Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Gap Year Abroad

13 posts categorized "Stephanie Denoyer"



If I told you I went to Great Britain and Morocco in the same weekend, you’d probably think I’m lying. But actually it’s more plausible than it seems, because the British-owned Gibraltar, the southernmost town of the Iberian Peninsula, shares its northern border with Spain and is separated by only a short ferry ride from Africa. Friday morning, five other friends and I hopped a bus with other travelers to make the journey to the other side of the Mediterranean.

In Gibraltar, we had a couple hours to kill, so we decided to ascend the Rock of Gibraltar in a cable car to see the view of the city, sea, and tip of Africa. What waited for us at the top were hundreds of wild monkeys, much more nonchalant about seeing us than we were about seeing them. I had the worry in the back of my mind that a monkey was going to come along and rip my backpack full of snacks from my body (which was a legit warning on one of the signs), but pictures were obviously more important so many followed. Some of my more brave friends let the baby monkeys climb on their arms, but the sharp teeth one bared at me early on was enough to keep me safely behind the lens of my camera. When we’d visited each post at the human-oriented outlook, we walked up some stairs to what seemed to be ruins, now inhabited by more monkeys. The view from the top (when not blocked by a furry creature) was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in a while.

The town of Gibraltar itself was cute with pubs and shops and English-speakers, but obviously very touristy and seemed to be more of a transition point than a local-dominated site. We then took the bus about half an hour away to the water port where we departed in a large plane-like ferry across the strait to Ceuta, a Spanish territory in the north of Africa. Our first impression of Morocco was an imposing darkness that even the few dull street lamps along the roadway didn’t seem to cut through. We arrived at our hotel with enough time to settle into our rooms before we were due downstairs for dinner. The first night we watched some funny American Arabic-dubbed television before heading to bed relatively early for the busy day ahead.

In the morning, breakfast was served and bags were packed for the bus ride that took us two hours south to the antique town, Chefchaouen. In the old quarter of town, all the building seemed to be dipped halfway in various shades of light blue paint, some still dribbling onto the narrow stone streets that separated them. Our tour guide, Mohammed, walked us through the streets lined with houses, bakeries, and shops. He told us that many cities in Morocco have their chief color (like Chefchaouen’s blue) that dominates both the architecture and the goods sold there. He also explained to us that the doors to enter into houses in Morocco are small, as a sign of respect, because the polite way to enter a house in Morocco is to bow through the door. We saw many locals wearing the traditional Moroccan gender-neutral outfit, called a djellaba, which is a like a thick cloak with a pointy hood. Due to the unforeseen chilly weather, I was strongly considering getting one for myself. We were led to a corner on one of the steep and narrow streets where there was a textile cooperative. Inside, we were taught about the process of making the different qualities of rugs, linens, and scarves, and got to tour around the shop and see an ancient loom in action. Chefchaouen’s main specialty is textiles, and I could definitely see this in the quality of the goods. After this we were given time to walk around the marketplace on our own and test out our bartering skills, which is a normal part of Moroccan culture.

For lunch, we again boarded the bus and traveled back up north to Tétouan. We were greeted with traditional Moroccan music and seated in a large hall with Arabic etchings on the wall. Our meal started with a brothy vegetable minestrone-like soup, then we proceeded to eat chicken shish kebabs in middle-eastern spices. Then we were served a sweet chicken-filled filo dough patty, which is hard to describe but absolutely delicious. Our meal finished off with yummy Moroccan tea and a powdered biscuit. During our meal, we got to watch multiple musical and talent performances, including a man who balanced a tray of shot glass contained flames while he danced. There was also a lady in the corner offering henna hand art.

Next we walked to the marketplace of Tétouan, where we shopped around a bit before reconvening as a group with our tour guide to visit a natural pharmacy. The pharmacist explained each product and with what herby concoction it was made, and we got to test/smell most of the items. One of the most important Moroccan exports is argan oil, which ranged from single-digit euro prices within the pharmacy but can get up in the thirty-dollar range in the States. They also offered saffron, which follows the same story.

