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Was It All A Dream?

Carla Sraders

It’s been roughly a month since I’ve been back in the United States and half the time it feels like I never even left. Hanging out with my friends back in Bloomington, my four months abroad almost seems like a dream. None of my friends here were abroad to experience it with me, and the people who I spent every day in Spain with are now scattered across the globe. Not having anyone to identify with, it’s hard to process being back in the United States.

Immediately upon my return I was ecstatic to come home to Buffalo Wild Wings and a comfy bed. Now all of my complaints and desires for American things abroad seem trivial. Sure I didn’t have fast food or cellphone service 24/7, but every day was a new adventure or opportunity to do something different. In Europe I felt like I had the world at my fingertips and opportunity was just a cheap plane ride away. I wasn’t stuck in the “Bloomington bubble,” only thinking about Greek life, the never-ending wait to finally enter Kilroy’s, Little 500, or Pizza X cheesy bread. Over 4,000 miles away from all of this, I was able to be who I wanted to be and learn more about myself. Coming home, I felt enclosed, caged, and hindered by everything in the United States. For the first couple weeks, it’s been hard adjusting.

collection of postcards

Traveling to 7 different countries, I accumulated quite a few postcards.

About a week ago, three weeks after my return, I received a postcard in the mail. The letter, postmarked January 19, 2015, was from me, Carla Sraders, during my first week in Seville. During orientation, some of our professors had us write a letter to our future selves, detailing our hopes for the semester and time abroad. Then, they would mail them to us in May after we returned to the United States. Honestly, I had completely forgotten about the postcard the next day, not thinking about it at all during my time abroad or even when I returned. Going to the mailbox the other day and finding the forgotten postcard, I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

On the postcard I had written (in Spanish of course), “Always maintain this way of viewing the world; with great opportunity for happiness, adventure, and perspective.” I definitely think that living in Europe and experiencing all of these cool things, to coming back to Bloomington, there is bound to be a lot of change. However, I hope I always remember what I wrote on this postcard – although I may be stuck in Bloomington or Indiana or even the United States for now, the world is always going to be out there waiting for me.

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Celebrations in Seville

Carla Sraders

For the past four months I’ve been in Seville, everyone constantly talked about two things – Semana Santa (holy week) and la Feria de Abril (April Fair). All semester I had been looking forward to these two traditional Sevillan celebrations and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Semana Santa, or holy week, is the entire week before Easter Sunday. Because the city is so packed with people and the streets are impossible to navigate, the university cancels school for the whole week. Restaurants and local businesses may close during the week too. While holy week is technically a religious holiday, most residents in Seville take part in it for more of a traditional sense. Sometimes over three generations of families have been in the same hermandad (brotherhood) so whole families spend the day watching.

During the week, pasos (floats) from each respective church or brotherhood in Seville march from their church towards the main Cathedral. Some groups can walk up to twelve hours in the street holding candles, crosses, and the large floats. Residents spend all day in the streets, watching the pasos that go on from noon to sometimes 7 A.M. The spectacular images/floats/decorations during the week truly showed how beautiful a city Seville is.

Samana Santa

Sevillians carry floats weighing over a metric ton.


While I traveled during the first part of the week, I was lucky enough to be in Seville for the second half of Semana Santa. In the U.S., there is such a focus on the actual day of Easter, while here in Spain most of their focus is on holy week before Easter. Because my dorm is in the center of the city, getting around during Semana Santa was nearly impossible. Thousands of residents come out during the week to watch their family and friends during their procession and the streets are difficult to walk through. While I enjoyed watching the pasos (floats) of different processions, by the end of the week I was thankful for the streets to clear out a bit and have the city return to normal.

While Semana Santa is a more religious celebration, la Feria de Abril is much more a festival. Always two weeks after Semana Santa, la Feria is a week-long celebration of flamenco, family, manzanilla, and fun. Again, university classes are cancelled for the week and lots of businesses are closed. Starting on Monday at midnight, there is a ceremonial lighting of the entrance known as alumbrao. Thousands and thousands of tents are laid out among the fairgrounds – all containing tables, food, drinks, and space for dancing. While some tents are public, the majority are private tents owned by businesses, organizations, or families. In addition to the tents, there are tons of typical amusement park attractions – swinging ships, ferris wheels, and tons of other attractions. Women wear typical flamenco dresses and flowers while men wear suits.

