The days between April 16th and April 22nd were surprisingly the best and worst days of studying abroad.
From paddleboarding along el Río Guadalquivir with friends, a sunset trip to Plaza de España, chatting with my host parents about their strangest experiences hosting American students, to eating my favorite tapas for the last time, I was really reflecting on my time in Spain. I struggle to find the words how grateful I am for all the amazing things I did, learned, saw, and experienced in general.
Something I struggle to talk about now was how challenged I was when I first arrived in Spain. I remember the first day so vividly: how I unpacked my suitcase then cried in my room due to stress and anxiety about not understanding the language and maybe “biting off more than I could chew.” Likewise, I remember the first day of classes when I thought I needed to drop out of the program because I was struggling to understand. I called my older sister Bridget—the only person I trusted to talk some sense into me—and she handed me the best advice my nervous-wreck-self needed to hear. She said: “Danielle. Stop being dramatic. It’s the first day.”
I would be lying if I said there were no other times after that in which I felt overcome by self-doubt and lack of confidence. What I kept reminding myself was that I had already done what a lot of people cannot: fly to a foreign country by myself with the ambition to learn a second language by taking classes only in Spanish and living with non-English speakers. After all, international travel alone halts people when it comes to studying abroad. However, and I say this with confidence, the overwhelming feelings are very natural for anyone moving to a different country for a semester abroad. All the other students in my program also had moments very similar to mine.
But this is the part that gets interesting: people always talk about the “going” to a different country, but no one really talks about the “leaving” to go home to the United States. I cried every single day, even multiple times a day, about leaving Seville.
The last week called for various plans with my friends, as I mentioned before. Though I had five finals to take between Wednesday and Friday, my roommate and I made sure to hit all our favorite bocadillo (sandwich) counters and have a couple more scenic walks to our favorite park and places in the city to get a couple more photos. We met up with our friends to study for our finals but took a break at a tapas bar to eat juevos rotos (broken eggs) and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes). We got a group of people living in our part of the city to watch the sunset behind the Torre del Oro from the bridge across the river. All the while, we talked about things that excited us about going home, such as reuniting with our families and pets, making trips to visit our home universities to see friends, and eating hot food (fun fact: a lot of Spanish dishes are served warm, not hot).
After all these excursions, I would go home and say to my roommate Panayiota, “I cannot believe we’re leaving,” to which she would reply, “Danielle, I can’t talk about it.” So as we sat on the patio and studied for our final exams, we would resist eye contact knowing that both of us had tears in our eyes, but we could not cry because we would lose all productivity and just sob about leaving. So as hard as it was, we studied, took our finals, and now patiently await those grades.
On Friday April 21st, our program hosted an event with Flamenco dancing, tapas and an award ceremony. Finals were over, and we were all so happy to have the stress lifted off our shoulders. We were singing, dancing, taking photos, handing out cards to our teachers and making plans to go out together one last night. And obviously, the whole time we were speaking Spanish.
One of my favorite teachers actually taught the class that was the hardest for me. I ended up getting the best hug from her that day, while she told me that she had seen me grow and become a better Spanish speaker during my three months there. She said she was proud of me, and there came the water works.
I am so grateful for everything I did while in Seville. I learned so much, but my favorite and easily most valuable lesson was actually something not in school. My host mom Ana’s quote to me: “Las experiencias son mas importantes que las notas,” meaning the experiences are more important than the grades. She would tell me this whenever I got stressed about an assignment. She would remind me that being in Spain alone was a learning experience and that I was learning so much more just living there than one single class could teach me.
Just a week after leaving, I already miss so much. My host parents, their apartment, their grandkids, their food, my teachers and friends, the Spanish nightlife, the historic nature of the city, speaking Spanish all the time (this one surprised me, too), and so much more. Never again will I look at life the same way, knowing how much more culture there is in the world for me to hopefully explore and experience. Studying abroad showed me that a vacation to a foreign country simply is not enough. I am already looking to live in other places at some point because my time abroad was just the first step to immersing myself in all the world has to offer.