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Although based on my posts so far it may appear that I have spent the majority of my time in Seville frolicking about Spain and other parts of Europe, I have indeed also been quite hard at work for my classes at the Universidad de Sevilla and my program center. Since I’m now getting back into the swing of things academically, I figured this was a good time to post about my classroom experiences in Sevilla. The academic system at the Universidad de Sevilla is fundamentally different from the system at Penn — or any other American university, for that matter. Because of these differences, I have honestly sometimes found the academic structure and teaching style to be a more difficult adjustment than having all my classes in Spanish. That being said, my first few weeks of university classes were definitely overwhelming, sometimes frustrating, and a little bit frightening. After hearing horror stories from past program participants about the craziness of course registration due to classes being cancelled, rooms being changed, and local university professors declaring that they did not want foreign students in their classes, my course selection went relatively smoothly by comparison, and I was able to pick my three university courses by the middle of shopping week: Spanish Art, History of Contemporary Spain, and History of Cinema and Audiovisual Media. Once I had picked my classes — along with a course on the Early Literatures of Seville and another on the Great Masters of Spanish Art at my program center — it was time to get down to academic business. Unlike at Penn, however, most Spanish professors do not hand out a syllabus and go over assignments on the first day of class. In fact, one of my professors never gave me a syllabus at all — he merely directed me to the electronic version on the university website. Accordingly, the majority of Spanish professors do not assign daily reading or shorter assignments. For my university classes, my grades basically come down to one final exam — quite a nerve-wracking prospect! And because the “real work” supposedly doesn’t come up until this final exam, I have sometimes noted a general sense of apathy among university professors and students. For someone used to being in a rigorous academic environment and receiving multiple assignments throughout the semester, this has proven to be frustrating at times. Some professors do not even care if students go to class; they merely want students to be prepared for the final come the end of the semester. Accordingly, the general lack of structure and disorganization in my university classes has proven quite daunting and has made communication difficult at times.

My university classes have been a learning process in more ways than one — not just because of the language barrier but also because of the cultural one. By far, Spanish Art is my most difficult university course. In accordance with the title, the course is an overview of the entire history of art in Spain — that’s quite the proposition for one semester! I was initially drawn to the course because it was presented as an introductory course. In reality, though, my professor is quite fond of using detailed and specific art vocabulary in his lectures (and large amounts of said vocabulary, to boot). During the first few weeks of this class, it seemed like he was practically running through his lectures — talking as if he were getting paid by the word and wanted to cram as many as possible into his hour-long lectures. Even though I have since adjusted to his style of teaching, the class can still feel overwhelming at times — especially when I have tried communicating with this professor. One time, I emailed him to clarify the requirements for a paper assignment, and he responded by telling me he believed I had the wrong professor and class. Knowing I did not, I quickly emailed him back and arranged a time to go to his office hours. When I showed up to his office hours, he seemed to have no idea who I was…and even asked me if I attended class. I was a bit surprised considering that I do, in fact, attend class every day and sit in the second row. ¡Ay Dios Mio!

Fortunately, my other two university classes are not quite as intimidating. Unlike my Spanish Art professor, my History of Contemporary Spain professor speaks slowly and quietly. He is very shy and does not use a microphone so I always make sure to snag a seat near the front of the classroom in order to hear him better. And although I can understand his Spanish quite well, his lectures are not always organized — he enjoys going off on tangents and particularly enjoys incorporating his predilection for various books and authors into his lectures. During the first few weeks of class, he devoted a great deal of his lectures to emphasizing the importance of reading books about history and not just attending lecture. My class on the History of Cinema is by far my favorite class at the university. I find the topic to be the most interesting and I was fortunate to have taken a film class in Spanish last semester — that background information and list of cinema terms I had to memorize last semester are certainly coming in handy now. The class is an overview of the development of cinema around the world, and the professor often shows films to supplement her lectures. Though she lectures quite rapidly — and I certainly do not catch every word that she says — I am very much enjoying the class material. And unlike my Spanish Art professor, she did not tell me I had the wrong course when I emailed her with a question. A small victory, but I’ll take it.