Feria attire

Traditional attire for la Feria

Again, like the week of Semana Santa, I took advantage of the time off of school to travel a bit. I returned to Seville during the middle of the week and was able to participate in all activities Feria. While on the first day I went towards la Feria during the day, I quickly realized that it is more alive during nighttime. Most times I went to la Feria my friends and I didn’t leave our apartments until around midnight or 1 A.M. and returned home around 5 or 6 A.M. (and surprisingly there were still thousands of people there).

One of the nights I went to la Feria my friends and I spent almost the majority of the time on amusement park rides. Not having been to an amusement park since high school, we had much more fun than anticipated on the rides. Each time we went we walked around, danced, and somehow persuaded our way into private casetas (tents). Tents are filled with all types of people where you can talk, dance, and drink. During the final Saturday of la Feria, my friends and I went to la Feria again and spent the majority of time together in a large group. Overall, each time I went I met new people, did something different, and finally understood why everyone had been talking for four months about the thrill that is la Feria.

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Life in Seville

Carla Sraders

Over the past month, I have done an extensive amount of traveling and exploring different parts of Spain, Europe, and Africa. I’ve travelled to the majority of Andalusia (southern Spain), multiple cities in Morocco, and made my first trip to another European country! While the weekends have been jam-packed with new experiences, I’ve really missed spending as much time in Seville. Traveling from Thursday to Sunday every weekend maximizes the time I can spend in other cities, but really hinders the amount of time I’m able to spend in Seville. Coming abroad, most people seem to focus on all of the traveling they can do when within Europe. Having chosen a European city, I definitely planned to take a lot of trips when I signed up to come to Seville, but I’ve begun to realize that being able to spend time in your own city abroad is much cooler.

The past 4 weekends I’ve been traveling outside of Seville to some amazing new places. While I definitely have missed Seville during my time away, I’ve also had some great experiences. In Granada I was able to enjoy tons of free tapas, walk down the Sierra Nevada mountains, and sleep in a hostel. In Morocco (truly the experience of a lifetime) I took a ferry over the Strait of Gibraltar, rode a camel, tried on traditional Moroccan dresses, walked around Chefchaouen, and learned a few words in Arabic (would love love love to learn more someday!).

Our host mom in Morocco

Our host mom in Morocco let us try on her traditional Moroccan dresses.

In Barcelona I walked around las Ramblas, swam in the Mediterranean, and ran a marathon. While all of these experiences and sight-seeing opportunities have been wonderful, I think the best part of studying abroad is the opportunity to live in a European city.

Carla after running

After completing the Barcelona Marathon this March.

In all of the different cities I’ve traveled to, most of my friends and I walk around and plan to go to the major tourist attractions. Going to Barcelona, I had to see the Sagrada Familia. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was obvious. While I definitely think this is important to do, these aren’t the main things I’ll look back at from my time abroad and appreciate the most. Spending two or three days in each of these cities, all I have time to do is see the major tourist attractions. I’m able to say that I’ve seen the Alhambra, but experiencing the culture in each of these different cities is much more different. Most of the things I’m able to do in other cities is superficial. For that reason, I’m glad I’ve enjoyed my time spent at “home” in Seville. Most of the things I’ll remember most about being abroad will be things I did in Seville – getting drinks along the river, living in the dorms, and time spend with all of my friends. In the future, I hope to return to Europe and see places I’m not going to be able to visit (super bummed that Greece isn’t going to happen), but I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to live in Europe for an extended period of time again.

The past couple months living in Seville, I’ve become comfortable and accustomed to the lifestyle and people and weather and all the aspects of the city. I’ve seen el Alcázar and Plaza de España (Seville’s major tourist attractions), but I’ve also been able to understand the city on a deeper level. With the weather warming up, and Semana Santa (holy week celebrations) and Feria (Seville’s weeklong festival along the river) coming up, I’m excited for all the time I have left to experience living in such an extraordinary city!


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Real Madrid: An Experience 4 Years in the Making

Carla Sraders

Four years ago, when my sister was studying abroad in Spain, my family flew 4,000 miles across the Atlantic to visit her in Toledo. While I was very excited to see my sister, there were obviously a ton of other things I wanted to see, eat, watch, and experience during my trip. Above the Alcázar, Parc Güell, el Prado, and Sagrada Familia… I wanted to go to a Real Madrid game. Having played soccer almost all of my life, I’ve always enjoyed watching it. So when my dad and I found out there was a Real Madrid home game during our time in Spain, we immediately bought tickets.

