An honors international business/marketing student in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Charlotte Bowsher spent last spring studying international marketing and Spanish in Seville, Spain. Be sure to check out Charlotte’s coverage of Semana Santa in her blog.
This past spring semester I studied abroad in Seville, Spain. It is a big city with a small town feel and brings its own unique culture to Andalusia (southern Spain). While there, I stayed with a host family in a downtown apartment, took 12 hours of class through ISA – Sevilla, and got to travel to other places in Spain, Europe, and even Africa.
To begin, I highly recommend ISA – Sevilla. The program is very organized from the start: they place you in a Sevillano home with another American roommate also in the program, they place you in classes according to skill level and major, and they organize educational excursions throughout the program. Not to mention the staff are all friendly, outgoing, bilingual (most are multi-lingual), helpful, and experts of their city. My classes were actually in the ISA building as well, which made it easy to talk to and get to know the staff on a personal level. The one flaw they had was helping American students meet Spanish students or other Spanish friends. Their intercambio program is outdated and they need a fresh, younger batch of Spaniards to pair American students with.
Classes in Seville were not challenging in the least. I did learn a lot in my International Marketing class and my European Union class, but my Spanish classes were sub-par and they were in the highest grammar level. I’ve taken harder Spanish classes at U of A. The one thing that I liked about those classes though was that the teachers only spoke Spanish. In fact, they didn’t even know enough English to translate our English words into Spanish equivalents. If we were unfamiliar with a Spanish word, they described it in Spanish. This really forced us to constantly think in Spanish, which was necessary since my host family did not know English and neither did your average Sevillano on the street. I would say that my classes kept me on track with my educational and professional goals, but not all of them made a direct contribution.
I learned the most and believe I accomplished my professional goal of fluency outside of class. I had to talk to my host family in Spanish every day. I had to talk to waiters and shopkeepers and restaurant workers in Spanish nearly every day. I had to speak Spanish out at the tapas bars and at the grocery store. I was told more than once that I was fluent by a native Spanish-speaker even though the word “fluent” is a little scary. I can, however, confidently say I am conversational, but I need to keep practicing it in order to maintain that and to improve. The most interesting thing I learned had to do with my second professional goal of living and working in a Spanish-speaking country someday. I think living in Spain for a semester made me realize just how good we have it in America. I’ll never again take for granted the little things like free water, cheap(er) gas, Walmart, and my independence as a 21-year old. See, 21-year olds in Spain still live with their families; it’s a cultural norm. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Spanish culture and loved living a dual-life for an entire semester, but I honestly don’t think I could ever live and work in a Spanish-speaking country for an extended period of time. I’m glad I came to this conclusion before I accept a job in Costa Rica, not knowing what’s in store for me!
Finally, the trips. As I stated earlier, my program prearranged trips to Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. I went on all of these and I would say the common denominator would be the cathedrals. We visited all of them and the ones in Spain were almost all Muslim mosques that had been converted to cathedrals after Spain was conquered by Ferdinand III. I personally chose to visit Paris, because of my love for art and Louis XIV; Rome, also because of my love for art and for my religion Catholicism; and Morocco, because I’ve always wanted to go to Africa and experience a non-Christian culture, and learn a little bit more about the unique Muslim/Spanish relationship. I would say Rome was my favorite place out of everywhere I went. Learning about the ancient Roman history almost made me want to switch from a marketing major to a history major…but not quite.
I’ve known many other people who studied in other cities in Spain, cities that I’ve visited, and Sevilla is the best place to go if you want the perfect combination of a rich Spanish culture combined with a major metropolitan city.