My classes at the Michigan Cornell Penn Center have a similar structure to American university courses, complete with multiple assignments and discussion. The more familiar structure to these courses is a breath of fresh air. I have enjoyed learning about some of Spain’s most famous artists, including the great architect Hernán Ruiz II and acclaimed painter Diego de Silva y Velázquez, in my Great Masters class. My favorite class this semester, however, is the Early Literatures of Seville. This class is taught by a visiting professor from the University of Michigan. For class, we are reading historic texts by authors from Seville and are also required to visit the sites of Seville in order to connect them with the readings. Although I did not think I would be interested in reading these early texts at first, I love that the class connects what I’m learning to the city of Sevilla itself.

While my academic life here in Sevilla has presented some challenges so far this semester, I can definitely say that my Spanish has improved as a result. Every day, it becomes easier and easier to comprehend what my local university professors are discussing in lecture — and it no longer feels shocking to walk into class and hear all Spanish, all the time. It also doesn’t hurt that I attend these classes in the beautiful and historic Fábrica de Tabacos building — an old tobacco factory that is the setting for the opera Carmen. Adjusting to academic life here in Sevilla has been a learning process in my study abroad experience in and of itself, and I know I will continue making new discoveries and facing new challenges as the semester goes on.

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¡Feria de Abril!

This past week, I had off from classes at the Universidad de Sevilla and my program center in honor of Feria de Abril (April Fair). Feria is Sevilla’s weeklong spring festival. It usually falls about two weeks after the more somber Sevilla tradition of Semana Santa or Holy Week. Semana Santa is a weeklong celebration leading up to Easter Sunday. During the week of Semana Santa, pasos (processions) line the streets of central Sevilla. Each paso is led by a different hermandad (brotherhood). Each paso features a float (not on wheels, but carried by several members of the brotherhood who walk beneath it) that commemorates a different saint or presents an image of Jesus Christ. In contrast with the sobriety and seriousness of Semana Santa, Feria is marked by a sense of vivacity, energy, and most of all fun! Unlike Semana Santa, which essentially shuts down central Sevilla for a week, Feria takes place on the fairgrounds located in the city’s Los Remedios neighborhood. The portada — or gateway — marks the official entrance to Feria. Every year, a different temporary portada is built. The portada looks most magical when it is lit up at night, and it was truly a sight to see. Beyond the portada, Feria begins with a series of casetas. Casetas are small tents generally owned by businesses or families where friends gather to celebrate Feria and dance the sevillanas, a special type of dance unique to Sevilla. For those not associated with a particular caseta, there are also public casetas that sell food and play music so everyone can join in the Feria fun. For those who grow tired of walking through the casetas, there are horse carriages that wind through way through the Feria grounds and many also ride on horseback through Feria. It was a little tricky to navigate my way around all the carriages and horses but it was certainly fun to see.

All the Sevilla residents dress up for Feria. Men usually wear suits, while all the women wear fabulous flamenco dresses. I felt like I was walking through a citywide fashion show as I wandered around the various casetas. Colors and ruffles abound, and all the women wear flowers in their hair. I particularly enjoyed seeing all the young girls dressed up in their Feria finest. So cute!

Towards the far end of the Feria grounds, there is a carnival known as Calle del Infierno replete with carnival rides, games, and many junk food stands (my favorites included buñuelos — little fried doughnuts that come with various toppings — and cotton candy larger than my head)! Though some of the rides at the carnival looked downright terrifying, my roommate and I decided to try out a few of the tamer ones — and we survived. At night, all the carnival rides light up and the Calle del Infierno fills up with people of all ages. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Feria is that it is a celebration that truly involves everyone — from babies in diapers to grandparents.

While I enjoyed the chance to experience the Sevilla tradition of Feria for a few days, it’s now time to dive back into the “study” portion of study abroad. More details on my academic experience at the Universidad de Sevilla to come soon!

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La Portada de Feria

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La Portada at night

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Young girl dancing in her Feria dress

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Different flavors of algodón dulce (cotton candy) at a booth along the Calle del Infierno

Un Viaje a Paris

Between classes, my family visiting, and two weeks of festivals in Sevilla (Semana Santa and now Feria), I have been quite busy over the past several. During the past few months, I have also been able to do a fair bit of traveling! In the middle of March, I spent a day in Merida — a small city in southern Spain known for its Roman ruins. At the end of March, I had the chance to visit a friend in Amsterdam for a few days during the Semana Santa break (seeing the Anne Frank House was one of the most moving experiences I have had while studying abroad). At the beginning of this month, my family also finally came to visit me in Sevilla! It was so nice to be reunited with them, and I enjoyed showing them all the sights of Sevilla that are now quite familiar to me. I had also had a chance to return to the Alhambra in Granada with them and also revisited all my favorite Madrid sites during a family weekend there. Although I wish to elaborate more on all of these happenings at a later point, for now I am posting about my most recent traveling adventure: a few days in Paris!

