Palabras de España by Monica Zevenbergen

Tapas. Flamenco. Playa. Siesta. These are just a few of the many words that were on my mind as I prepared for my semester abroad in Spain. In the fall of 2016, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Semester in Spain’s study abroad program in Sevilla, España. The experiences I had have shaped who I am to this day and have opened up several other exciting opportunities. I went to Spain with expectations of improving my Spanish, trying new foods, and visiting beautiful new places. However, there are many things I did not anticipate at all. Perderse, lágrimas, amor. Though unexpected, these words came to hold a place during my experience as well. So the question is, was it all worth it?

Perderse: To Get Lost

Immediately when I arrived in Sevilla, I noticed the beautiful architecture. Cathedrals, royal palaces, bridges, hotels, and even apartment buildings bring the city to life with their juxtaposed architecture styles, and thanks to the incredible professor Carmen, I learned about their history and meaning. You could spend hours getting lost in the narrow, winding streets (check out La Judería), and I did many, many times!

Although difficult at first, every experience of getting lost, asking for directions, and trying to understand the Andalusian accent (iykyk) became a little easier. I gained confidence not only in the language, but in myself. “Travel far enough, you meet yourself” (David Mitchell). The growth I experienced that semester in my faith, values, and curiosity is unparalleled to every other era of my life.

Travel tip: Download a map of the city on GoogleMaps or MapsMe before you go so even if you don’t have wifi or data, you can find your way back home!

Lágrimas: Tears

My lovely roommate Anna came up with a rule for us while in Spain: You must always speak in Spanish, unless you are crying. Every walk from our charming neighborhood of Triana to school, every outing eating tapas with friends, and every chat during the beloved siesta, we taught each other new words and kindly corrected grammatical errors. We grew not only in humility and perseverance, but also in our Spanish. Thankfully, most of our tears were from laughter with our señora, who makes the best lentejas. ¡Te echo de menos, Carmen!

         Travel tip: Count how many heladerías you pass on your way to school while in Spain and try to visit all of them before you leave. My favorite by far was Rayas.

Amor: Love

I fell in love with Sevilla the moment I arrived. The city is beautiful day and night, and there’s always something to do. I took a cooking class from Ana Bello and learned to make tortilla de patatas, tried my artistic skills while painting abanicos, and even learned a bit of Sevillanas, a style of flamenco dance. The connections I made with the people in Spain were unforgettable, and I still talk to some of those friends today. My flamenco partner Marcus, who was also a student with SIS, became my lifelong best friend and husband (even though before leaving, I was very intent on NOT looking for a relationship while abroad!)

So, Was It Worth It?

My semester in Spain left an impact far deeper than I ever could have imagined. I wanted to share what I learned, so when I came back, I began to tutor other students at my university in Spanish. After graduating, I became a Spanish immersion teacher. I’ve shared my love for language-learning and travel with my students in the hopes of inspiring others, encouraging language learning, and opening mindsets to other cultures. Six years after studying abroad, my husband and I decided to move back to Spain to spend a year as auxiliares de conversación with ConversaSpain where we enjoyed a second opportunity to immerse ourselves in other cultures, improve our Spanish, meet new people, and travel the world. All of these things are a result of studying abroad. So, was studying abroad worth it? ¡Sí!


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