just have to ask them and they will get you what you need. Which isn’t what we’re used to doing, but it might be for the best since they probably know what we need better than we do. ***Note, you still need a prescription to get prescription medications.

Don’t forget to bring your passport if you’re going out shopping (and planning to use a card)! Your passport is functioning in place of a driver’s license– they just need to match the name and face to make sure your card is yours. Some places will take a scanned copy, but it’s up to each individual store to decide whether they will accept copies or not. I was turned away from Zara, surprisingly, when I presented a scanned copy instead of my actual passport. Since then, I just make sure to grab it if I know I want to use my credit card instead of cash. (But for safety’s sake, leave the passport at home the rest of the time!)

Clothing Sizes

One of the most frustrating things during shopping around has been the difference in sizes. It’s also hard to make a general statement about it, since stores seem to have different sizing systems. Some stores will use the S/M/L/XL system, others use numbers, but there seem to be several more systems at play– one with dress sizes, one with jeans, and another with bras… though one store so far that I’ve seen also has the American system for bra sizing labeled underneath (score). So basically, my best advice to you would be to look up some European sizing charts and seeing what you think you’ll be looking for size-wise. That includes shoe sizing!!!!!!!! Aldo uses European sizing, so I already knew my shoe size before coming, but several girls were annoyed to find that they had to try on shoes repeatedly before figuring out their approximate size. Obviously you can trial-and-error it out if you need to, but it can be annoying and time consuming, so if you go in knowing your size, it might be a smoother ride all around. Side note, if you have a special size that you need (bras, wide shoes, etc.) and you know some stores don’t stock it, it might be best to look up some stores in your area ahead of time or to bring a few of the item with you. Just something to be aware of!

Laundry

Probably the least glamorous of the subtopics, but still important… Laundry. Laundry, from my experience, is done about once every week or two, on the weekends. The important thing to note is that THERE ARE NO DRYING MACHINES HERE. NONE. AT ALL. YOU LINE-DRY EVERYTHING. EVERY TIME. This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, and really, it’s not, but it took me by surprise, and the first time my host mom washed one of my cardigans, it took about a week to dry. Which means I scrambled for a few days to find something else to wear, since I wasn’t thinking about it and was unprepared. It also means that if the weather is super gross and rainy, you might not be washing your sweaters too soon. My host family will bring the clothesline inside if it’s necessary, but it’s easier to avoid hanging out laundry to dry if you know it’s going to be raining. Oh, and it also means that you need to get over someone else touching your undies like right this second. I get it, it’s weird. And it can be kind of strange to see your bra flapping in the wind on the balcony where anyone can see. But it’s not weird here, and no one else is thinking about it, so you need to just take a deep breath and relax, and embrace it. Someone else is doing your laundry. Enjoy it.

 

 

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1. Andalucia

Andalucia [ahn-dah-loo-SEE-uh] is the region of southern Spain that Seville exists in, as well as Granada and Málaga and Córdoba. It’s like a county, basically. It also is the region with the most intense accent. And they’re pretty proud of it, too. Andalucians will tell you all about their history (from what I’ve heard, it’s mostly Sevillanos bragging about Sevilla) and how their accent evolved. Basically, Seville sits on the Guadalquivir River, which slices the city in half. This made it an excellent city for industry during the industrial revolution, because it allowed easy access for ships and traders to get into the city and back to the ocean. This also meant that the Spanish language was exposed to other languages, and the Andalucian accent was born. (This might not be the most accurate history lesson, so please don’t quote me, I’m just going off of what I’ve gathered from all the people talking about it). The Andalucian accent contrasts mostly with the “standard” Castellano in it’s relaxedness. Sevillanos (I can’t speak for all Andalucians) have a tendency to not pronounce their consonants, especially [s]s. Their vowels are also fairly relaxed, which means that when you have someone speaking quickly, not enunciating their vowels or their consonants, and it’s not your first language… you’ll probably be in for a rough time. However, they’re pretty good about repeating words for you, and using gestures to help you out. In addition, most people that I’ve met know a little bit of English and love the excuse to practice it with you.

Also important to note: Spain uses the vosotros form of conjugation, the equivalent to “all of you/y’all” in America. That means you’ll be hearing a lot of  “ai” [eye] and “ei” [ayy] sounds, and it’s probably them addressing you.

The thing about the accent here is that they know it exists, and they’re proud of it. It represents a lot of history, and it distinguishes them from other regions. So, you’ve just got to go with it.