After a delayed flight, lost luggage, and a lot of confusion getting to Madrid, we mixed up the days of the game. Sitting in our hotel room on Saturday night, we checked to make sure we were ready for the game we thought kicked off Sunday at 6 pm. Dumbfounded, we realized the game was actually happening at that moment. My dad, little brother, and I ran out of the hotel, on the metro, and onward towards Santiago Bernabéu. Getting into the stadium around the 90th minute, everyone was leaving as we finally arrived. Not only did we lose over 200 euros and the chance to see a game, but Real Madrid had lost the game 1-0 – their first lost at home during 2011.

Now, 4 years later, I’m studying abroad in a city less than 3 hours away from Madrid via AVE train. I knew I’d have to return to Santiago Bernabéu before I came back to the United States. I was finally going to see a Real Madrid game.

outside Santiago Bernabéu

Outside of Santiago Bernabéu on Valentine’s Day, 2015.

While I’ve been fortunate enough to attend NBA, MLB, and NFL games in my life, I’ve never had an experience quite like the game in Madrid. The entire 81,000 person stadium was electric. While my friends and I sat in the nosebleeds at the very top of the stadium, there wasn’t a single person around us that wasn’t completely invested in the game. Every free kick from Ronaldo, breakaway from Gareth Bale, and miraculous save from Casillias left the entire stadium breathless.

In Madrid for three days I was able to go back and see the museums, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and many other touristy things, but I don’t think many other experiences abroad will compare to the Real Madrid game. You’re not only sight-seeing or looking at the culture from afar, you’re actually part of it.

Here’s a video of my time spent in Madrid. (Pretty happy to say I caught Isco’s goal on camera!)

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The Illusion of “Español Perfecto”

Carla Sraders

Having been in Seville for over a week now, I’ve become semi-adjusted to the time change (jet lag for the first three days frequently kept me up until 6 am Spanish local time), the differences in Spanish lifestyle (waiting until 10 pm for dinner doesn’t seem totally absurd any more), and have some of an idea about my surroundings/location within Seville. Although it’s taken about a week, I finally feel comfortable and settled into more of a routine. However, by no means would I say that I’m completely adjusted to life here in Seville. There are still many social norms, customs, and countless places within the city that I’m just starting to become familiar with. The most difficult thing, which I think will take me the entire semester to become more comfortable and familiar with, is the language difference.

Having studied Spanish for over nine years, I feel pretty confident in my language comprehension and knowledge of the vocabulary. Still, I have no doubt that there will always be room for me to improve. During class this past week, one of our professors, who has lived in Seville for over 15 years, said that native Spanish speakers still notice a difference in her American accent. Almost 20 years immersed in the Spanish culture and people are still able to tell that she’s not a native speaker. Because I will only be in Spain for about 4 months (much less time than my professor), I realize that speaking perfect Spanish will not be possible. I don’t think studying abroad is supposed to make me fluent in Spanish. Studying abroad will make me more competent and confident in speaking a language foreign to my own. While obviously becoming fluent would be ideal, it’s not a realistic goal to set for myself during my short semester abroad. Being able to confidently speak a language in which I’m not fluent, in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill.

Seville Street

Shops, streets and language in Seville differ greatly from those in the United States.

Getting off the plane in Seville, I was immediately surrounded by the Spanish language. My taxi driver, my orientation leader, my professors – they were all speaking to me in Spanish. Having travelled through various cities for over 24 hours, I was exhausted and disoriented, being plunged so quickly into such an unfamiliar culture. However, after two days in Seville, all of my friends and I already recognized the progress we had made both understanding and speaking Spanish.  (Immersion is the way to go!)

While I may not come back to the United States in 4 months speaking perfect Spanish, I think I will have gained confidence in the fact that I can speak Spanish (no matter if it’s perfect or not). My American accent will always be obvious – no matter how excellent my grammatical construction or extensive vocabulary. However, I think being able to have the confidence to speak Spanish, to converse and connect with people, will create a better experience. I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand all the differences with ser/estar and when I’m talking too fast I probably mix up preterite and imperfect constantly. The more time I spend in Seville I hope to improve these things, but I’ve also realized that it’s not essential for me to speak perfect Spanish to have a conversation with someone in the dining hall or talk to the waiter at a tapas bar. Simply having the confidence to speak Spanish, despite my difficulties, seems to me like the best way to become comfortable and immersed in Seville.

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