After dreaming of seeing the City of Light during my previous visits to Europe (including two wonderful stays in London), I finally had the chance to visit Paris for three nights this past week. Needless to say, this beautiful city did not disappoint! I was enthralled by the majestic Eiffel Tower looming over the city’s landscape, the incredible art museums, and of course, the decadent macarons. During my two and a half days in Paris, my traveling companion — one of my fellow Michigan Cornell Penn Sevilla program members — and I went on a literal whirlwind tour of Paris. We barely saw our hotel room while we were in Paris (though the Timhotel Le Louvre was ideally located just a hop, skip, and jump away from Paris’s most famous museum) as we were too busy soaking up the sights and sounds of the city. After arriving in Paris late Monday night, I was ready to hit the ground running early Tuesday morning. On Tuesday, my friend and I began our day with some delicious nutella banana crepes and then spent the morning at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris’s contemporary art museum. The Orsay houses an extensive collection of impressionist paintings. Among my favorite paintings were Degas’s The Ballet Class, Monet’s stunning natural landscape, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night on the Rhone. The museum itself is also beautiful, housed in a converted, old-fashioned train station. Following my tour of the Louvre, I had the chance to experience another work of art — this time an edible one — in the form of macarons at Laduree, one of the most famous macaron bakeries in Paris. After having had my first taste of Laduree macarons at a small storefront inside Harrod’s in London in 2010, I knew I had to experience the real thing in Paris. I was not disappointed. The delicate, tiny cookies at sky-high prices in an array of colors and flavors were truly delicious — and well worth the cost. The next day, my friend and I went back to the original Laduree storefront on Champs Elysees — I just couldn’t get enough macarons. To wrap up the day on Tuesday, we wandered two of Paris’s most elegant shopping streets — Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore and Rue Saint-Honore (yes, they are different streets and yes, I did get a little lost when I confused the two) — before heading over to the Eiffel Tower for an evening ride to the top. Though I am terrified of heights, the view from the top of the tower was well worth the nerve-wracking glass elevator ride. It was a great way to end my first day in Paris.

While I was in Paris, I also had the chance to visit the Louvre (and the famous Mona Lisa), Notre Dame Cathedral, the Jardin des Tuilieres, and the Arc de Triomphe. My favorite activity in Paris, however, was one that was totally unplanned. While walking to the Metro on Tuesday night, I noticed a sign advertising a production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park With George at the Theatre du Chatelet. As a musical theatre lover, I knew I had to see the show! I have truly missed my American musicals while I’ve been abroad, and what better than to see a show about a Parisian painter while visting Paris? The musical is a fictionalized account of painter Georges Seurat and his process of creating Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte — his most famous work. In the second act, the show introduces us to his great-grandson George II, who is presenting an art installation at the Art Institute in Chicago (the actual location of Seurat’s acclaimed painting). We managed to snag discount student tickets to the show, and I loved every moment of it. The cast was extremely talented, the orchestra top-notch, and the show made innovative use of projection technology. Sunday in the Park With George had been on my list of musicals to see since I learned about in my American Musical Theatre course at Penn last fall, and it was so incredible to see it in Paris. I also loved the experience of doing a familiar activity — going to the theatre — in a new city. It was a lovely way to spend my final night in Paris before I headed back to Sevilla for Feria (more to come on that in a later post).

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Inside the Musee d’Orsay

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Laduree

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Eiffel Tower

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Yum macarons!