We readied ourselves for another long bus ride to our second hotel in Tangiers. For dinner, we were placed in a large decorative tent and served a four course meal of fresh chopped vegetable salad, chicken in a lightly spiced sauce, meat and vegetable couscous, and a tea and cookie dessert. As we were all spread around a stage, we enjoyed more music and performance during dinner. There was an acrobat pair, traditional Moroccan musicians, and a belly dancer. Outside, we were surprised by camels ready to be ridden! Speaking of camels, the next day we got to ride camels under the day-lit sky on the Cape Espartel, which ends at the point at which the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. Before, we visited the Caves of Hercules, which was an amazing sight. It was stunning to see the waves and the grand ocean further out come crashing into the rock formation in which we stood. After we took in the natural beauty, we stepped on the bus for the long bus and ferry ride home.


Here's a little sample of the trip. 


Familia de Sevilla

Grabbing my towel and water bottle and throwing my gym bag over my shoulder, I wiggled my feet into my trainers and made sure I had my keys before making my way to the front door. Along the way, I balanced on the threshold dividing the hallway and the living room where my host father was organizing papers and said “voy al gimnasio,” expecting the normal “muy bien, hasta luego” in response.

However today I heard a string of words that I was forced to ask him to repeat, still not understanding all of what flew from his Andalucían tongue. Finally, he just settled on “ven” (come). Papá de Sevilla filled the limp armholes of his leather jacket with his animated arms and pulled his keys, jingling, from their hooks. We descended to the car and again, I attempted at asking him to where in the world (or at least in Sevilla) we were going. He responded to me: “la esquina.” When asked for a definition, he threw up one arm and told me how there were many in the city, ususally near kiosks or garbage cans or parking lots. I was at a loss.

Curious as to where he would take me, though slightly frustrated because I had prepared to go work out for the next chunk of free time, I jolted up in my seat as we came to a sudden halt about one hundred feet past our apartment building. “La esquina!” Papá de Sevilla exclaimed as he pointed to the ground at the corner of the sidewalk. Corner. Oh. Got it.

Living in a host family is probably the most immersive way in which I’m learning Spanish here, and though a dictionary probably would be faster than a ten-minute actuated example of one vocabulary word, I will forevermore remember how to say “corner” in Spanish. My host family’s dedication to my integration in the Spanish culture and immersion in the Spanish language has definitely provided for a challenging but well worth it experience. One lazy weekend my host mother and father were eating a spiced red-tinted butter spread on toast, and they asked me if I knew what it was. After explaining the process to me, Mamá de Sevilla asked me if I wanted to try it, and handed over the freshly prepared slice from her plate and headed to the kitchen to make one for herself. The Spanish hospitality, though imposing at times, really shocks me with delight some days, even if it’s as simple and equally profound as my host mother giving me a piece of buttered toast right off her own plate.

There are definitely those days when I would prefer just to have my own apartment where I could cook my own food and make my own schedule and talk to my own friends on my own time. Call me a control freak, but when worn out after a long day or when conflicted by interests of time, independence becomes the easier route. Every conversation I have with my host family takes more effort than the normal force one works up to chat, and I’ve had to let go of the tasks normally left to me like choosing my food or doing my laundry. To be quite honest this was daunting at first (yes, even the laundry) but I’ve realized that there’s so much more to soak up here in Sevilla than to waste time mumbling about the differences between my life in the USA and here. Yes, it’s different. No, it’s not better or worse, and no, I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.  

Lately, it has been raining in Sevilla more often than usual, and the other morning while the droplets pattered against the terrace, Rosa served me my coffee and explained that there is a saying in Spanish that “la lluvia en Sevilla es una maravilla” (the rain in Seville is wondrous). Often in Spain I’m at “la esquina” and I don’t even know it – caught in the intersection between missing and comprehending, becoming silent and piping up, lost and found. Sometimes it’s easy to hop right up the curb, and at others there’s a giant puddle for me to leap beforehand. And though I may have to walk 45 minutes under the crying clouds back from school, I’ll always know there’ll be welcoming smiles and Spanish food waiting for me when I get home. 

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 11.22.04 PM

Our city

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 11.20.29 PM
Rosa teaching me how to make paella de marisocs 



Ignorance & Truth

This might seem to have nothing to do with Spain but it does have to do with travel, tourism, and feedback: all very different but related aspects of going abroad. I'm going to share with you some words of Brandon Stanton, former member of the finance world and current self-employed photographer. As a fellow member of the bloggosphere, I appreciate his personal style and unique approach towards displaying his content. He was recently proactive about publicizing the New York clothing company DKNY's unethical use of his photographs in their Bangkok store for which he has received both support and criticism. I won't get into it (but thought I should at least mention it considering I admit to discovering Stanton only today) but here's an only slightly biased account of the recent debacle.

This excerpt responds to Stanton's experience after his recent trip to Iran, where travel is currently strongly advised against by the US government. You can read the full post (and check out his blog while you're at it) here

"Iran’s government is not its people. You can greatly enjoy a country, while at the same time disagreeing with it’s government. Travel is not advocacy of ideology or policy. Travel is travel, and it’s the single greatest contributor to understanding between cultures."

This struck me as interesting because I have become more aware over the past year of my perception of other cultures and governments, and have been exposed to other cultures' perceptions of the American people and government. Stanton brings light to the difference between identifying a country's people and a country's government, and how we generally tend to lump the two together without recognizing this disconnect. I, too, have fallen victim to the let’s-peg-the-whole-essence-of-this-country-in-three-words trap and going abroad has been a proactive step in changing the way I think, changing the way I share information and opinions, and changing the way (and frequency with which) I assume.

Today in our CIEE culture class we learned about the importance of sports in Spain and focused on the development and actuation of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. We watched a very interesting video clip (you can view it here and even if you don’t speak Spanish the images are still very evocative). When Bassat, Gómez-Navarro, and Abad were talking about developing ideas for the opening ceremony, they revolved around the fact that the rest of the world’s image of Spain was acutely stereotype-based, so their great challenge was forming the ceremony as a way to open the world to a more honest and authentic version of Spain. As an outsider having only seen a few clips here and there on Spanish culture and having hardly even studied the language, I can admit I was ignorant about the Spanish culture coming in. Being in the country has completely reversed my former opinion of Spain and I can imagine trying to make that kind of revelation to a global public at the 1992 opening ceremony must have been quite the feat.

No one is immune to the media and governmental publications in one’s own country no matter the amount of skepticism that one person can bear. Even traveling to a country similarly as developed and culturally resemblant to my own, my opinions have been drastically changed. I'm starting to consciously differentiate between government and public, and to experience, observe, and read before assuming. 


Fin de Semana

Here’s an example of a typical weekend when studying abroad in Sevilla:

Friday I went out for American breakfast at Vips with friends before some of us headed over to the local shopping center to look around at the last of the “rebajas” (sales) that have been going on for the past two months. It’s like Black Friday x 40 days. I went home and had lunch with my host family, took a little siesta, then left to accompany my friend to the local supermarket. After dinner, I met up with friends and we went to a teteria (tea shop) with the most fantastic “manzanilla” (chamomile tea) I’ve ever tasted, discovered a new sport on the big screen at a nearby sports bar (futsal: it’s like soccer, but it’s on a hard court and with a heavier ball), and ended up at a discoteca.

Saturday morning, I slept in and woke up to a nice cup of tea before going to the gym. When I got back, mamá and papá de Sevilla were out so my host brother, Fernando, and I made lunch while discussing the different attitudes Spaniards and Americans have towards learning languages. Later I went with friends to the center to try Spain’s version of hot chocolate, which is literally melted chocolate instead of the liquidy drink we consider it to be in the States. We walked back while dusk fell upon the city, and I had a snack with my host family before going out to a local and very reputable tapas bar. After dinner we met up with more friends, and then Emma, Rachel and I walked across the bridge connecting Sevilla proper to Triana, an outer neighborhood of Sevilla across the river. Here we checked out the infamous Calle Betis, where we got to know some Spaniards.

On Sunday I met up with Maddy to peruse the local weekend gypsy market, which is basically a prime location to get super-cheap fake Ray Bans and 2 kilos of fruit for only 1 euro. There are four or five whole streets filled with vendors selling everything imaginable at reduced prices from clothing to food to baby toys and kitchen items. The streets were thick with people and the smell of roasted almonds and fresh strawberries, and we ended up winding our way through everyone and the noise of vendors yelling their prices for a good two hours. We had to be careful of our backpacks because we had been warned that these markets are notoriously full of professional pick-pocketers, but we were both content to come home with all our valuables in addition to 3-euro sunglasses. It was quite interesting to see the contrast between this market and the ones I had been accustomed to in France, because there were suspiciously priced mass-market items at this one while there were high-quality artisanal items at the markets I visited in France. However I’m sure both types of markets exist in both countries.