 

Also somewhat related, if you head further north, and east, to the Cataluña region (think Barcelona), Catalan is the preferred language. That is to say, it’s a separate language. They know and will speak Spanish with you, but Cataluña is also trying to declare themselves independent of Spain, so it’s a little bit different– just something to keep in mind! I know a few people who are studying there, and they’re still learning Spanish, but the host families also will tend to speak Catalan when it’s just within the family. (( Disclaimer: the people I know who are studying there all LOVE Barcelona, and have no shortage of wonderful things to say about it. My host family, in addition, raves about trips to Barcelona. All I’m saying is that if you choose to take a trip there, keep in mind that there is another language that is very present, so don’t be shocked if you’re thinking “wow what a strange accent…” without realizing that it’s not the same language!! ))

The Things I’ve Learned (so you don’t have to)

I want to get this out there: I was not planning on making a blog. At all. My experiences haven’t been that crazy, I’m not an exceptional writer, and I’m really not very good with technology. However, since I’ve been on this trip, I’ve learned a bunch of things that maybe would have been nice to know before heading across the ocean. It is for that reason that I decided to start a blog. Because if it helps even one person to understand a little better before they go on a trip, or to help expand your cultural understanding of the world, or even just to provide some entertainment with these things I’ve found out the awkward way, I’ll be happy.

Now, some backstory. Lauren, 21, born and raised Sconnie, UW Madison Spanish/Linguistics major. My entire world was about a 20 minute radius from campus. I grew up in a suburb of Madison, then continued on to attend the best university ever (go badgers!) about 15 minutes away from my house. Pros of college-living 15 minutes from home: free laundry, home-cooked meals, cuddling with animals whenever you want, can hang with mom when your friends are all gone, etc. Cons: your bubble is pretty dang small. My boyfriend is from Minnesota, which means the furthest I’d ever traveled alone was the 5 hour drive to his house. Pretty insignificant when it comes to seeing the world. And I don’t mean to make this sound like a bad thing, it’s super handy to live close to home! Madison is big enough that you can make it as big city or small town as you want. And, when I got ridiculously, seriously sick last year, I was able to go home and have my mom nurse me back to health (thanks, mom!!!). But as a Spanish major, and even just as a college student, I felt the need to explore the world, to expand my bubble. If we go back a few years, back to freshman year of high school, 15 year old Lauren had a Spanish teacher who was basically the coolest teacher ever. She was (is) funny and witty and pretty and quickly became my role model. Over the years, I worked with her to provide peer tutoring and random help outside of class with cutting out posters or whatever, eventually we became friends outside of school, to the point that I helped her move into her house and babysat her daughter. We stayed in contact when I went to college, but it was hard to maintain a close relationship. I was trying to figure out how to be independent, and she was teaching every day of every week. But back when we were close, she had instilled a dream in me, one that had already been forming since the initial push to study a language in middle school. To study abroad. Which sounds pretty lame, since so many people do it every year at every university ever. But she taught me that the best way to learn a language is to go live it. So I knew, since approximately freshman year of high school, if not a little before that, that it was something I’d wanted to do. I was set on Spain. And though I didn’t decide Seville until I was comparing programs, some part of me thinks it was fate, because it just so happens that’s where my teacher had studied, too.

Back to the present: I left home for second semester of my junior year, and after a terrifying and tear-filled, panicky, excruciatingly-long flight, I landed in Seville, Spain on January 8th, 2016. I’m living with a host family in one of the suburban areas of the city with a host mom, host dad, and little host sister (11). I’ve been here for a little over a month now, and it’s exactly like I expected and nothing like I expected at the same time. But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m doing things every day that I never thought I’d actually do. I have to pinch myself daily, to remind myself that this is my reality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard, being in another culture and language 24/7 is really difficult, and attending a university in a foreign language is exhausting AF. But the pros so far outweigh the cons that it’s like comparing a forest to a twig. You have to accept that the cons exist, but it can’t stop you from going and exploring.

Anyway, I’ve learned a bunch of things just about the culture or the language that I’ve found remarkably interesting or confusing, and many of the questions I had before leaving I’ve since found the answers to. I did a significant amount of research trying to find out what to expect, like what do they really wear, what cultural differences are there, what’s the food like, etc. without many answers. Since I’ve been here, I’ve also found a surplus of other cultural differences that I wasn’t expecting…. and I’ve decided to share. So, with that in mind, here you go!

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