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Gap Year Abroad

20 posts categorized "Reilly Lerner"



Well my time has finally come to a close in Spain. I am back home after 260 wonderful days abroad. It's crazy to think that my life is changing yet again as I embark on my next adventure: college.

I am a strong believer that the choices we make as well as our actions shape our character as a human being. My gap year in Spain has given me the opportunity to make my own life decisions and has definitely changed me, even if that sounds completely cliché and gross. Throughout the nine months I spent in Spain I experienced some big changes. I won’t go into detail on all of them, that’s rather personal, but to make it simple: I lost some friends and I met some amazing people that I am proud to call my friends now. After returning home I have found that I am more confident, I am happy, and I have learned to overcome challenges put in my way.

One of the most rewarding things I took away from the year is my ability to speak Spanish. I am very proud of my accomplishment, and even miss the daily usage of the language now that I am back in the States.

Of course I missed home while I was away. I missed my family, the variety of food available in restaurants, being able to do my own laundry, even my Nalgene water bottle; but now I feel a little torn. I feel as though I have two homes and am already trying to figure out the next time I can go back.

Learning about other cultures and how to fit into situations you may not be completely comfortable with is an important life skill. In addition to studying in my language academy, travel in itself is its own kind of education that provides you with information you remember because it’s necessary or important to you, not because you’ll have a test on it later. As a hands-on learner, the opportunity to immerse myself in a new situation was just what I needed as an opportunity to grow. I feel prepared for the next change in my life.

I learned from my peers, from my teachers, from my host family, and a lot I figured out on my own. I am vey lucky to have had such an experience and hope to whoever reads this, that they consider taking this step and studying abroad. I’m a little biased but Sevilla is amazing.

Sevilla has a city emblem, "no8do".  The legend behind this symbol of the city is that the "8" is a spool of yarn which in Spanish is madeja. This would mean that the symbol reads "no madeja do" which sounds similar to "no me ha dejado" which in English through interpretation means "the city has not left me behind". This explains my emotions perfectly. I will always remember the people I met and the things I learned this year. Sevilla will never leave me. 



Feria de Abril

One of the most amazing things about staying in Sevilla past my program end date was the fact that I got to experience the wonder of the Feria de Abril. As states its name, the Feria takes place in April, two weeks after Semana Santa. This year the Feria was from April 36th-41st (what they say when it’s actually in May). Usually, though, the Feria takes place in the month of April during the CIEE program time frame.


When you walk under the portada de Feria and into the grounds it’s like you are traveling back in time. Women with big flowers in their hair wearing big beautiful flamenco dresses, horse-drawn carriages parading down the cobblestone streets. Sevillanas music coming from thecasetas or “little houses” where people eat, drink, and dance. I was awestruck.

I went to Feria almost every day that it was happening because I lived so close to where it happens in my neighborhood Los Remedios. The first day we watched the portada light up for the first time at midnight. Each year they construct a new and different entrance. This year's is based off of the antique water stands you can see throughout the city.We had watched the construction of this monumental entrance since early January and now we finally got to see its full effect.


Another day I went with my host family to their caseta. I dressed in full flamenco attire. My host sister and I danced Sevillanas, my host grandmother played castanets and we ate tortilla de patatas and fried calamares. Everyone looked so beautiful.



Walking home from school (yes I still had school) it was very funny to see the women all dressed up eating at bars or sitting on motorcycles. They looked very out of place outside of the world of Feria, but still somehow so very Spanish.


One of the days I went with my host mom and her friends to eat lunch in one of her friends’ casetas. We talked for hours and had many different tapas including jamón ibérico and queso. Thank goodness the caseta had air conditioning (quite a privilege) because otherwise I think I would have melted in my giant dress. Sevilla has become sweltering hot. Afterwards, I changed out of my now unnecessarily heavy dress into a short dress to go out with my camera and be a tourist. My friend and I went back inside to take pictures of all of the amazing decorations and people.




Feria lasts from lunchtime until 7 or 8am the next morning when people are stumbling home. It’s amazing. I embodied the Spanish culture and was out VERY late my nights at Feria. We went to Calle Infiero where there are park attractions like rollercoasters, Ferris wheels, and bumper cars. I felt like a child as I enjoyed the pure bliss of those stupid attractions.

