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Gap Year Abroad

25 posts categorized "Travel"


Dealing with Stress and Exhaustion in a Foreign Country

A particular phenomenon has been brought to my attention recently. Normally I’d only heard it used to describe relationships, but apparently the so-called “honeymoon phase” applies to living in new places as well. You know, the feeling of suddenly being irrationally disenchanted with the object in question after approximately two weeks of unabashed affection. Last week, I found myself struggling to keep up with an admittedly light and uncomplicated schedule despite being enamored with my situation just days prior. Fortunately for me, I’m on the way out of this slump, but I figured it could serve as an example for others. Most importantly, though: don’t worry, Seville. I still love you.

For many people dealing with problems of anxiety or mood swings, the best remedy is often a strong, consistent support group. Now, my friends here - bless their hearts - did a wonderful job helping me through some difficult days and I love ‘em to bits; however, I don’t have exactly same tight-knit circle of kindred souls that I did back home. I had to get used to solving some very perplexing issues not only in a completely new environment, but among less familiar faces as well. In the case that one develops such problems in such a situation, here’s some sage advice I wish had been bestowed on me:

  • Do your best to maintain a schedule. You’ll likely have to dial it back to the bare bones of what’s necessary, but ensure that it’s a schedule nonetheless.
  • Eat regularly and well. Quite nearly drown yourself in vitamins, especially vitamin D. That also means getting some sun.
  • Go on walks, see the city/town/wherever. Explore. Anything, and I mean anything, but sitting in your room alone for extended periods of time. If the weather’s good, you just knocked ‘getting sun’ off the list as well.
  • Talk to people, especially any close friends at home or abroad. Try your best to be confident in the day to day as well, it really makes a difference.

IMG_4209It also helps when your city is absolutely gorgeous. Across from Calle Betis, along the Guadalquivir.

I'm very glad that I've begun to rebound so quickly, and I honestly can't remember much of how I was feeling because it was so brief. What really pushed me through was simply spending valuable time with friends; as it turns out, people usually stay friends with you because they like you. By extension, trying to be who I know my friends enjoy being around made my recovery substantially faster. Fake it 'til you make it, they say.

Now, I feel particularly guilty that I've been taking all these wonderful pictures of my everyday environment and there's hardly a soul who I've shared any with. These are some of my favorites so far. Enjoy, I'll see you next time.


IMG_4180One façade of the incomprehensibly large Cathedral of Seville. Featuring oranges.


IMG_4217Interior of the Parliament of Andalusia, the place to go in southern Spain for... government, I guess?


IMG_4176   The interior of the royal Alcázar once more. That's the throne room dead ahead.


IMG_4188Lastly, the view from the magnificent Giralda tower, the tallest building in all of Seville.


Where 2 Weeks Feel Like a Lifetime

I feel that losing track of time can often be a sign of comfort. Over the past two weeks, settling into what is essentially a brand new life has gone better than I could possibly have expected. Every person I see on a daily or weekly basis is a person whom I had no idea existed before I arrived, but I could swear that I’ve known them for ages. I have a routine that’s been ironed out over a few days, but those are days I could’ve mistaken for months. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve realized that my life in Seville hasn’t even been two weeks long.

For some bizarre reason, I’ve also evaded any sort of bad experiences whatsoever in this short time. Everything that has happened so far has been absolutely stellar. I’m actually somewhat concerned, this kind of good fortune isn’t like me. Who would expect an 18 year-old to begin living in a foreign country with next to no preparation and have not a single major problem? I certainly didn’t. Several months ago I’d already decided that college would have to wait because it was simply too much to think about. Why is this so effortless, then?

I’m think I’m finally piecing the answer together, maybe. Possibly. It’s not certain. There’s a very special quality that Seville has. It is simultaneously otherworldly and intensely comforting, a duality I’ve never once encountered. Oftentimes, during my daily commute that is entirely ordinary and without fanfare, I will occasionally realize that everything around me is strikingly gorgeous. Paradise doesn’t usually look like paradise when you see it every day.


Above: the lush interior gardens of Seville's royal Alcázar, a Moorish palace built in the 1360's

Aside from the city itself, the feeling of independence is exhilarating. It’s almost like I’m an adult! Mostly! Being in an environment where I have more resources than ever before to either strive for success or fail miserably requires an immense amount of self-confidence and trust. Not only do others have to trust my best judgment, I have to expect myself to use my best judgment. Going out for the night has yet to end in death, maiming, or other serious injuries, so I must be doing something right. Speaking of nightlife, Seville’s is thriving. Most excursions end up in the area of Plaza de la Alfalfa, an area packed with bars and clubs filled with Sevillans and expats alike. As far as nightclubs go, my friends and I have made runs through Tokyo, Abril, and Uthopia. I can’t say I have a preference; everything is equally exciting.

One moment in particular from the past few nights has remained at the front of my mind. We were all sitting beside the Guadalquivir, and, once again, we could've sworn that we'd been here for far longer than a mere week. In that spot, beneath the lights shining from bridges and vistas all around, time seemed to stand still. In a period where time moves very slowly, it slowed down to the point of stopping completely. I could've gotten used to that.