After lunch with my host family, I went out to further profit from the chilly but sunny day on a run along the river with Fernando and Evan. When dinnertime rolled around, I ended up back at Vips where my weekend started (with a buy two dinners get one free coupon – if you’re buying anything in Spain without a coupon, sale, or student discount, you’re doing it wrong) and headed home to sleep before the week ahead. 

Since I'm just really good at making my life revolve around food, here's a sample of some of the tapas we ate at Taberna La Tata: grilled tuna over a base of salmorejo with roasted red peppers (center), caramalized onions with red peppers and tuna with a balsamic glaze (left), and savory spinach and shrimp cannoli with cream sauce (right)


Keeping the Beat

A rhythm is a hard thing to keep. But sometimes it’s okay to be a little offbeat. 

When my friends and I started to watch a flamenco performance at a bar downtown, we were skeptical at first. There was a woman in a brightly colored dress and a decorative flower in her hair clapping to the beat, a man singing in what seemed like a different language, and another man providing a the melody with a guitar. But our attention was immediately caught when the woman suddenly stomped her feet, stood up, and started gallivanting across the platform. Center stage, she lifted her dress to reveal her feet and started tapping away with her toes like I’ve never seen before. To keep beat, she clucked away with her tongue and snapped her fingers up in the air. 

A little history background: flamenco is a traditional style of song and dance of Andalucía, the southern region of Spain of which Sevilla is the capitol. It involves a singer, a dancer, and a guitar player, and can be performed in either a formal or spontaneous setting. All of the different musical and visual aspects of flamenco exhibit very strong emotion and contrast between fast and slow. Precision is the goal for the dancers, as they have to stamp their feet as fast as possible while staying with the beat of the singer and guitarist.

During one moment in the performance, the dancer lost her footing for a split second that was almost too subtle to tell. As her normally concentrated and stoic face turned back towards the audience, I could tell she had been smiling as her back was turned to us and her eyes towards the singer and guitarist. She regained composure almost as soon as she lost it, and continued to tap her feet to the beat with even greater fluidity and lightness. I, too, have been doing things a little offbeat lately: instead of studying towards a degree two hours from my house, I’m halfway across the world. Like the flamenco dancer, I’ll smile at my little bump out of the norm, and regain the rhythm mandated by American society sooner or later a little more relaxed and a little more learned.

Before we headed to see flamenco, we snagged the chance to attend an olive oil tasting. I’ve never been to one before so I wasn’t sure exactly how one stays interested in comparing and tasting olive oils for more than five minutes. However when we arrived, I wasn’t even sure where to start with the spread of olive tapenades, pates, and jams on crackers and cheese, fresh baguette to dip in flavors of olive oil I never imagined existed, along with our choice of red or white. While we munched we poked around the little shop packed with natural facial products, pesto, tapenades, wine, and of course hundreds of flavors of EVOO. I have to say my favorites were the almond and green olive tapenade, and the lemon zest olive oil. We even got a “regalito” (little gift) as we left of a tin of their classic EVOO, which I’ll be sure to save to bring home to Dad. We were already full and culturally stimulated by the time we headed out of the tasting to start on our way to flamenco.

The spread 

Performance at the flamenco bar


Can't Resist

We’re all human. I usually hear this phrase in reference to mistakes – referring to that universal truth that we, as humans, may not and cannot be perfect. But I am inclined to look at this phrase in a different sense: to link it with the fact that we all have some curiosity that drives us, whether that means glancing out the kitchen window at the slightest movement outdoors or hopping across the Atlantic to try the tapenade on the other side. Sometimes resisting curiosity is a hefty but necessary task, but other times it’s in our best interest just to give in.

Being in a part of the world where everything is different from the color of the lines on the road to the centuries of history that shaped cultural customs, I become more aware of my own curiosity. Though curiosity and familiarity seem entirely at opposite sides of the spectrum, the constant human search for connection shapes the tone of my inquisitive bouts. The things I’ve found spark my interest to the max are the things that both my culture and the Spanish culture value, but are executed differently. I guess the end goal is integration rather than information, so that I can gain a new perspective and be able to add it into my old routine.

