GoAbroad Interview

Lola Bernal - Resident Director Seville, Spain

Lola Bernal - Resident Director Seville, Spain

Contributing to API’s programs in Seville for over 10 years, Lola has an immense base of knowledge and valuable experience to share with students, which helps programs run smoothly in Seville. Lola ensures that programs in Seville provide students with a well-rounded experience of Spain and an impactful educational experience abroad.

Lola Bernal, Resident Director of API in Seville, Spain

What program do you lead for Academic Programs International and where?

I am the lead API Resident Director in Seville, Spain. I have been with API as a Resident Director for over 10 years.

With so many study abroad programs to choose from worldwide, students have a difficult time choosing. What makes your program stand out in your location?

As a destination, Seville is just the right size. It’s not as big or crowded as Madrid or Barcelona, but it’s also not so small that everybody knows you or that you cannot obtain services that you’d expect in a modern city. It is a city of great charm, with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, and featuring many great historical sites, ancient ruins, and captivating museums.

Seville has an international airport, which makes it easy to quickly travel around Spain, Morocco, or other European destinations. Furthermore, we have good weather throughout the year!

The API Seville program stands out in part thanks to our well-trained staff, our diversity of academic program offerings (we currently offer seven programs at two universities), and the plethora of cultural activities and events that we prepare for our students.

What do students like most about your program?

Students really seem to appreciate the individual attention and support that they receive from API (for example, the Directors at the API Seville Center are constantly are available for tutoring and advice).

Students also like the excursions and cultural activities we do organize and lead during the program. When planning the excursions we make an attempt to balance between the standard “must-see” visits such as Granada or Madrid, and areas with less tourism, such as our Extremadura hike or Aracena, a small town in the north of the mountainous province of Huelva. The students seem to really appreciate these varied experiences.

Do you think the location itself plays a critical role in participant’s satisfaction with your programs?

Seville is very popular among American students in general, but in my experience students have mainly chosen to participate in our program because of our good reputation as a study abroad program provider. Many students cite strong recommendations from friends or other students that participated on an API Seville program in the past as reason for choosing API.

What can participants expect when they arrive in Spain with API?

Our program begins with an on-site orientation and excursion; first for two nights in Madrid, and then continuing upon arrival in Seville. After our students have been introduced to Seville and have acclimated to their new host city, they often meet in small groups to explore the city with a map and a camera. Most of them have already heard about the beauty of the buildings or plazas, but they are all impressed the first day they walk in the streets and explore our great city on their own.

API offers students support before, during, and after each education abroad experience. How do you prep participants for the experience in your program?

Before students depart for Spain, they have ready and constant access to their API Program Manager for any questions or concerns, and they also have access to online orientation and pre-departure materials in order to help them prepare for their upcoming journey.

During our initial on-site orientation in Madrid, we hold two mandatory meetings to cover important information about safety, general tips, and cultural differences. We hold another mandatory meeting upon arrival in Seville to cover the details of the program, academic information, housing, excursions and cultural activities.

Then, during the semester we schedule voluntary meetings to talk about cultural events that take place in the city, and we incorporate cultural activities that help to shed more light on the local culture, such as bullfighting, Holy Week celebrations, the Feria de Abril, or relevant local/regional/national events that come up (like the recent abdication of the king).

What is a typical day like for participants in your program?

The students usually have classes in the morning, after which they go home to have lunch with their families. They often stop by the API Center to ask questions, get tutoring, or prepare for weekend plans. Then comes siesta time (a short rest), often followed by more classes or other methods of exploration (running/walking around town, shopping, homework, etc). Dinner is usually around 9pm, after which students typically either visit with their host families, call home, do homework, or hangout with their new friends.

Does your program offer cultural excursions? What other activities do you provide students that help them immerse in the local culture?

We offer many different cultural activities and excursions every semester. Some examples from a recent semester overnight, day, and/or weekend trips to places like Granada, Aracena, Grazalema, Extremadura, and Madrid in Spain, as well as international excursions to sites like Paris or London (which are included in the program price).

We also organize language exchanges with local students, take students to a classical music concerts, tile painting workshops, cooking lessons, “Sevillanas” dance lessons, and lead weekly guided visits in the city.

How do you help students deal with culture shock?

During orientation we reiterate to students the importance of bringing issues to the attention of the API Resident Directors, and not keeping them to themselves. The sooner we are able to help a student through a situation or understand some of the cultural differences, the easier the culture shock will be on the student. I have also found that the best way to help our students is to engage them through periodic, voluntary meetings to discuss any potential problems or concerns.

Students who are open to talking about the cultural differences are generally more willing to learn, while those who can’t express their problems verbally often get frustrated easily and find it more difficult to deal with the differences. We tend to have these types of conversations during excursions or on the bus to some activity, and it is always rewarding to see improvements in their learning curve and how fast they learn. The language acquisition comes at a slower pace but the cultural integration is faster in most cases.

What is the most important thing your participants take home from the program?

That diversity exists and the world is bigger that they expected… that there are people out there living lives in a different way, that neither better nor worse, but just different. I want them to know that their international education encompasses both classroom learning and everything they’ve learned (consciously or not) outside of the classroom. I want them to come away realizing how this study abroad experience will help them in every aspect of their life.