Above: The Puente de Isabel II (aka Triana Bridge) on the Guadalquivir


It's a Funny Thing Coming Home

I have been home for just under five weeks, and I am still having trouble putting my gap year experience into words.  I learned so much this year, more than I could even have imagined before, both in my classes and while living in Spain and travelling to new places.  I came to Spain barely even knowing where Barcelona was (oops!), and I left it able to discuss its economic and political situations with both Spaniards and people from other countries.  Besides learning about Spain and improving my Spanish skills dramatically, I also learned how to appreciate a place for its special charm instead of constantly imagining how it could be better.  I realized that instead I have to change and adapt to fully enjoy any place that is different from what I am used to. 

After leaving Seville I spent a few days in Madrid with my family and then headed off on a six week backpacking trip through seven different European countries (Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and England) with my Eurail pass in tow.  I feel that this trip was the perfect culmination to my gap year.  I explored many new places that were each very different without much prior knowledge of these places, something I did my whole year in Spain.  Over the course of the year, I had learned how to use public transportation in new cities, make myself understood even when there was a language barrier, keep calm during stressful travel situations, and just enjoy myself even when my plans did not work out the way in which I envisioned.  I also became more independent and comfortable being by myself this year, which was helpful as I would be doing half the trip alone.  However, even during that part of my adventure, I was never truly alone between friends from Seville I met up with in France, old family friends, and new friends from the hostels.  For the other half of my trip, I traveled with one of my best friends from high school who had just finished a semester in London.  At just about every stop, I found myself wishing I could take a gap year or gap semester just to get to know each city better.  All of this does not mean that I was not nervous or even scared about the prospect of being responsible for finding my way in a new city or not running out of money or figuring out what was the best way to spend my time in each place (quite the opposite, in fact).  But I did feel more confident knowing I had, in my opinion, successfully adapted to three different Spanish cities and loved my time in each of them.


Visiting Charlotte in Montpellier


Charlotte's flower bracelet and my host siblings' rubber band bracelets


Prague with Jordan




Throwing food at people on the Pont des Arts with Angelique


Hall of Mirrors with Angelique and Ursula


Angelique's Welcome Home Party


Now, I am back home in Arkansas.  I miss Europe.  I miss being able to walk outside my door and wander around and discover something new.  I miss my friends who are all spread out across different time zones.  I miss the excitement of first-time experiences and always having a new site to see.  However, now, I am just trying to enjoy the comfort of being at home since I do not have much time left here until going off to college.  I missed hanging out with my family.  I actually missed my parents a lot more than I was expecting.  I missed my friends whom I had not seen in ten months, and it has been great getting to catch up and pick up right where we had left off.  I missed my favorite restaurants where I almost have the menu memorized.  It seems that after this year, I do not just have one place I am always longing to return to but several.  I guess this is just one of the bittersweet parts of travelling.  Coming to love so many different and wonderful places means I will be filled with great memories of all of them but also always be missing somewhere or someone.

More Traveling

There are a few trips I did not get a chance to write about, so I am including the pictures below.









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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. 


Am I Still in Spain?

A cool aspect about our language school is that it plans trips every weekend to different parts of Spain or even other countries like Morocco. These are nice because we don't just see the sites but also learn about the history as the guides (the cultural director at CLIC and usually a CLIC teacher) explain the historical background and relevance of the monuments we see. It is also an opportunity to get to know students who are not in my classes or in CIEE. Our second weekend in Seville, there was a two-day trip to Granada, and CIEE kind of took over the trip as all the new spring semester gap year students went.  Many times while I was there, I had to remind myself that we were still in Spain as the Arabic influence on the city is very prominent in certain areas.  Even while in Sevilla, I have felt I was in another country sometimes just due to the architecture on certain streets or during cultural activities, especially during our visit to Alcazar.

Our trip to Granada started Saturday morning with a bus ride that got us there just in time to take advantage of the city's great tapas system for lunch.  There, with every drink you order, a tapa is included. These included tapas are not just olives or potato chips like in many other parts of Spain, but typical dishes like migas, chorizo al Jerez, morcilla, patatas bravas, and a variety of other things depending on the bar.  


We then met up at the main plaza to make our way to the cathedral and the Capilla Real.  I've seen a bunch of cathedrals and chapels this year, but this one was different, not because of the architecture but because of who was buried there: Reina Isabel la Catolica and King Ferdinand, as well as their daughter Juana la Loca (the crazy) and her husband Felipe el Hermoso (the handsome). Last semester in my film class, we learned about the Catholic kings' crazy daughter Juana.  This was just another example of one of my favorite aspects of this year: history that I have learned about through my culture classes last semester being brought to life.  I also love having the historical context to fully appreciate the sites I am seeing. I don't just have to listen to a lecture about the Moorish influence on Andalusia. I get to see it in the architecture, the shops, the food, and the language, especially in Granada.  Afterwards, we walked along the river and then up to the Mirador de San Nicolas for a view of the Alhambra. The Alhambra lit up at night, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada in the background, and the view of the entire city was absolutely breathtaking!



