Elizabeth O’Brien - 2014 Program Participant

Carriage in La Plaza de España in Seville, Spain

La Plaza de España

What attracted you to study abroad?

As a Spanish major, I wanted to improve my ability to think and speak in Spanish. In addition I wanted to be a more globally engaged and involved citizen. By immersing myself in a foreign culture, I hoped to gain an understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture, connecting literature, history, and customs. I had always been attracted to the Spanish way of life, their rich history, relaxed lifestyle, and family focus, and was anxious to continue learning by immersion.

Why did you choose ISA?

I chose ISA for the value of the program. I felt that the money I was paying to go abroad was worth everything included. We were given transportation from the airport to our host city, hotel stays for all our excursions, on site support in Sevilla as well as support here in the U.S. In addition, our fee included a homestay, with all meals accounted for including a bocadillo for our excursions.

Choosing ISA was perfect for me! They not only took us on excursions around Spain and Portugal but planned outings and activities within Sevilla for us to get to know our city better and meet locals. We even got to cook with them; teaching an American recipe and having them show us a Spanish recipe. It was a lot of fun!

What was your favorite part about Sevilla?

My home stay was located in one of the older barrios, Triana, on the other side of the river. Every morning on my way to class, I was fortunate enough to walk over the Puente de Triana, this gorgeous bridge. To my right was the cathedral, and most mornings I was able to watch the sun rise right over the cathedral. It was magical! My street in particular was located in the heart of Triana. Cars were not allowed to drive on our section so there were always people out walking or children kicking around a soccer ball and playing with bubbles. The street was filled with families eating outside at the various restaurants and a man selling roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes. We even had a little man who played the accordion. It was beautiful.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I think the ISA staff made this program unique. They were always extremely supportive. When my computer crashed, they were great at locating a shop to fix it that was reasonably priced but of good quality. Furthermore, the staff were always full of energy! They were excited to share their city with us and truly wanted Sevilla to feel like our home away from home! They were full of recommendations on what to do, where to eat, neat architecture to see, etc. They wanted us to get everything we could out of our experience and I could not have asked for more from such a wonderful group of people!

They would check in with us monthly to see if our homestay was going well and how we were enjoying Sevilla. They were always full of life and excitement for everything, even getting us involved in the Sevilla FC/Betis fútbol feud.

What do you wish you would have done differently during your time in Spain?

I wish I would have met with my intercambio a bit more. We were able to meet usually every two weeks or so but I wish it would have been more. She was great at teaching me the Sevillan dialect in comparison to the Mexican Spanish I had always been taught.

Also, I wish I would have taken a course with natives. As much as I enjoyed my classes with the other Americans, the course was geared towards international students. I wanted a bit more of the rigorous teaching that is found in Europe.

Describe a day in the life of a student in Sevilla.

Each morning I would wake up around 7:30 a.m., get ready and head out to eat breakfast with Angeles, my host mom. She would make us toast with butter and jam and hot coffee. Nothing compares to the Spanish café con leche. We would watch the news until I left around 8:20 a.m. I then began my morning commute- over the bridge, down the river path- in awe of the tranquility of the kayakers on the river; left at the light, through Puerta de Jerez where I would admire the fountain and listen to the many goodbyes the parents would say to their young children, and into the Universidad de Sevilla.

We were fortunate enough to study in such an old and ornate building. The musty smell of old books and the slight chill of the stone still brings me back to classes. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I had class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a two hour break. Usually during my break I would walk around Sevilla, exploring areas of the city I had never been to or I would sit in Maria Luisa Park to read for a bit. On these days, Angeles would pack me a bocadillo, usually of queso and salchichón or chorizo, an apple, and an orange. The oranges in Sevilla are exquisite, sweet and juicy, perfecto!

After class, I would come home and usually go for a run through the city or up to Parque de Alamillo. We would meet up with friends to explore or find some Spanish treats from the local bakeries. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I only had class from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. so I was able to each lunch at home with José and Angeles. We would talk about current affairs in Spain or Europe, comparing them to the U.S., or we would discuss how I was enjoying Sevilla and my courses. We also would watch a bit of news or some other TV show.

Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. we would eat dinner with Angeles and watch Pasapalabra, which is a Spanish game show. My roommate and I, as did Angeles and José, would get very into the game, shouting out answers to questions, guessing the songs that were playing, or laughing at some of the responses. On the weekends, we would travel throughout Spain and Europe or partake in local festivals in Sevilla.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

Thursday afternoons I helped teach English to a group of Spaniards with developmental delays. This was by far one of my most favorite activity. I would plan different lessons that ranged from English grammar and vocabulary to cultural presentations about the United States. My favorite lesson was when I brought in a couple of songs for them to listen to in English. They had copies of the lyrics and would follow along, identifying the missing words. We then discussed the meaning of the songs and what they liked/disliked. Each one of them enjoyed this activity and it was a great way to learn just how music connects us.

Explain your accommodation in Sevilla a bit more and what you loved about it.

I stayed with a host family in Sevilla and absolutely loved it! I learned more about the Sevillan way of life and was able to practice my Spanish. In addition, my host mom made delicious Spanish food and even taught us how to make Tortilla de Patata and Arroz con gambas! I loved being able to come home to a home and talk about my day and learn about her views on different things going on in Spain. I felt that through my homestay, I not only learned more about Spain but also about the United States in terms of our values and morals.

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in Spain impacted your life?

I left for Spain as a double major in Biology and Spanish with the intention of becoming a genetic counselor. I have always been a type A person, filling my time with numerous tasks and activities that will help me in the future. I was a planner by nature. However, I returned with an increased understanding of the importance of relaxation. I found that I do not need to worry as much or plan as much. There are times to plan and there are times to look at the parts of your life that don't go right and say. “oh well, it will work out someway.” Though I still plan excessively and probably worry too much, I find myself to be a bit more relaxed and not as high-strung. In addition, I am now highly considering a PhD in Spanish Culture and Literature, which terrifies me but fills me with increasing excitement.