As many who know me know, my curiosity generally leads me more or less in the direction of food. As a daughter of an avid food photographer and blogger, I’ve been surrounded by the vocabulary of gourmet cuisine since as far back as I can remember. When it comes to Spanish food, however, I knew little past the term “paella” upon coming to Spain. I jumped at the opportunity to attend a cooking class because 1) I’ve left cooking to others in my life and it’s about time I start to pick up a spatula and 2) I am genuinely interested in how to make (and learn what even is) authentic Spanish comida. Eight other friends and I met our teacher who kindly welcomed us into his home with ingredients set out and ready to be mixed by the time we got there. You could see by the way he explained every task that he knew his stuff and that he was truly passionate about the whole cooking process rather than just the end result (which may or may not have been my object of preference).

Our first task was to chop vegetables and dice pork and chicken for the “arroz del campo” (country rice). The meat went into a sizzling hot pan with EVOO along with some saffron, paprika, cloves, bay leaves, and other herbs and spices. While that started to heat up, we zizzed “pan duro” (bread, usually leftover and is too stale to eat plain), tomatoes, slowly drizzled EVOO, vinegar, and garlic with an immersion hand blender until we produced “salmorejo,” a cold soup similar to gazpacho but with a creamier texture. Our chopped onion, green pepper, and mushrooms were added to the meat and left to sizzle. Our teacher explained to us how one tea mug of rice per each person should be added to the dish, which will soak up the flavored liquid bubbling around the meat and veggies, while the group of us migrated to the living room to prepare to eat. All we had to do was personally garnish our salmorejo with chopped fresh green pepper and diced Serrano ham before we could dig into a wonderful meal. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but for me it opens doors to worlds about which both my stomach and my mind are happy to know.

Pre-meal status

Hannah and I on salmorejo duty

Before we added the rice


The Quotidian & the Unforgettable

Stacked under a bright red umbrella by one of the metro stops on my walk to school are free daily newspapers called “20 minutos” that give small snapshots of both local and international news. Stepping back and reflecting on my current experiences, I realize they’re quite different from those of most Americans my age. I’ve concocted over the past week a sort of personal “20 minutos” to provide a window into my daily life here in Sevilla:

A Change of Pace

What wouldn’t you do for free churros and chocolate? One day after school a couple of friends and I came upon an outdoor ice skating rink in one of Sevilla’s main parks that offers a delightful treat after you rent skates and try your skills on the ice. Newsbreak: I had no skating skills to speak of, but it was still great fun and I enjoyed the ambiance after the sun sneaked behind the trees and the rink-side lights glowed upon the ice.

Me (left) holding onto Hannah for dear life

The Group (photo credit to Hannah)

The Cost of Royalty

The gap year program met with a political representative of Sevilla to the United States who educated us about Spain’s royal family. There is a clash of opinions between those who believe maintaining the royal family is an extraneous expense, especially in the current economic crisis, and those who vehemently want to maintain the image of Spain’s royal family. Though the Spanish king, queen, and royal children used control the government and serve in all political functions, now they are more of figureheads who represent Spanish tradition and show up on magazine covers. Later that evening I asked my host family about their opinion on the royal family, and they held up the opinion of their importance to the Spanish culture. When asked by mi papá de Sevilla whether I would like the US to have a royal family, I laughed and considered the idea backwards because the US was formed from the beginning under a democracy with a constitution. However, I realized the American people would enjoy one if we had one considering our general infatuation with the stars of Hollywood and the famous Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Religious to Secular

As with many customs of the Spanish government, religious importance has gone from principal to ancillary to irrelevant. However most of the buildings in which government functions lie are from centuries past and represent the strong tie with Catholicism that dominated the flavor of the country for many years. The gap year program visited the Parliament de Andalucía, which is housed in what used to be the Hospital de las Cinco Llagas (Hospital of the Five Holy Wounds). Parliaments meetings are held in the center former cathedral, which used to be a sanctuary for the sick. When meetings are held, a screen is drawn over the alter area hiding the religious symbols and paintings decorating the front wall.