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Sunday in the Park With George at Theatre du Chatelet

Though it may appear that I have fallen off the face of the blogosphere, my dear readers, let me assure you that I am now back with many new tales from my time spent so far studying abroad in Spain. Since classes officially started at the Universidad de Sevilla on February 11, I have been caught up in the surprising whirlwind that comprises everyday life. Before I continue sharing my stores of life in Sevilla, however, I would like to dedicate this blog post to my adventures this past weekend in Barcelona — one of the most magical weekends I have had so far since arriving in Spain! I had the chance to see this beautiful city in the Cataluña region in the north of Spain with one of my oldest and closest friends from back home in Chicago, Jamie. After showing Jamie around Sevilla during the past long weekend, I was eager to see what her life was like studying in Barcelona! It was thrilling to experience a new city that is home to cava (sparkling wine) and crema catalana (the Catalonian twist on crème brulee), but it was even more exciting to do so with a close friend. The combination of a new place and a familiar face made my weekend in Barcelona that much better — it also helped that Jamie proved to be an excellent tour guide!

After arriving in Barcelona this past Friday evening after a fairly uneventful journey form Sevilla (many thanks to Vueling Airlines for not canceling my flight in spite of a major airline strike), I was ready to start exploring!  We took the Metro back to Jamie’s apartment and ate dinner at a restaurant in her neighborhood. After dinner, we grabbed dessert at La Parada, a local restaurant with some of the best macarons I have ever tasted. I tried three different macarons, and my favorite by far was the one with peanut butter and jelly filling. After craving peanut butter for weeks (it is not common at all here in Sevilla!), biting into the cookie was like biting into a miniature of the classic American sandwich— but even more decadent! Following our fabulous dessert, Jamie and I ventured out to Icebarcelona in the Barceloneta neighborhood. Icebarcelona is exactly what it sounds like — a bar made entirely out of ice! The ice bar was one of the coolest places I’ve been in Spain — both literally and figuratively. When we arrived for our appointment, the hostess gave us down jackets and gloves to wear inside the bar. Inside the ice bar, drinks are served in glasses made of ice and the walls are adorned with ice sculptures of some of Barcelona’s most famous sites.

On Saturday morning, I toured the majestic La Sagrada Familia — the church designed by Spain’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. The entire city of Barcelona plays out like Gaudí’s canvas — his buildings are everywhere — but the Sagrada Familia is considered his masterwork. After learning about Gaudí’s work in several Spanish classes and seeing countless photos, I could not wait to see La Sagrada Familia for myself. It was even more breathtaking than I ever could have imagined. From the outside, the sheer size and scale of the church immediately struck me. La Sagrada Familia (which translates to “Holy Family” in Spanish) takes up practically an entire city block. Despite the building’s massive size, La Sagrada Familia is also incredibly ornate and detailed. When I stepped inside the center room of La Sagrada Familia, I was struck by the huge, bright stained glass windows. I am a sucker for anything stained glass, and Gaudí’s stained glass windows were truly a site to see. In an attempt to merge nature and art in his work, Gaudí installed the stained glass windows in La Sagrada Familia so that natural light would stream into the church. And though Gaudí sadly died before La Sagrada Familia was completed, the architect’s keen attention to detail and innovative flare for design are evident in this building. During the last few years of his life, Gaudí became so entrenched in his work on La Sagrada Familia that he began living inside the church. When he was tragically struck by a trolley car on his way to Mass in 1926, it took hospital employees three days to identify him as the great Antoni Gaudí — in his fervent desire to absorb himself in his work on La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí had neglected his own physical appearance so much as to be rendered unrecognizable. Gaudí’s tomb is housed in the cavernous crypt of La Sagrada Familia — a reminder that this majestic building is a living tribute to his artistic accomplishments. La Sagrada Familia is set for completion by 2026, and though it may technically be unfinished, the detail and polish of the church are astounding.

After eating lunch at a Mexican restaurant near La Sagrada Familia (guacamole has never tasted so good!), Jamie and I spent the afternoon exploring another one of Gaudí’s famous Barcelona monuments: Parc Güell. It was 60s and sunny in Barcelona on Saturday — a nice change of pace after a long, cold week of rain in Sevilla — so it was a near perfect afternoon to explore the park. The highlight was seeing Gaudí’s fabulous mosaic dragon fountain in the center of Parc Güell — very playful and cleverly constructed!