The very last night of Feria ends with fireworks. I was sad to see such a wonderful week be over, but my love of fireworks was satisfied with a beautiful lightshow over the river Guadalquivir. 


Fox and the Hound

Time has moved too quickly and now it is time to say goodbye to those I shared my gap year journey with. Some I have spent the entire year with:

  Babes Cieegap

And others, just this semester 


But I love them all the same. Together we have made joyous memories, had countless adventures, and have made our fair share of inside jokes. Sitting together last night trying to muster up the strength to say goodbye, we laughed, cried, and hugged a lot. My gap year experience would not have been the same without these amazing people. When thinking about goodbyes I remember one of my favorite Disney movies, the Fox and the Hound. The story follows a fox that is taken in by the unexpected friend, a human, who must then leave him behind for his better good. My gap year friends are the unexpected shelter. We made a mix-match group who somehow fell in love with one another.

When the woman leaves the fox behind the song goes:


Goodbye may seem forever

Farewell is like the end

But in my heart is a memory

And there you'll always be


 Living in a foreign country is tough and it was extremely helpful to have these people going through the same ups and downs there alongside me to talk to, complain to, and laugh with. And now they are going home. These wonderful, crazy, funny, loud, beautiful people will forever hold a place in my heart as my family in Sevilla. 


Days Like This

This past weekend CIEE took us on a trip to visit Spain's neighbor, Portugal. What started off as a rainy weekend turned out to reveal some lovely views of Lisbon and a town nearby named Sintra. It was amazing to spend the time with my friends from CIEE and I will truly miss our times together.

You light the spark in my bonfire heart. 


"And I don't get waves of missing you anymore; they're more like tsunami tides"

Missing home today. It's really quite difficult to be away from your family for such a long time. I sure will be prepared to go off to college! I feel like living far away from the states and from my own culture had made me appreciate my life back home so much more. I've found little pieces of America in Sevilla, such as the "Taste of America" store where you can buy things like peanut butter and goldfish. I've also come to realize that I will go through the same thing when I go back to the States and have to leave my Sevillan life behind.

I'll miss the Spanish siesta. Yes. That's a thing. It's a bit annoying that every store closes down midday... but let me tell you, that's the best nap you'll ever have.

I'll miss the sense of freedom I have walking around the city with my friends or going to the park to sit in the Spanish sun a whole afternoon.

I'll miss some of the food. Salmorejo and gazpacho especially. They're both variations of the same thing: cold tomato soup... And no one makes it like my host parents can.

I'll miss the amounts of Spanish. I can try all I want to to speak Spanish in the States but it's not the same as having to do every little thing like order a coffee in the language.

I'll miss my host family. Maybe even the fights about bedtime and bushing teeth that my host sister has. The early morning "hola, adios" as I rush off to school in the morning with my banana in hand. The mealtime conversations.

As much as I miss home right now in this moment, I have to remember to enjoy each day. I'll be home in just two-three blinks, daddy.



Summer's coming back to Spain real quick!


my city

Sevilla is, how they call, a “pañuelo de papel”. You really can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. For me, this was a big change from my big city of Atlanta, to this “big small town” or “pueblo grande” of Sevilla. The small town feel is probably one of my favorite things so far about this city.

Something I was never good at at home was getting out of my house and enjoying the city. Here in Sevilla I feel a bit of a time pressure as my months slowly trickle away. I have tried very hard to get out and about, which has really made Sevilla my own. I’ve made friends with the people who are also studying abroad with CIEE, and we are a pretty big group. Whenever we go out, we cause quite a scene. About 20 American students fitting around a restaurant table or squeezing into a local bar causes a bit of a ruckus (and then of course we all want to pay separately which creates a whole other commotion). We’ve found a bit of a niche in a bar called “Phoenix Pub” which is close to our houses and can accommodate our large numbers.


This is the CIEE group from the Spring Semester!

I’ve also signed up through CIEE or through the school we go to, CLIC, for an “intercombio.” This is a language exchange opportunity where you meet a Spaniard who is practicing their English, and they help you with your Spanish, too! My intercombio has become a close friend and exchanging languages doesn’t even feel like work! We talk about books, politics, our siblings, our dogs…. Whatever suits our fancy!