Just being official and things (photo credit to Emma)

Discovering Sevilla on my Feet

As I signed up for a gym conveniently located five minutes from my house, I haven’t been out to run much in the city. The other day was so beautiful it would have been a sin to stay inside and I found myself discovering nooks and crannies of the city that I never knew existed. Pushing one foot in front of the other and jamming out to my newly revamped workout playlist, I found one of my favorite spots in Sevilla: along a pedestrian path bordering the river full of people walking their dogs, roller skating, and laying on the grass in the afternoon sun. I’ll now use my gym for the later-evening workouts when the sun is getting low in the sky, but I plan to get out and about with my running shoes along Sevilla streets more often.

Carnaval de Cadiz 2013

Mardi Gras for Spaniards is a two-week long festival devoted to everything having to do with “carne” (literally, flesh), counteracting the emphasis of the spirit during Cuaresma (Lent), Semana Santa (Holy Week), and Pascua (Easter). There is a competition (think: American Idol) every year for the best satirical performance involving costumes, singing, and traditional Spanish instruments after which a huge street party develops outside. My friends and I costumed up and headed to Cadiz, about an hour and a half away, to experience this 10pm-5am adult Halloween. Basically the streets were filled with people in costumes from all over southern Spain and we did rounds in this one plaza just having conversations with whoever had a funny costume. I ended up having a lot of fun even though I did lose my phone and miss my bus back to Sevilla…#yolo.

  16310_10200553596626054_1964454800_n Costumed & ready

Ancient Architecture and Modern Art

I experienced a fusion like no other when I visited the Monastario de la Cartuja, which was an ancient monastery, then a ceramics factory, and now a modern art museum. My favorite exhibit was simple but profound: a ceramic sunflower seed project organized by a Chinese ceramicist that is reminiscent of the Zedong dictatorship and created work for the local people of a rural village for years. We watched a documentary on the project and got to see a sample of the ceramic seeds, of which there are many more exposed around the world. Though I’m not a huge fan of modern art, it was really interesting to see it displayed inside the walls of an old Christian edifice because of the contrast provided.

DSC03117 Ancient architecture and modern art


  DSC03163 Just chillin at the beach

Eating in Sevilla

Food has been a major factor in shaping my experience here, as there is a large emphasis on meal times and the eating experience, not just the food itself. When I’m not eating with my family, I’m out with friends discovering the local and international cuisine of Sevilla. Tapas bars are plentiful around the city, and once you find a couple staple dishes (as the menu is quite difficult to comprehend) you can know what to order when you go. Or as we often do, pick a bunch of random items and hope they turn out well…they usually do. “Cien Montaditos” is a chain that has 1 euro little baguette sandwiches a couple times a week and is a hit with students. There are one or two sushi places, however I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re looking for super-high quality sushi. The other day we tried out Habanita, a Caribbean/Mediterranean restaurant nestled in central Sevilla that boasts its vegetarian cuisine and honey rum. For an American break, we like to head to Vips, which has full American breakfasts and drool-worthy deserts and milkshakes.

My salad at Habanita



I’m suddenly stunned by something I’ve been walking by every day for a month. What I thought was the equivalent of Waste Management’s “WM” logo on potholes and garbage cans across America, the motto NO8DO is actually a beautiful story about Sevilla’s cultural patrimony.

Legend says that NO8DO stands for Alfonso X’s words “no me ha dejado” (she hasn’t left me), referring to Sevilla when the city stood behind him against his son’s attempted coup d’état. The 8 represents a "madeja", Spanish for a skein of wool, which strings together the me-ha-deja part of the saying. The madeja symbol can be seen all around the city and is heavily integrated into Sevilla’s Feria festival known worldwide. Now that I’ve learned the story behind the symbols, I feel like I’ve uncovered a new layer to Sevilla’s heritage that is essential to understanding the local sentiment towards Sevilla and sets me a step closer to becoming one with the Spanish culture.

After I told nearly everyone I knew about NO8DO and was met with responses ranging from “I can’t believe it!” to “duhhhh,” I took to some personal reflection on the subject of cultural patrimony and what it means to be part of a country’s legacy rather than an observer. Is it living in the same country for your whole life? Is it reliant solely on fluency in the local language? Does it mean participating whole heartedly in all cultural customs?

