Honors economics and Spanish major Kelsey Ferguson spent the spring semester abroad in Seville, Spain where she studied economics, art, architecture, and of course, Spanish. Kelsey’s study abroad grant gave her the means to visit the Canary Islands, Ibiza, Morocco, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland, as well as her host country of Spain, where she learned the immeasurable value of tapas, siestas, and her own two feet.
This semester, I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in Seville, Spain to pursue my interests in business, culture, Spanish and the arts. I left Arkansas with hopes of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it was so much more. The difference between anticipating challenges and actually overcoming them is like the difference between signing up for a marathon and actually completing the race; there is no better feeling than the knowledge that I can do anything I set my mind to. And honestly, this experience was more than a social or scholarly challenge. It was a second wind for my mental health. Coming into my sophomore year, I was still undecided on my educational and career path. And while my time in Europe confirmed a couple of ideas that I was already considering, it gave me new skills that I can use as a hobby and stress outlet. Most importantly, I learned how to manage my interests to make the best out of my studies and career. Study abroad has taught me discipline, adaptability, and a new language; it has also restored balance, creativity and my perception of life.
Class Life: The Clubhouse
My classes this semester were structured in a different way than those here at the University of Arkansas, and as anticipated, I enjoyed the stress break. Class size was never more than 25, almost all work was done in-class and casual discussion was promoted and required. My classmates and I named our university “The Clubhouse,” because often our teachers would hold class on the beautiful rooftop terrace. I took two Spanish classes taught entirely in Spanish, an economics class in English and a Spanish art and architecture class in English. Although my Spanish classes were important to language acquisition, my Spanish art and architecture class opened my eyes to the depth of the fine arts like never before. Instead of Googling pictures of Las Meninas by Velásquez, the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona and the great Alhambra of Granada, I visited almost every museum and site from my studies. The first-hand look at my subject matter not only helped me learn better, but also experience the greatness that is engrained in Spanish artistic culture.
Daily Life: Yes, It Was Different
Daily life in Seville, Spain is different from daily life in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to say the least. Although only one-degree latitude separates these two cities, everything from the sleeping and eating schedule to the primary mode of transportation is half a world apart. These fundamental differences in everyday life kept my thrill for the semester, but they also forced me to adapt and accept many different perspectives for the way we can eat, drink and live our lives. For example, the concept of walking has never been so integral in my life. Every day, I walked thirty minutes to school, thirty minutes back for lunch, thirty minutes back to school, and finally, thirty minutes back home at the end of the day. If someone had suggested this to me in Arkansas, I probably would have laughed as I hopped inside my Ford Mustang. In Europe, I had no car. I had my legs, though. I truly began to understand the Spanish infinitive irse: to take oneself (somewhere). This, in turn, revealed to me the strategy behind the Spanish siesta and eating dynamic; instead of the American series of 100-meter dashes throughout the day, the Spanish consider life a marathon (which, when I think about it, isn’t it?).
Since I lived with a host family, I did not have to pick up food from any corner grocery stores… although I did visit the local freiduría with my host family once while they bought the night’s selection. There is no Walmart or Target in Spain; if I wanted food, I went to the grocery store. If I wanted cleaning supplies, I went to the cleaning supply store. And when I needed medicine, I could find a pharmacy on almost every street corner; all I had to do was look for a large, blinking green cross on the horizon. My living quarters were quaint; a bed, desk, and dresser filled the tiny space. In true Spanish style, my mealtimes revolved around siesta: 8, 10:30, 3, 6, 10. Long gone were the days of the 6:30 massive dinner and resulting food coma. When going out for a night on the town, I left my apartment around 11:30 at night… and came home at dawn. Typical Spanish dishes were a large part of my diet, so I became very familiar with tortilla (actually not a tortilla at all), tapas and jamón. While I appreciate the Spanish cuisine, I have to admit that the sodium content was not flattering for the hands, feet or thighs.