On Sunday morning, Jamie and I visited the Museu Picasso. The museum, located in a series of 5 non-descript buildings, houses an impressive collection of Picasso’s works. For me, the most fascinating paintings in the collection were from the earliest and latest stages of Picasso career — though the collection does not have a large number of paintings from the middle years of his career, it is a well-rounded collection. The Museu Picasso has a large number of paintings from Picasso’s teenage years, and it was incredible to see just how detail-oriented and precise the artist’s work was when he was only 16 and 17. My favorite part of the Museu Picasso, however, was the display of the 58 paintings that comprises Picasso’s 1957 series Las Meninas. In the collection, 45 of the paintings are variations on the great Spanish painter Diego de Silva y Velázquez’s 1656 masterpiece, Las Meninas — a court portrait of the royal infant Margarita and her ladies-in-waiting. Picasso’s twists on Las Meninas display a deep appreciation for Velázquez’s original painting yet also are distinctly Picasso’s own works. Some of the paintings in Picasso’s series also have a very tongue-in-cheek treatment of the original work. In some of the Las Meninas paintings, Picasso reversed the orientation of Velázquez’s piece so what was once horizontal becomes vertical and vice versa. Accordingly, in some of these newly oriented paintings, Velázquez — who appears on the left-hand side of the painting in front his easel — appears nearly sky high. The trip to the Museu Picasso was worth it to see this series of paintings alone.

After visiting the Museu Picasso, Jamie and I wrapped up my visit to Barcelona by eating some delicious crema catalana tarts at a bakery near the museum. Following a quick lunch and a final walk through La Rambla (the center of Barcelona), I was off to the airport for my return trip to Sevilla. Though we managed to see an incredible number of Barcelona’s most exciting sites in just two days, I left the city feeling like I had only gotten a small taste of all it had to offer. Barcelona, I’ll be back!

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La Sagrada Familia carved out of ice at Icebarcelona

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The delicious peanut butter and jelly macaron

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La Sagrada Familia

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Stained glass windows inside La Sagrada Familia

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Posing on a bench in Parc Güell

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The famous dragon fountain in Parc Güell

The past two weeks in Sevilla have been a whirlwind. Between wrapping up with class sessions and coursework for my orientation course at the Center, visiting the Andalusian cities of Córdoba, Ronda, and Cádiz, and finally preparing to start classes at the Universidad de Sevilla, I have been keeping myself quite busy over the past several days. Though sometimes it feels like I’ve been away from home for months already, time somehow still seems to slip past me in the flurry of activity and travel that I’ve been experiencing. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of my fourth and fifth weeks abroad:

 The Highs

(1) Visiting Córdoba and Cádiz with the Michigan Cornell Penn Program — On February 1, I took a day trip to the small city of Córdoba along with all the other Michigan Cornell Penn program participants. After turning in our last essays and taking a grammar exam the day before, everyone in the program was ready for a change of scenery from Sevilla. And though Córdoba itself is a much smaller city than Sevilla, it is home to one of Spain’s most famous monuments — La Mezquita de Córdoba. La Mezquita is the great mosque of Córdoba, and it represents the height of Muslim rule in Spain. The history of La Mezquita dates back 12 centuries as the mosque was originally constructed between 785 and 787 during the reign of Abd al Rahman I, a ruler descended from the Omeya dynasty of Damascus. The most striking feature of La Mezquita are the arcos de herradura, the traditional horseshoe arches that are characteristic of Muslim architecture. La Mezquita is replete with these amazing structures. Though it was amazing to see La Mezquita de Córdoba, I was somehow underwhelmed during the tour — perhaps because our program was practically running through the mosque. I was struck more by the medieval sinagoga, the synagogue dating back to the Middle Ages in Spain. In the sinagoga — as with Córdoba itself — the convergence of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultures in Spain is clearly visible. Though the synagogue is a site for Jewish worship, this ancient building also contains elements of Muslim and Christian arquitecture. These various architectural styles are juxtaposed with Hebrew writing on the walls of the sinagoga. For me, seeing this small but intricate building was somehow more memorable than seeing the grand Mezquita de Córdoba, perhaps because the experience was so much more intimate. Like the sinagoga, Córdoba itself is also a more compact city, and it is full of cobblestone streets lined with small shops selling leather goods and silver jewelry.

This past Saturday, the program spent the day in the port city of Cádiz just as the city was kicking off its annual Carnaval — a rowdy celebration where people dress in costumes and line the streets a la Mardi Gras. Though I did not stay the night for Carnaval, I could definitely feel the festive spirit of Cádiz. Like the other cities in Andalucía, Cádiz is also rich with history. Cristobal Colon (you may know him as “Christopher Columbus”) sailed out from Cádiz on two of his missions to the New World, and it was here in Cádiz that Spain’s first constitution was written in 1812 — known as the Constitución de Cádiz and nicknamed “La PEPA.” After taking a walking tour of the city, we had the opportunity to visit the Torre Tavira. From the top of the Torre, I was able to see all of Cádiz.

