Sunday, September 22, 2013


      Hola! Yesterday we got the chance to visit the ruins of the Roman city of Italica. Though it was mostly, well, ruined, the weather was perfect and it's always fascinating to see where and how ancient people lived. It's beyond crazy that places like this are only a short bus ride from my new city, I'll have so many opportunities to learn in new ways this year.

      Since my last post, I've started school at the beautiful CLIC (Monday through Friday, 9:15am-1:00pm), which is a twenty-five minute walk from my apartment, filled with breathtaking views of the Guadalquvir river. I knew that I would meet new people on this program.  I knew that I would be studying at an international school. But if you had told me two weeks ago that I would already have friends from several different countries, I wouldn't have believed you. In my class of ten people at school, I'm the only American. Throughout the class I hear tidbits of German, English, Dutch, Japanese, French, and Mandarin being spoken, though we're all here to learn Spanish. I'm particularly inspired by an elderly Japanese man who sits near me. I often wonder what the place he calls home is like, how old his children are, how he ended up in Seville... but we can only communicate with gestures and smiles and occasional basic Spanish phrases. We're at such different places in our lives and yet we're here in the same room and both very far from home. I think this is one of the wonders of travel-- you meet people from cultures that you might not even acknowledge otherwise, out of either ignorance or egocentrism. I've fallen prey to both. The other day, I talked to my host sister, Lucia, about how culturally aware young people tend to be in Europe and how unaware young Americans tend to be. The teenagers in my class are all bilingual, some even trilingual, and all of them are fluent in English. In our defense, the rest of the world does tend to focus on America as the center of fashion, music, and food-- adopting much of it into their cultures. And so, because other countries try to think like Americans, we young Americans are stuck thinking mostly about ourselves. I wish that I'd been required to take a language throughout elementary and secondary school. I wish I had been taught more about other cultures. I wish we, as a new generation, had been taught how to respect other customs when traveling-- because most of the time we come across as loud, rude, and disrespectful-- and we are, because we don't know better. This year I've made it my mission to be as un-American as possible so that I can soak up Spanish culture for what it is. I'm stowing away my Nike shorts, love for sweet tea, and all of my preconceptions. I think that I'll get more out of this gap year if I'm less attached to where I come from and more open to change; something I wish I'd been at a younger age. Now, I'm sporting some fuzzy pink slippers (no bare-feet in Spain) and eating all the tapas I can get my hands on, which, okay, I would've done anyway. 

 So, to the Japanese man who sits across from me in Spanish class, thank you for opening my eyes to what lies beyond Arkansas and America and English and McDonalds. Maybe one day I can visit your country. 


Sunday, September 15, 2013


Hola, I'M IN SEVILLA! But I'll rewind back to Wednesday, the day that I flew to Spain. After my parents dropped me off at the airport and we said our goodbyes, I dragged my bags across the LR airport and flew to Chicago. I had a four hour layover there, which consisted of some more dragging of my bags. And then I realized that I had committed the worst crime of a student studying abroad: I overpacked. I'll just say that by the time I found my gate in Madrid with my new friends, Paige and Dru, my right shoulder was raw from the weight of my backpack and duffel bag and I wished I hadn't thrown in eight pairs of shoes, a converter, four books, a tote bag, and so on... Because anything I could ever need is probably within a ten minute walk from my apartment here..

     Anyway, after we arrived at the airport in Seville, we took separate taxis to our new homes. I was greeted outside by Lucia, my 21 year old Spanish sister, and Elvira, my host mom. Instead of a hug, I was greeted with two air kisses on either cheek by my new family, and so I encountered the first of the many cultural differences between the US and Spain. After explaining that I speak incredibly poor Spanish, I learned that Lucia speaks fluent English, which made my first day a lot easier. They showed me around their beautiful and pristine (oops, I'm really messy) apartment and then after lunch, I rested in my incredibly cute room for the afternoon. Honestly, the first day left me feeling overwhelmed. Here I was, with other students I didn't know, living with strangers in a foreign country, where they speak a different language. What in the world have I gotten myself into...

    After I took the first of what will be many siestas and slept off some of my jet lag, I joined the rest of the gap year students from CIEE for dinner near my apartment in my neighborhood at about 8pm, which is a very early time to eat dinner in Spain. Another huge difference in culture is the eating schedule here. A normal day consists of breakfast about 8 or 9am, lunch between 2 and 3, and dinner between 9 and 10:30. After dinner on weekend nights, the young people here go out until about 3 or 4 in the morning. But even young children and families are out in the street or eating at cafes until about midnight or later: the city seems to never sleep! This is one part of the culture that I really, really like because I'm a night owl. Even though I've only been here for four days (only?!) I already feel adjusted to the new schedule. The rest of my time has been filled up with getting to know the other students, getting to know my really cool host family and city, participating in various orientation activities, and working on improving my terrible Spanish. Last night, a few of the other students and I went out to a discoteca, which is similar to a club in America. Everyone in Spain seems to know how to have a good time and I spent the night dancing to a mix of American and Spanish pop music with my new amigas. 

    This afternoon, I spent time with Lucia and she took me to a local park to meet some of her friends. And even though I understood absolutely nothing, I managed to hold my own in badminton and a game of cards. Later, the gap year group took a tour of Parque de Maria Luisa, which is a gorgeous   public park here. The tour ended at the Plaza de Espana, built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair, and is what you usually see on a post card of Sevilla. The sun was setting, it was breezy, and the sight was absolutely beautiful.

In other words, I love Sevilla, my host mom is a fabulous cook, my host sister wears cool pants, my new friends are great, and a year here may not be enough. It's midnight and tomorrow I start my Spanish classes, so I'm done blogging for now. 

Sending love back home,


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Beginning.

I'm about to depart on the biggest adventure of my life, where I'll spend 8 months living with a host family, taking Spanish classes, volunteering, traveling, and immersing myself in the vibrant culture of southern Spain. You could say that "the beginning" of my journey starts tomorrow, September 11th at 10:15am, in the Little Rock Airport. Or you could say that it began six months ago, when I mailed in my application to CIEE. But I think it started about ten years ago, when I discovered that I would rather watch Samantha Brown traipse around the world on the Travel Channel than watch cartoons. I've been fascinated with other cultures and places for as long as I can remember. You see, choosing to take this gap year wasn't an act of spontaneity or an attempt to put off college work. This journey has been in the making for many years. I've known I wanted to live abroad for as long as I can remember. I hope to use this year to get out of my Arkansas bubble, to open my eyes to other traditions and cultures, to really, truly see the world, and in turn, to learn more about myself.


Thank you to anyone and everyone who has sparked my love of traveling. Thank you best friends, for encouraging me to always be myself and for supporting me, even though it means we'll be very far apart this year. And mostly, thank you Mom and Dad, for letting me travel halfway around the world to conquer my enormous dreams. I'll update this blog regularly over the next year from Seville. Watch out Spain, I'm coming. 

Follow me on journey.
Love, Elizabeth