I resolved it had to do largely with one’s personal sense of pride. If you’ve ever been abroad and had your heart jump at the mention of an achievement by your own country on the news or in conversation, you know what kind of pride I’m talking about. It’s the result of a collective feat that you may not have contributed directly (or even consciously) to, but you still participate guiltlessly in the glory realized from success. As I watched Gervasi’s "Hitchcock" with a couple friends today, I wasn’t sure whether to be nationalistically proud of the English-turned American filmmaker who has become a household name over the past century, as his roots lie in a country far from my own but he participated in the cinematic revolution rooted in America’s Hollywood. This brings me to further conclude that cultural identification and pride is a personal issue pinned solely by the person in question, despite the many labels that society might try to stick on a person. As the world becomes smaller and smaller with the advances in methods of travel, communication, and scientific discovery, the question of cultural ties becomes blurred and smudged by global initiatives by individuals, corporations, and governments alike. This forces us to look at cultural identity as a particular sentiment rather than a concrete definition.

As today marks exactly one month since my arrival in Sevilla, I’ve been naturally aware of the passage of time and how my connection to Sevilla has grown over the past 30 days. Though I still associate myself with the culture of America and the heritage of France, I feel my affinity for the Spanish people and traditions increase every hour I spend here. I find myself trying to step out of the “study-abroad bubble” more and more, whether that means avoiding the internationally dominated discotecas or spending more time with my host family rather than just my American friends. It takes years for someone to fully integrate into a foreign culture, but even after a month I see progress isn’t impossible if you take it one step at a time. By the time I leave, I have a feeling “no me ha dejado” will tug at my heart almost as strongly as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”



A Tale of Two Granadas: Part II

What’s white and fluffy and non-existent in Sevilla? Trust me, the answer’s not whipped cream because I think I’ve had more of it here than in the rest of my life. It’s snow. In search of this substance unknown to the balmy-weather dwellers of Sevilla, Emma, Jenny, George, Alex, Tim, and I left orange plants and palm trees in exchange for snowboards and skis. You might think we were super smart to think ahead and bring our snow gear all the way from America, but let me correct you, we were in no way ready for the feat of dressing ourselves in clothes simultaneously warm enough and flexible enough to go flying down a mountain on cheap rental skis that I might as well have made myself out of the nearest palm tree outside my window. The Sierra Nevada mountains seemed to counteract our ridiculous concoction of outfits by creating one of the most stunning winter views I’ve ever seen.

View from the summit

Contrasting the East-Cost ski-93 mountains of the United States, Sierra Nevada’s ski resort resides pretty much above the tree line because we had to drive an hour up from Granada to get to an altitude high enough to host substantial natural snow. Therefore, the ski trails are groomed out of the side of the mountain and marked by no other identification than sparse blue spikes protruding out of the white – much different from the paths carved out of numerous pine trees that I’m used to. Considering we had to rent most of our material from gloves to helmets to ski/snowboard equipment, it was relatively easy to find all of the necessities right at the base of the mountain for cheaper than 25 euros. After waiting in the long ticket line (which didn’t matter because the lift workers were in strike until 11 anyways – literally story of my life in Spain) we found ourselves whisked up the mountain by one of the gondolas.


Once we got up the gondola

Within the first five minutes of reaching the top, our group split and some people got lost. Por supuesto. By some miracle we reunited a couple of runs later, established a meeting point if anyone got lost again, and fit in a fantastic day on the mountain before sleepily boarding our bus back to center-city Granada where we had set up our room in a hostel the night before.

Some of us at a "slow" sign in Spanish...yes, we thought this was hilarious. I'm the one with the ridiculous bright yellow helmet. (photo credit to Emma)

Funny story: Emma, Jenny, and I heard there was a huge pan of paella being made in the kitchen for dinner, so we headed downstairs where we found fellow hostel residents walking around with giant mounds of chiken-y rice on their plates. In the kitchen, we were greeted by the biggest pan I’ve ever seen filled paella to feed a village. Ready to dig in, we grabbed plates and started helping ourselves when the chef walked in and started saying “woah woah woah this is not a free-for-all” in Spanish. What we did not realize is that we were supposed to wait for him to serve it to us and that we had to pay 5 euros to acquire our food. Too late – there was already a huge mound on one of our plates. Followed by the second-hand guilted eyes of other paella-eaters in the kitchen, we slid five silver and gold coins onto the counter and sneaked back up to our fourth floor balcony before we could induce any more awkwardness. Woops? At least he gave us enough for the three of us because we were too thoroughly tired (and admittedly lazy) to walk all the way down to the village for more dinner.