(2) Visits to Ronda and Itálica — Aside from my visits to Córdoba and Cádiz with the program, I also had the chance to visit  these two other sites in Andalucía. Ronda is a literal city on a hill, located about two hours from Sevilla. This small city is home to Spain’s first Plaza de Toros as well as some of the most magnificent bridges I have ever seen. Itálica is a site of Roman ruins located right outside Sevilla, and it serves as a reminder of the Roman presence in Spain. Though Itálica is quite rundown, the ancient Anfiteatro (“Amphitheatre”) was a definite highlight of my visit. Out of all the sites in Itálica, this outdoor theatre has certainly been the best preserved and as an avid theatre lover, it was amazing to see a centuries-old performance space.

The Lows

 (1) Adjusting to life in my homestay — In general, I am content with my experience in my homestay, and I have truly enjoyed getting to know my señora these past few weeks. At times, however, the language and cultural barriers can seem daunting. Let me share a few anecdotes to give you an idea.

Electricity and water are much more costly in Spain than in the United States so Spaniards are extremely conscious of their energy use. While I wholeheartedly support the initiative to save energy, there have been times where it seemed a bit extreme. My señora will frequently come into my bedroom while I’m studying and flip off lights that she does not think I need! I have also had to adjust to wandering through the hallways of my apartment in darkness. Climbing the stairs up to the second floor apartment can also be a challenge. As I climb each flight, I need to flick on a light switch that illuminates the floor.

Adjusting to the Spanish diet has also been a bit of a challenge. While my señora has been doing her best to try to accommodate my roommate (who is a very picky eater!) and I by adhering to our dietary preferences, it can sometimes be hard to communicate with her about food. If my roommate and I do not finish everything on our plates, my señora will assume we did not like the food. She has told me repeatedly, “¡Comérselo todo!” which translates to “Eat it all!” When I cannot follow these instructions, she chastises me and explains that she does not like to throw away food. I think her cooking is fine, but sometimes the portions are just too large. The most interesting moment came, however, when my señora tried to trick me into eating pork. I had told her during my first day in the homestay that I did not really like pork. One night, she placed two pieces of breaded meat in front of me. I originally thought they were chicken breasts as she often makes chicken cutlets. When I started eating, however, she informed me that it was pork and proceeded to add that it was clean pork because it did not contain any bacon. She then placed a plate in front of me and instructed me to leave her the second piece of pork if I wasn’t going to eat it. Needless to say, that was not my favorite meal.

(2) Continued technology issues — No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to get my local Spanish phone working properly. I spent two hours at Vodafone on my birthday this past Friday — certainly not the celebration I was hoping to have. I guess I just need to accept the fact that my Spanish phone will never work exactly the way I want it to. My entire study abroad experience has truly been the epitome of the phrase: Technology — Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. At least I have a strong WiFi connection in my homestay (definitely useful for writing these blog posts!)

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The famous arches inside La Mezquita de Córdoba

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Puente Nuevo (“New Bridge”) in Ronda

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View from the top of the Torre Tavira in Cádiz

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Sea urchin in Cádiz!

I apologize for having been so remiss about posting over the last couple of weeks, but I have been incredibly busy during the past 10 days here in Sevilla! The cultural orientation course at the Michigan Cornell Penn Centro has been moving along full steam ahead with a variety of site visits and class assignments! After spending our second week in Sevilla visiting all of the city’s most famous sites, our program ventured to Spain’s capital city of Madrid last weekend for a full three days and two nights! Upon returning to Sevilla, I spent most of the past week writing my first five-page essay for my orientation course (and the paper is even longer than usual because each page measures 8.5 x 14) and trying to sort out potential schedules for my semester-long classes at the Centro and the Universidad de Sevilla. So much has happened over the past several days so in summary I am going to share some of the highlights (and not-so-highlights) of my second and third weeks abroad.

The Highs

(1) A Weekend in Madrid — After spending my first two weeks entirely in Sevilla, it was very exciting to visit Spain’s much larger capital city of Madrid! Exploring Madrid was an entirely different experience from being here in Sevilla. Right away, Madrid felt much more cosmopolitan and industrial. We stayed in a hotel along the main stretch of Madrid, and the area right near our hotel reminded me of Times Square in New York City — with even more aggressive panhandlers and cartoon characters wandering the streets! Madrid is also a very commercial city, and the main streets are lined with tons of shops and restaurants. While I feel like there are an overwhelming number of Starbucks locations here in Sevilla, that proved even more true of Madrid! And while Madrid certainly has more of a typical big city feel than Sevilla, it is also a city filled with significant Spanish culture. During my short time in Madrid, I had the opportunity to visit two of Spain’s most prominent art museums (on the same day, no less!) — el Museo Nacional del Prado and el Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. The Prado is home to more than 2,000 works of art from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century include paintings by such brilliant artists as Velázquez, Goya, and Murillo. The Reina Sofía houses a stunning collection of modern art with works by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. It was both exhilarating and entirely too overwhelming to see both Velazquez’s famous Las Meninas painting at the Prado and Picasso’s breathtaking and larger than life Guernica at the Reina Sofía in the same day! This past Sunday, the program also visited the stunning Palacio Real — Madrid’s royal palace. When the program was not touring the renowned sites of Madrid, I had time to squeeze in some shopping, meals at some delicious restaurants, and my first visit to a Spanish discoteca where some friends from the program and I danced the night away!

(2) Los Baños Árabes — Back in Sevilla this past Friday, my program had the opportunity to spend the morning at los Baños Árabes (Arab Baths). Essentially a spa, the Baños Árabes are modeled after the traditional Moorish baths that existed in Spain during the height of Muslim rule. The Baños Árabes includes baths with warm, hot, and ice cold water. We were also able to use a steam room, a jet whirlpool, and a salt bath. After spending the past few weeks rushing around Sevilla, it was nice to have some time to relax in the Baños Árabes! Definitely one of the most fun parts of this past week.

(3) Settling into my homestay — I have now been living in my homestay for two weeks! It has been nice to feel like I have a place to call home while I’m here in Sevilla, and I have really enjoyed getting to know my señora, Mati. She has been very sweet to my roommate and I, and she tries very hard to cook food that we like! During our first week at the homestay, she told us she spent all her time at church on Sunday thinking about what she would make for us to eat! I had mentioned that I loved fresas (strawberries), and Mati told me they were out of season. Nevertheless, when I sat down to lunch yesterday, there was a big plate of strawberries! Mati told me she had bought some from a street vendor and that even though they were expensive, she wanted to get them for me. It was very touching, and even though I haven’t yet entirely gotten a hold on the living situation (my bedroom is still ice cold at night!), I feel like I’m on my way to figuring it all out.

(4) Rebajas in Sevilla — Those of you who know me well know that I love to shop! Luckily for me, I arrived in Sevilla at the height of rebajas (sales) season. Unlike in the United States, sales at the major stores in Spain only happen twice a year — once in January/February and then not again until June/July! My roommate and I had quite the adventure wandering through the main shopping area near the Plaza Nueva in Sevilla yesterday. Shopping in Sevilla has also been a very different experience than back in the States! When I wanted to try on some nice boots at a shoe store, the salesperson only gave me one boot at a time from each pair. I then had to ask for the mates to the shoes that fit. This is probably a good anti-theft tactic, but it makes for an inefficient shopping process! It has also been fun exploring El Corte Inglés — Spain’s major department store! The best way to describe Corte Inglés is a cross between Target and Macy’s! Like Target, it has a little bit of everything — clothing, books, make-up groceries, etc. —but it also has a nice range of moderately priced clothing and accessories like Macy’s! Almost everyone living here in Sevilla owns something from Corte Inglés.