Gonzalo and I with our friend Seil when we went out for tapas in Plaza Alfalfa

My host sister goes to a school right next to my house, so I asked my host mom if she could talk to the English professor there and maybe I could meet some of the girls my age. Some confusing technological issues later and I was talking with two girls who wanted to hang out with me! I went out with them one Friday night and met more people than I can remember. As I as walking home from school the other day, I ran into three of them who I recognized from that night, and as custom says, I stopped and kissed them on the cheeks and we had a small chat before I headed home for lunch.

Some of the girls that I met and I

Another activity that I have added to my day is a daily visit to the gym. The instructors there are so sweet. The instructor that I go to mostly is Ana. She has a very strong accent from living in the south of Spain. It’s called an “Andaluz” accent. I love it. One time she said to us “vamoa eh-tira” which had little to no significance to me until I thought a little. She said “vamos a estirar” which means ‘we’re going to stretch’. The other girls, Silvia and Virginia, are also sweet and helpful. It’s so nice to go there where they care about you and know your name (and mine is a rather difficult one).

Ana, my friend Elizabeth, and I at the gym for Valentine’s! (She wanted us to look festive)


I feel like I have worked really hard to become a part of the city of Sevilla. I am integrating into the culture and the community. When I see someone I know on the street I instinctively greet them, and as I spend more and more time here, I meet more people and stop even more! I feel like this city is mine now, a part of me, and I’m so lucky to have such a great home.



my city




The hardest part of learning a new language is gaining the confidence to move without thinking; being able to respond without first finding the exact translation in your head, to just speak without caring if you make a mistake. I knew this would be a challenge for me. I'm a little bit of a perfectionist, meaning I really wanted my sentences to be perfect before I spoke out loud. This only hindered my ability to communicate because I spent more time thinking about what I was to say than having a conversation. I was embarrassed when someone corrected my grammar, and therefore I did not speak as much as I could have.

By the time the new semester began, I had lost a bit of that "shame" of making a mistake and I began to speak with ease. I made plenty of mistakes, including simple ones, but I slowly gained the strength to receive corrections and not take them as criticism. I spoke with Spanish friends who gave me helpful nudges in the right direction, and I gained confidence to speak to anyone without thinking twice.

 Now, Spanish is my reflex. There are certain words that even when I speak in English, I say in Spanish. I sometimes have to stop in the middle of a story and think of how to say a phrase in English! "Entonces", "también", "tengo ganas", "pues", and "vale" make their way into my speech. I'm still far far far from perfect at speaking Spanish, but it's nice to feel the language seeping into my normal routine. I'm excited to see where the next few months take me. 



Halfway: in the middle between two points; not total or complete.

Today marks my halfway point in my year in Spain. I’m staying a little bit longer than when the program ends, mainly because I will take a fluency test in late May to measure my progress in Spanish. The only time I have been outside of Spain was our trip to Morocco, which means I literally have been in Spain for one hundred and twenty eight days. Yea, that’s a long time.

That sounded sarcastic, but I really am happy that I stayed in Spain throughout the winter break. Yes I miss my family, but I know it would be terribly hard to leave them again if I only got to spend a short time with them. Also, I feel like my Spanish improved over the five weeks of break. I spent time with Spanish families, talked to many different relatives, and learned a lot about Spanish culture during the Christmas season as well!

For Christmas Eve dinner, “noche buena,” I had a very fancy meal… of seafood. Shrimp, crab legs, squid… you name it, it was on the table. This is different from the traditional turkey or ham in the states, but even my family does something different. We have all of the family over and eat chili! I really missed chili, but the crab legs were delicious.

The next holiday I experienced was New Years Eve. Spain has this crazy tradition of eating a grape a second for the first twelve seconds of the new year. Because why not?! I succeeded in eating all twelve without making a total mess!

The final holiday of “Navidades” is of course, Three Kings Day. I knew about the tradition, but I did not know there would be a parade! The Calbagata is where the three kings arrive to Sevilla on floats and tons of children and adults alike throw candies to the crowd. It is a mess. There are children everywhere and candy fills the streets. What is not caught of the candy is stomped on by the crowd, which leaves a coat of sugar on the street and on your shoes!  