I couldn't wait to see the gorgeous palace up close the next day, and it definitely did not disappoint. The Alhambra is huge, and no detail was left to chance, from the perfectly manicured gardens to the intricate plaster moldings and mosaic patterns that decorate every wall and horseshoe arch.  However, the beauty does not stop with the architecture as all around there are clear views of the city below.  It was also interesting listening to our guides talk about the different legends of this fortress throughout our tour.






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It is hard for me to believe this, but even as much as we saw, a lot of the Alhambra is not open to the public. Every month, however, they open up a different part to the public that is usually closed. While we were there, we were able to go up to a tower from which we saw a field of trees closely associated to the city: pomegranate trees (Granada=Pomegranate in Spanish).  


After all the walking, we were obviously very hungry and went for a another tapas lunch before heading back to Sevilla.

Our group also visited another very famous example of the Arabic architectural influence in Andalusia: Alcazar, which literally translates to "the castle."  Before going I heard it described as a smaller version of the Alhambra, but after visiting, I can say that that does not mean less amazing.  It also has the peaceful gardens, this time including orange trees and peacocks, and the detailed plasterwork decorating just about every surface.  Alcazar is the place where King Juan Carlos and his family stay when visiting Sevilla, so it is still currently a palace.  






After our interesting tour with our fun tour guide, Angel, we had the option to stay and explore the gardens some more. During my extra time, I found the peacocks (pavos reales / royal turkeys) that we had heard about and then just relaxed in the gardens until closing time.


Even though I have been in Spain since September, as I was in the northern and central parts of the country before, the sights and architecture of Andalucía and the history associated with them are all new and exciting for me.  Even though the Moors were forced to leave Spain several centuries ago, it is almost impossible to forget that they did in fact have power over this area for a long period of time just while walking around certain parts of Sevilla or Granada. The main monuments of both cities trace their roots back to the time of Al-Andalus, as even the cathedral of Sevilla is built on the foundations of a mosque and the Giralda (the cathedral’s tower that can be seen from just about every part of the city) was originally a minaret.  It has been truly amazing to see firsthand how the seemingly distant history of a region or city can still have such an impact on the look and modern-day life of the area.  


Cadiz: Dos Maneras

Cadiz is mainly known for two things: Carnaval and the beach. In just one week, I was able to take advantage of both of these attractions through a trip with CLIC and then with CIEE.  During these two day-trips, I experienced the fun and crazy celebrations of Carnaval, learned about the cultural and historical aspects of the city, and enjoyed relaxing on the beach.

Carnaval takes place in many different cities.  Even my neighborhood in Seville celebrated it for a couple of days. However, the one in Cadiz is one of the best known ones in Spain. This takes place just before Lent starts, so this year, it was in the beginning of March. The city of Cadiz spends two weeks celebrating, but the first weekend is usually the most involved. I went the first Sunday with CLIC, the language school, and a few of my friends. As we were pulling up to the city, we noticed one of the main attractions of Carnaval: the costumes. There were many big groups of friends who had coordinated identical costumes and others who just dressed up individually. I went as a devil, and we also had a goddess, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, a cheerleader, and many other costumes in our group. This made the walk to the bus that morning a bit awkward as there were many families all dressed up to go to church, and I was just walking down the street in all my red, including a red wig with horns.  I definitely got a few weird looks, but it was worth it because in Cadiz I fit right in. The streets were filled with people, and it was hard to move from place to place. The costumes definitely helped us make sure we didn't lose anyone.





Another big part of Carnaval is the choirs who are also dressed up and go around the city in trucks singing funny songs. They are hard to understand because they make a lot of cultural references and jokes, but the singing and laughing definitely contributed to the lively atmosphere.





There were so many different groups, so we spent most of the afternoon walking around to see them and picking up food from the different street vendors.  Later, there was supposed to be a parade, but it got delayed, and we couldn’t wait any longer because our bus was leaving.  Still, we had a fantastic day participating in the festivities of Carnaval!


The next Saturday was our day trip to Cadiz with CIEE. It seemed like a very different town with the lack of craziness compared to the week before. Even though Carnaval was technically still going on, the second weekend is usually tamer, and the festivities start later and involve less people. We visited the different historical landmarks and cathedral with our amazing guides, Angel and Dani, and learned about the city's history.




We also visited a fish market, as seafood is a big part of the culture of Cadiz with its being a coastal city. 


We ended the tour on one of Cadiz's beaches. This beach just happens to be where a famous James Bond movie scene was filmed. Even though Die Another Day is set in Havana, it was actually filmed in Cadiz. Most of us spent our free time relaxing and enjoying the sun and also exploring the different tide pools.




It was definitely a different experience from that of Carnaval, but I enjoyed seeing what Cadiz is like without the huge crowds and music.  


"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


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