After spending time and effort learning a language, going on a year abroad can be an extremely enriching and even life-changing experience. Here I will outline the most important things which I learnt last year living in Seville, in the south of Spain.
There is no doubt that my Spanish is much better now than it was before I left the UK. Although acclimatising to using Spanish as my primary language was difficult at times, I had become so comfortable in it by the end of the year that there are moments now when I feel I can express myself more freely in Spanish than in English. My knowledge of colloquial language also benefitted massively from the experience.
I spent my year abroad studying at the Universidad de Sevilla, and it was fascinating learning how university life works in another country. While some things were the same, others definitely were not – for instance, departments were arranged differently with modern and ancient languages all in the same Facultad de Filología, and lectures were twice the length that they were in the UK.
Although I had read about different cultural practices, living them was an entirely different experience. Over the course of the year, I actively engaged in the everyday parts of Spanish life, such as going out for an afternoon café con leche with friends or taking a siesta and tactically going out after dark when the sweltering summer months arrived. Afternoon naps are something that I have now incorporated into my daily life.
A major benefit of being an international student in Seville was that I got to meet people from all over the world, whether that be at university, at a local language exchange, or in a weekly art group. It was amazing seeing Seville through their eyes and learning about the cultures they had come from. I unexpectedly met a lot of people from Sardinia who became some of my closest friends, helped me with my Italian, and taught me about the island.
Despite moving within international circles, I also learned a lot about fitting into a new society and what it entails. Whether it was watching to see what other people were wearing for Seville’s changeable November weather (the answer is puffer jackets) or picking up a slight Andalusian accent, it was an amazing experience moving from the position of extranjera (foreigner) to someone who lived in Spain. This involved taking part in key events in Seville’s calendar, such as the Christmas Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, the Easter processions that transformed the city, or the Feria de abril, where everyone donned traditional Spanish clothes for a week of dancing and celebration. By the end of the year, I had reached a point where people would ask me where in Spain I was from, and I even found myself complaining with locals about visiting football fans who were wreaking havoc on the city. Becoming part of such a vibrant community in such a short space of time was one of the greatest joys of my year abroad.
An equally important part of the process of a year abroad is moving back to your home country after it is all over. I had a lot of mixed emotions when I left Seville – both sadness that my time there was over and I would be leaving all the friends that I had made, but also some excitement at returning to the UK to finish my degree and meet all the friends that I had left behind. The important thing is working out how to take all that you have learned abroad back home with you, so that you can become a more rounded and global person.
About The Author: Rene is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and an undergraduate student of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge.