Kelsey MacAulay - 2011 Program Participant

Feria Gate in Seville during Feria de Abril celebrations

Kelsey and a friend standing in front of the Feria Gate during the famous Feria de Abril celebrations!

Why did you decide to apply for a study abroad program?

For me, it was never a matter if would I study abroad, it was always where would I study abroad. Not going abroad was never an option for me. For as long as I can remember, I had always dreamed about spending an entire semester in a completely new setting. While planning my courses out as a freshman, junior year spring semester was always blocked off as the semester I would spend away from UMass. I've always been so fascinated by maps, geography, and learning about other destinations. There is only so much you can learn about these places from your class work, you need to go out and truly live in that environment to completely understand it.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Seville?

All throughout high school and college, I was a language nerd. I took both French and Spanish for four years in high school and two years in college. I knew that for my major (Hospitality and Tourism Management) it would be better if I focused my energy on gaining fluency in Spanish. Therefore I chose Spain, and still liked that I would be close to France and Morocco as well. My decision for selecting Seville was a fairly simple one. I wanted to be in a decent sized city, not a large metropolis, but not a small off the grid village either. Seville was the perfect size and was not inundated by tourists, forcing me to speak Spanish all the time. I wanted to be a part of the culture there, not feeling like I was making the city more “Americanized.” It was really hard to turn down living a city that, during winter, was 65 and sunny with palm trees lining the streets.

Why did you select Academic Programs International (API) over other study abroad organizations?

I knew a few friends that had traveled with API that had nothing but great things to say about them. Alumni are always the best point of reference. Also, I wanted to study at an authentic Spanish university with local students, not a university only designed for American study abroad students. I had my classes at the former tobacco factory, turned world famous university, Universidad de Sevilla. The building itself was a stunning piece of architecture, and I was in awe every time I walked into the school. I also loved that API had great pre-departure and reentry programming, as well as amazing on site staff. The pre-arranged weekend trips and cultural immersion activities were a real highlight. I felt like I was really getting to the true meaning of the Spanish culture when we went on these excursions.

Universidad de Sevilla in Seville, Spain

All classes were held here in the Universidad de Sevilla, the second oldest university in all of Spain and backdrop for the opera, Carmen.

What was your favorite part about Sevilla?

I have always been intrigued by different cultures and religions. Living in Andalucía, I got to experience how many different cultures played a large role in shaping the identity of the region. All of the architecture in the city was stunning, but inside the Real Alcazar really took the prize for most awe-inspiring. Being in Sevilla during the spring semester, I witnessed two of the largest festivals in all of Spain, Semana Santa and Feria de Abril. Nothing in America can really come close in comparison.

The weather was also a huge plus about living in the south of Spain. Coming from Boston during one of the worst winters on record made it that much more enjoyable. Being able to walk along the Rio Guadalquivir coming home from school was very therapeutic.

What was your housing arrangement like in Seville? Did it help you learn about the local culture?

It was very important to me to live in a homestay rather than an apartment. I lived in a homestay with one other roommate, our host mom, and grandmother. They spoke no English, so we could only communicate in Spanish. We all got along great! She really taught us about Spanish culture and traditions, and would even let us cook with her. Before we left, my roommate and I wrote down her secret recipes to all of our favorite dishes that she would cook for us. She was really making us part of her family. To this day, I am still very close with my roommate from abroad as well!

Hiking in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh, Morocco

Kelsey and her friends during an API trip to Marrakesh hiking in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad with API?

I had plenty of memorable experiences while I was abroad, but my favorite was on an API sponsored international trip. They took us to Marrakesh, Morocco for four days which happened to be during my 21st birthday. I spent my birthday hiking in the Atlas Mountains and riding a camel in the Sahara desert surrounded by my new makeshift family of abroad students. In my wildest dreams, I could have never imaged spending my birthday in Africa. It was truly life changing.

What was the biggest challenge you faced studying abroad in Spain?

My biggest challenge was accepting that I was going to make mistakes at some point. I don’t like not being good at something. Coming to the realization that I was going to make some silly mistakes while speaking Spanish, or that I may look like an American at times, was hard to accept for a while. But, it made me strive to learn Spanish that much more. Having an intercambio (language partner), which was arranged with the help of API and the university, made it that much easier to learn all about the culture and customs of Sevilla. My intercambio was an immeasurable asset to me! Plus, she would introduce us to her friends and take us to the best local bars!

How has studying abroad shaped your life back in the U.S.?

It is so hard to put into words how studying abroad has shaped my life. It really put everything into focus for me. My desire to travel and become a global citizen of the world became solidified. I learned I could rely on myself in almost any situation, and that my instincts were more often than not correct. I learned to roll with the punches, and that no matter how perfectly you plan out something there are always chances for surprises. It is so humbling to be able to experience different cultures and people of the world.

Finally, it was the single greatest thing I could have done for myself career wise. I work at a European based DMC (Destination Management Company) and having firsthand experience of various cities abroad and cross cultural communications skills help me immensely.

Plaza de Toros in Seville, Spain

The stunning Plaza de Toros during an API excursion to a bullfight.

What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?

There are two things I would have done different while abroad. First, I wish I would have spent some extra time traveling around Europe after my program had ended, rather than rushing back home. If you can manage even a week or two of travel after the completion of your program, do it! And second, I got a bit caught up at times making sure I keep in almost daily contact with my friends back home. I was worried I would lose friends if we weren’t constantly in communication somehow. Never let anyone make you feel bad or that you need to apologize for choosing to study abroad when they did not. This is a once in a lifetime experience and take advantage of every second!

Was it difficult for you to adjust to life in the U.S. upon your return?

I felt like my friends and family back home could never truly understand how amazing my time was in Spain. Only the fellow students who I had gone abroad with could really comprehend. There was only so much a picture or even a blog post could explain. Plus, I know my friends got real tired of me constantly starting off stories with “That time I went to London for the weekend…And remember when I was in Africa for my birthday…”

I also got very easily bored of things I used to find exciting back home, and I was even reverse homesick for Spain the moment I stepped foot into Logan Airport. I found things wrong with American culture and the American lifestyle after living the relaxed ‘siesta’ type lifestyle of Spain. All of this lead me to become very active in promoting study abroad back in my university when I returned. I worked as a peer mentor to students who were getting ready to depart on their upcoming time abroad. I tried to harness this energy and turn it into something positive.

If you could go on another API program which one would you choose?

It would be a no brainer for me. I would absolutely love the chance to study abroad again. I have explored Europe pretty extensively (with the help of work and from studying abroad) so I would choose to study in a completely different continent. Buenos Aires has such a lively atmosphere and vibrant people. With such a modern architectural style mixed with the deep rooted history of a capital city, it would be hard to resist. I have heard people refer to it as the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere and I am never one to turn down Paris!