 This is a photo of our shoes left by the door and the gifts that the "Kings" brought my family and me!


And THEN: I turned 19! A lot happened over the break! This is the mini surprise party my host family threw me! My host sister is such a gem with the spoon in her mouth:



After the holidays (and my birthday) were over, I was really ready for the new semester to start. After having practiced SO MUCH Spanish over break, I was excited to see where I was in class. Today we started our classes again at the language school here called CLIC. I am officially up two levels in Spanish from when I first arrived! I’m quite impressed with my improvement, and very excited that I still have a whole half of my time ahead of me to get even better. My host family has told me that I’m starting to get a Sevillan accent and I’ll leave a true Sevillan.

The halfway point is happy and sad for me. I’m ready to go home and if I could go home tomorrow I probably would, but I know I shouldn’t. My time here is not done and I know there is still so much I can learn and grow. I am looking at this semester with an open mind and heart. I’m ready to see what else Sevilla can surprise me with.


(like this awesome view.....) 


Feliz 3 Kings Day

I just looked at a calendar and somehow it’s already the middle of December! Christmastime in Sevilla is beautiful. There isn’t snow here, but the city does whatever it can to make downtown filled with holiday cheer. There are lights lining the streets and illuminating the orange trees. They plant Christmas flowers, poinsettias, wherever they can, there are nativity scenes set up throughout the streets, and I've learned that Sevilla will stay this way until the Christmas season is over- January 6th. 


Christmas traditions are a little different here than in the States. “Papa Noel” (Santa) is not widely recognized. Instead, children wait patiently for January 6th, Three Kings Day or "Epiphany". In the New Testament it is stated that three scholars from distant lands came and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The tradition in Spain is that on the night of January 5th, children leave their shoes by the door for the “tres Reyes Magos” (three wise men) to leave them little treats such as candies and other gifts. "Melchor", "Gaspar" and "Baltasar" are well known by all Spanish children and each child usually has a favorite, but even I didn't know these names! My host sister said last night to her five-year-old cousin; “you have to eat well because the Reyes Magos don’t bring gifts to picky eaters.”  Needless to say, he finished his dinner quite quickly.


This is a picture of one of the Reyes Magos set up like Santa would be in a mall in the States.


Another tradition is that instead of a Christmas tree, Spanish families build nativity scenes for the holiday season. They call it “Belén” (Bethlehem) and with good reason. They don’t just have the Virgin Mary, Joseph, an angel and Jesus; they build the whole town of Bethlehem!

 My family and I went to the countryside to pick plants and moss to serve as the ground and trees in our Belén. They put a lot of pride in their collection, and each year a family’s Belén grows and grows. I’m very interested to go and see my host sister’s grandmother’s Belén.


This is a portion of my family’s Belén this year.

It is so interesting to be part of new traditions, although I’m still terribly confused when to give my host family their gifts!! Three Kings Day or Christmas?? 



My host sister and I have a pretty big age difference, almost ten years, which is rather hard because my younger sister in the US is only three years difference. My sister and I would always watch TV together, but I didn’t really know how to play with or treat a sister of Mariu’s age. One day, though, she told me she hadn’t seen many of my favorite childhood movies, so I knew then that I had to show them to her. At first I thought it would be too hard to watch a movie in Spanish, but after watching the familiar stories of Mary Poppins and The Princess Bride, I wondered why I hadn’t done this from the beginning!

I love watching the classic Disney movies in English to the point that I almost know them by heart; so watching in Spanish is quite a learning experience. I do get a little sad that I can’t sing the songs, but otherwise I understand just fine! 


Mariu and me snuggling up to watch a movie on my computer.


 It is very interesting to hear famous lines in another language such as “Hola. Me llamo Iñigo Montoya. Tu mataste a mi padre. Prepárate a morir” (guess which movie).

Because of the confidence I gained watching movies with Mariu, I decided to go with my friends to see the lastest “Hunger Games” movie: “Los Juegos del Habre: En Llamas.” It was awesome! I understood everything that was going on and even heard some colloquial phrases that I had learned in class!


Movies have become a bonding experience for my little sister and me, kind of like television was for my real sister and me. A little sister is a little sister, Spain or the US. 

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