Our awesome hostel with vines spilling over the balconies. Pretty sweet deal for 15 euros a night.

The next day we traveled back home. I openly admit the five euro total hot-pink rimmed Aviator style sunglasses and electric blue kid’s gloves I originally thought I would never use again have served me numerous times back in Sevilla.

A Tale of Two Granadas: Part I

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien

…even though we tended to get lost more than remain with the group on our first trip with school to Granada. Four other CIEE students, about twenty-five other CLIC students, two guides, and I headed to Granada a couple weekends ago to discover the historic city of Granada, Andalucia, about three hours east of and 730 meters higher in altitude than Sevilla.

Granada along the river

Once we arrived and dropped off our bags in the hotel, we went out for a tour of the city. We learned about how Granada was one of the Arab capitals of Andalucia, which was most definitely evident in the shops and teterias (tea shops) lining Granada’s pedestrian alleys. Our tour guide led us through the Plaza de Bib-Rambla, an old commercial square revamped with balconied apartments and tranquil cafés around the perimeter surrounding a square centered on a fountain de los Gigantes. Next we visited the Catedral de Granada with the Capilla Real. Like many elements in Granada, the cathedral clearly represents history’s change over time because the cathedral in its original construction was Gothic style, then was finished with Baroque elements as the construction of the cathedral finished during the Baroque artistic era. I always think it’s crazy how architects in the sixteenth century and before made these major establishments without my best friends TI-84+ and Google SketchUp, so I was delighted in a selfish kind of way to hear that one of the towers was constructed improperly so was never completed. We ended our tour at Plaza Nueva (there is also a Plaza Nueva in Sevilla) and got some recommendations for good tapas bars for lunch. At all the tapas bars in Granada, when you order a drink, you get a free tapa along with it. Hayley, Emma, Maddy, Isabel (our German friend from CLIC), Matéo, and I tried to take advantage of this feature but once we sat down at one restaurant, we were respectfully told to move by our waiter if we weren’t ordering any “real food.” Out on the street again, we found an Arab shwarma vendor and I had the best three-euro meal yet. Pastry shops in Granada were plentiful so we grabbed a tea and a pastry before meeting back up with the rest of the group.

The exterior architecture of the Capilla Real

Our next task included walking what seemed like a mile upwards into a very haut residential area of Granada until we hit a flat area overlooking the city. I opened my eyes to the sun slowly creeping to sleep beneath the sky, a full moon overhead, the clouds moving lazily across the dusky sunset, a lit Granada in the valley below, and an illuminated castle on a hill opposite of the one on which we stood. This was one of the most memorable views of my trip. We stayed on this slope until the sun truly disappeared, and walked back to the hotel after a busy day to rest up before dinner. Emma, Hayley, Emma’s friend from Brazil, and I found a really nice Japanese restaurant close to our hotel where we found relatively cheap sushi in comparison to their other 80 euro entrées.

The Alhambra across the valley, city of Granada to the right, and Sierra Nevada mountains in the background

The next day, we took the bus up to the top of the hill we had looked out upon the evening before to tour the Alhambra. Of course we got separated from the group and missed most of the explanation, but our jumping photos made up for the loss. Just being there I felt like I was immersed in an ancient Arab world. The engineering of the castle is quite stunning, considering they found out how to irrigate water to the top of the mountain and we able to construct rooms in a way that didn’t get too cold in the chilly winter climate. The Alhambra is almost like a whole village, as there are parts of the habitation for less fortunate to the wealthiest to sustain lives. When we got on the bus to head home, we were tired but enlightened with the perspective of seeing a city relatively close geographically to Sevilla but incredibly opposite in style in climate. 

Within the Alhambra's walls

Intricate Arab architecture and a foggy village view

Me, Emma, Matéo, Hayley, and Maddy (from left to right) at the Alhambra

Gap Bloggers

  • Eva - Gap Year Abroad in Japan
  • Eamon - Gap Year Abroad in Spain
  • Sage - Gap Year Abroad in China
  • Kira - Gap Year Abroad in France
  • Smith - Gap Year Abroad in Chile
  • Maddy - Gap Year Abroad in Japan
  • Hannah - Gap Year Abroad in Italy
  • Chloe - Gap Year Abroad in Chile