I studied abroad for the first time as a sophomore in high school with the American Field Service (AFS). I lived in a small town in Southern Italy with a host family, and this really opened my eyes to international education. I made friends from all over the world through AFS, and still consider my Italian host family to be my second family today, six years later. After this experience, I knew I wanted to study abroad again in college, this time for longer than a semester.
Why did you choose API?
I chose API because of their affordability, course offerings, and the many included excursions. Throughout my program, I went to Madrid, Toledo, El Escorial, Cordoba, Aracena, Extremadura, Granada, Lisbon, and Paris with API. We also did some local excursions in Seville, and many of the things we did on trips in Spain were things I wouldn't have done on my own, like the 13 mile hike to the Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery in Extremadura, and making bread in Aracena. This was my favorite thing about my program, and I'm so glad that I made the decision to study abroad with API.
What was your favorite part about Spain?
I love the warmth and vibrancy of Spanish culture, and also the language, which is why I chose to study in Spain in the first place. Seville in particular has many wonderful traditions, like La Feria, that I was able to experience during my academic year abroad. My favorite thing about Seville was Maria Luisa Park, this beautiful park that I walked through every day on my way to school from my host family's home. The park was the site of the Exposicion Ibero-Americano, and contains the Plaza de Espana, one of Seville's most beautiful landmarks.
What made your experience abroad unique?
Choosing to study abroad for the academic year is certainly rare, and I was one of only 3 students in my program who stayed for the full academic year. Living in Spain for the full duration of my junior year of college really helped me immerse myself in the local culture, and learn more about Spain.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff in Seville was incredible. I learned so much from them about the city and about Spain as a whole, and being able to go on excursions with the API staff made the excursions that much more fun. One instance in particular where the on-site staff was very helpful was when I had a package stuck in customs in Madrid for over a month, and I wasn't able to fill out a lot of the forms without their help. I would never have gotten my box back from customs without them!
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
The biggest downside to studying abroad for the year is that most of the incredible friends you make in your program will leave after the first semester. For me, this was the most difficult time of my experience - the transition between fall and spring semesters. I had a difficult time making good friends in the program my second semester, simply because I was in a very different place in my time abroad then they were. In some ways, I learned the most about myself in my second semester - about being independent, and enjoying my own company, as well as the confidence you can gain from traveling and experiencing challenges on your own. If I could do it again, I think I would have chosen to study in two different cities in Spain, one each semester. That way, I also would have been able to experience living in two different Spanish cities.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
I would wake up in the morning to breakfast laid out on the kitchen counter by my host mom, usually fruit, cereal, and hard boiled eggs. I would walk the 15 minutes to school through the beautiful Maria Luisa park, and after my first class, I would return home by bike for lunch. Seville has an awesome public bike system, and it was a great way to get around the city, but a bit challenging to find spaces to return the bikes at the university in the morning, so I tended to walk to school and bike home. My host mom would have lunch ready for me at home, and then I would return to school for my afternoon classes. We didn't eat dinner until around 8:30 most nights, so then I would have time after school to work on homework, get a coffee with friends, or explore the city before returning home for dinner. We had school only Monday through Thursday, and most of my weekends were filled with either API excursions or personal travel, so I enjoyed to spend my meals at home during the week with my host mom, to improve my Spanish skills!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I loved going to the park! Living in a bigger city with little green space was an adjustment after two years of college in Washington state, so I loved to pass my time reading or people watching in the park.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I lived in a host family with a host mom, host grandmother, and host uncle, as well as one other American student from my program. My favorite part of my homestay was my host mom, and getting to have long conversations with her over meals. I learned a lot about Seville and Spain from her, and also got to try so much good food!
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
That you're about to have one of the best experiences of college with API! I think the biggest challenge many people encountered was the difficulty in finding a balance between time spent in Seville and time spent traveling, so I think it's important to think about what your priorities and goals are for your study abroad experience, regardless of what your friends or family thinks you should be doing in your spare time! For me, spending my weekdays with my host family and in Seville and weekends traveling or on excursion with API was the best of both worlds. I had Spanish immersion during the week, and was able to visit so many incredible places on the weekends. For someone else, that maybe isn't what they want out of their time abroad. I think that reflecting on what it is you want to get out of your experience before you leave is a great way to prepare for your time abroad! Also, Seville was much warmer than I anticipated. Leave your sweaters at home!
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
Studying abroad for the second time really reignited my passion for international education. I am currently participating in API's Global Leadership Academy to integrate international education into my final year at Western. I hope to pursue a career in the field following graduation!
Would you recommend API to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend API to others. I could not have asked for a better balance of support and independence in a program provider, and the excursions were one of the best parts of my experience in Spain.
Leah is from Phoenix, Arizona originally, but now lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she attends Western Washington University and studies Linguistics, Spanish, and TESOL. She studied abroad in Spain with API for my junior year in college. While studying in Spain, I visited Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, England, the Netherlands, and Ireland. Leah plans to pursue a career in the field of international education following graduation.