BY KATHY HAMBLETT
For the UAS Whalesong
My study abroad adventure landed me in Seville, a city in Andalusia in Southern Spain for the 2016 fall semester. I could not have chosen a place more different than Juneau. But for me, that was precisely the reason to go – to experience something entirely different.
The Academic Programs International (API) orientation week was a fabulous introduction to the country we would call home for a semester. I met the other students at the airport in Madrid where friendly API staff picked us up for three days of touring, learning program information, and getting to know each other. We then traveled to El Escorial, Toledo, and Cordoba before reaching Seville where host mothers waited to be matched up with their students. I watched the excitement for a few minutes and then walked up the street; I had a different plan.
“I’ll see you at the Citroën Bar,” were my husband’s parting words in Juneau. “The Citroën Bar,” I repeated. Now, with luggage in hand, I searched for the bar where we planned to meet a half a world away in a week. Without cell phone contact since leaving Juneau, I wondered how well this plan would work. I walked and looked and finally asked directions. When I finally entered the shade of the bar, I was relieved to see a familiar figure perched on a barstool.
Orientation continued the next day in Seville. We rode bikes around the perimeter of the center city, visited the Alcazar, where parts of Game of Thrones were filmed, the Seville Cathedral, where Christopher Columbus’ tomb is on display, and the festive Maria Luisa Park. While I went on bike rides and toured museums, my husband searched for an apartment and found a tiny, charming place in Triana across the Guadalquivir River from Seville proper. Triana, the historic center of flamenco, was a lively, festive neighborhood with sidewalk cafes and tapas bars lining the main streets, and flamenco dance studios and window displays of flamenco dresses scattered throughout the densely packed buildings.
From my apartment in Triana, I took a picturesque walk along the Guadalquivir River and crossed a bridge to the Seville side of the river to reach the gates to the formidable University of Seville. Surrounded on three sides by a moat (the 4th side moat was filled to make a street); access to the University was through four gates; one on each side. Why would a University need a moat? It was the five hundred year old Royal Tobacco Factory long before it was a University. The building is a remarkable example of 18th-century industrial Renaissance architecture and one of the oldest buildings of its type in Europe. Next to the monastery-palace of El Escorial, it covers the most surface area of any building in Spain. And it took me over a week to learn to navigate its many corridors, marbled staircases and formal courtyards with fountains. The student body exceeds the population of Juneau and tour groups are a regular part of the academic environment.
At every turn, I was immersed in history as well as language. Surrounded by amazing architecture it was easy to imagine boats laden with tobacco from the ‘New World’ tying up along the Guadalquivir to offload tobacco and gold.
Going even further back, the Roman Empire extended into the Iberian Peninsula. The ancient Roman city of Italica on the outskirts of Seville is largely intact and a film site for Game of Thrones. One of my professors was friends with the director of the Game of Thrones and kept us abreast of the filming schedule in Italica. Additionally, the actors stayed in a hotel next to the University of Seville and yes, I saw “John Snow.”
A benefit of the API was the many cultural events and field trips included in the program. We traveled within Spain for excursions like the Alhambra in Granada and hiking in El Bosque, but a highlight was definitely the five days in Paris! Travel within Europe was fairly affordable and many students used Seville as a springboard to explore the rest of Europe on the long weekends and vacations. I took a side trip to northern Morocco with the travel group “We Love Spain” which is geared for student weekend travel.
From shopping at the local markets to learning about the Roman Empire in Spain, I found my study abroad experience invigorating, challenging, and full of adventure. I learned something new every day and most importantly, I learned that taking the risk was well worth the time, energy and cost.
API offers comprehensive study abroad opportunities in roughly 30 countries around the world. Determination and interest is what you need to apply. Why not try it? You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes of the experience!