 

The Lows

(1) Beginning the course selection process —Selecting my University courses for the this semester will probably be one of the biggest challenges I will face while I’m here in Sevilla, and the process is already under way! The issue stems from the fact that the university system here in Sevilla could not be more different than the one back in the United States. Here at the Universidad de Sevilla, students enroll in facultades — similar to the majors at American universities. Unlike in the United States, however, students matriculate immediately into their specific facultad as soon as they begin their studies. The typical Spanish student will take all their classes in a single facultad during their four years of university study. As a student coming from Penn, however, I need to take classes across multiple facultades. This makes scheduling incredibly difficult because many classes meet at the same time! Because the facultades all operate independently from one another as well, the university buildings are located all across the city! I live only ten minutes away from the Real Fábrica de Tabacos, which is the Universidad de Sevilla’s main building and home to the History, Art History, and Literature departments. The Facultad de Comunicación, on the other hand, is almost a 40-minute bus ride away from my homestay! As a result, I’ve already ruled out taking a class in the Communication building, and I was lucky enough to receive permission from the Comm. department at Penn to take a History of Cinema course in the Art History department. I still need to determine what my other two university courses will be, however, and that process will start in full swing on February 4 when the Centro and Universidad classes begin. Stay tuned for more information on what is sure to be a long and complicated process!

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The Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid

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One of the buildings in the Palacio Real

Though I am just beginning to get to know Sevilla, I have already seen that the city magically blends together the historical and the modern. Sevilla is full of beautiful historic buildings and winding cobblestone streets, but these relics of the past intermingle with endless locations of Starbucks Coffee (I call myself “Raquel” when I order for simplicity’s sake — not that I mind!) and huge bank chains on every corner. This week, I have already had the opportunity to see some of the most significant cultural sites in Sevilla: El Ayuntamiento, La Catedral de Sevilla and La Giralda, and El Museo de Bellas Artes.

On Monday morning, my program took a tour of El Ayuntamiento — the historic city hall building of Sevilla. El Ayuntamiento is quite literally a living piece of Spanish history — both in terms of its constructions and in terms of the artifacts housed within it. The building stands between the historic Plaza de San Francisco — which was used for the autos-da-fé or public trials of heretics during the height of the Spanish Inquisition — and the more modern Plaza Nueva. Turning to the building itself, the walls of El Ayuntamiento link together building materials of the past and present. The older parts are constructed from piedra (“stone”), while the newer additions are made out of modern day materials such as cemento (“concrete”) and ladrillos (“bricks”). El Ayuntamiento also contains a series of valuable works of arts, including a number of portraits of past kings and queens of Spain.  

La Catedral de Sevilla and the accompanying La Giralda (bell tower) may be the most famous historical site in all of Sevilla. La Catedral occupies the site of a great mosque built by the Moorish tribe of the Almohads in the late 12th century. La Giralda is a legacy of this original Moorish structure. When I entered into La Catedral, I was immediately struck by its beauty. Each section of La Catedral contains painstaking artistic details and magnificent church relics. I was perhaps most excited about the fabulous stained glass windows. La Catedral also houses one of three existing tombs for Cristobal Colón (you all know him as “Christopher Columbus”), though it is unlikely that he was actually buried here. La Catedral is brimming with similar historical and religious artifacts, and it was incredible to be in a place that speaks so much to the culture and history of Sevilla. While La Catedral itself is amazing, the view from the top of La Giralda was positively breathtaking. I am proud to say that I have now been to the two most prominent cathedrals in Europe — St. Paul’s in London and now La Catedral de Sevilla — and I have climbed all the way to the top of both!

This morning, my program visited El Museo de Bellas Artes — Sevilla’s resident art museum. El Museo is home to the works of some of Sevilla’s most prominent artists, including El Greco, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (often referred to as simply “Velázquez”), and Bartolomé Estebán Murillo. Aside from housing many magnificent works of local art, the museum itself is stunning and contains many elaborate structures and detailed decorations. It has been so incredible to experience some of Sevilla’s most famous sites over the past few days, and I look forward to exploring more of the city — especially as my knowledge of Sevilla and its history grows. 

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Stone construction inside El Ayuntamiento

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Gold ceiling in one of the rooms inside El Ayuntamiento — the ceiling was built hundreds of years ago and has yet to need any restorationImage

Portrait of Carlos II, who was king of Spain between 1665 and 1700. A product of serious royal inbreeding, he was nicknamed Carlos El Hechizado (“Charles the Bewitched”) due to the fact that he suffered from severe mental and physical disabilities — which also rendered him sterile. When he died without an heir, a War of Succession broke out in Spain.

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La Catedral de Sevilla

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La Giralda

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Stained glass window inside La Catedral

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View from the top of La Giralda

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El Museo de Bellas ArtesImage

Inside one of the main rooms in El Museo

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And finally…my Starbucks cup!

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