Culture Shock: More Like a Bee Sting
I know it’s only normal to experience some kind of culture shock when first arriving to a new country. With everything Spain has to offer, however, it wasn’t long before I felt like a true Sevillano. In only four months, my Spanish improved from barely functional to almost fluent, and I give credit to the southern hospitality and tolerance of the Sevillan people for their constant praise and motivation to continue to learn the language. I found that while learning another language, there are stages that the brain passes through on the way to fluency. At first, I: took in the Spanish -> processed it in English -> translated my answer into Spanish -> spit out words in Spanish. By the end of the semester, this had changed to: take in the Spanish -> process it in Spanish -> formulate answer in Spanish -> spit out words in Spanish. Somewhere in the middle of this transition, I even found myself less able to type and speak in English to my friends and family back home. The morning I woke up from my first Spanish dream was the morning I sat my host mother down for a serious talk about her life, perspectives, advice and outlook for me; this was also one of the happiest days of my life.
Outside the Classroom: Real World Perspectives
Yes, I did learn in the classroom. Yes, I deserve my transfer credit. No, I did not learn more in the classroom than I did outside of it. My experiences living in Europe were so new and different that they actually connected me back to my life in Fayetteville more than I could imagine. I felt the same satisfaction from navigating the Paris Metro (I do NOT know a single phrase of French) as I do when I get an “A” on a test in macroeconomics. I could go on about specific stories, but I’ll just highlight some standard knowledge I gained and improved upon while living abroad. Basically, I:
- Expanded my comfort zone
- Strengthened my will to persevere
- Gained tolerance
- Re-prioritized my values
- Took advantage of my resources
- Updated my professional outlook
- Met incredible people
During my stay in Europe, I traveled to seven countries in addition to Spain. In each of these countries, I was met by a population, geography, climate and culture that was different than that of Spain or the United States. But more importantly, I began to learn and truly understand the dynamic of my own country and people. While I have always “known” the culture of the U.S., I have never truly understood why we operate the way we do. Now, because of my absence, I recognize the history and foundation behind our current nation…and myself. I have evolved in my viewpoints, and even discarded some; with others, I have only strengthened my belief in what is right.
Continent Hopper: Flights, Trains and Backpacking
As I said above, I traveled quite a bit this semester in and around Spain. All in all, I visited eight cities in Spain, the Gran Canary Islands, Ibiza, Morocco, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland (and I still barely scratched the surface.) The hardest part was not choosing where to go, but where to leave out; with my classmates hopping countries and continents like me, it was not unusual to hear the question asked on Thursday, “So what country are you visiting this weekend?” In each place I visited, I experienced something new, so instead of writing about it I have attached at least one picture from each place I traveled to.
After my program ended, I brought my mother to Spain to visit and experience my life. She loved it of course. When she left, I brought my best friend over – and we backpacked. Cliché, isn’t it? We traveled this route: Madrid -> Paris -> Barcelona -> Ibiza -> Sevilla -> Madrid -> United States. We only took one backpack and small carry-on each, but by then I had perfected the art of packing light.
My Study Abroad Program: Do I Recommend It?
YES. International Studies Abroad is a highly accredited company, and after completing a semester with them I can honestly recommend it to anyone. In fact, I was so impressed by ISA that I now work for them! The program is a great start to my professional career and although I probably will not work for them forever, the experience I am going to get through my internship will be extremely beneficial to me in the future.
Missing Home, Missing Spain: A Two-Sided Story
On my flight back home to Arkansas, all I could think about was sleep. But after that, I realized how excited I was to see the friends and family that I had been away from for so long. On my first day back, I immediately visited these people and was met with tears of joy. And although I will always consider Sevilla my second home, it’s good to be back. I will miss the tapas. I will miss siesta. I will miss my host family, teachers and friends that I made while abroad. More than anything, I will miss the lifestyle that I enjoyed while living in Europe. When I begin to feel nostalgic, however, I am comforted by one fact: I have the opportunity to share my personal growth with those around me and serve as I was always called to do. I now have a healthy outlet for my desires, a sense of direction like never before and the positive outlook that had gone missing for a brief period before my departure. I am forever thankful to the Fellowship and Honors College for the opportunity to discover myself and utilize my talents. Someday, I will leave a legacy to this community that has so strongly supported me.