Spain: 7 “Firsts” in the First 7 days

Courtney Fraley is a student at Baldwin Wallace University and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures  blogger corresponding with a her study abroad office at Baldwin Wallace. Courtney is studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain on an ISA Spring 1 program.

Hola Amigos!  I hope you are enjoying your day as much as I am here, in Sevilla, Spain! I have officially been in Spain for 2 weeks and would like to share some reflections on my first week in Spain! Not only have I already accomplished one of my biggest dreams of studying abroad, but I have also done a lot of things for the first time. Here are my 7 “firsts” in the first 7 days:

1. International Excursion

Plaza Mayor in Madrid
Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Is this real life? It sure does not seem like it. I have wanted to go to Spain since I started studying Spanish and learning about the fascinating culture of Spain in the seventh grade.  My Spanish classes usually consisted of daydreaming about how beautiful Spain was, and is! I had already traveled with my family on many excursions around the U.S., but I had never been out of the country before. So, January 15 marked the beginning of a new adventure and off I was to Madrid, Spain.  It was so scary saying goodbye to my family at the airport, but I knew that many great things were to come of it. I am sincerely sorry to the people on the plane, in the airport, and in the Akron Arby’s for all of the spontaneous tears that scared them and made them feel awkward, but I cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity and how much I am looking forward to these next 3 months.

2. Starring in a Spanish TV Commercial- “Vroom, Vroom”

One of the Varta promoters with us
One of the Varta promoters with us

After a day of settling into Madrid with ISA, we had a free day to roam around the city and explore it for ourselves. So my three friends and I explored some of Madrid’s most famous locations like la Plaza Mayor, la Puerta del Sol, el Palacio Real, and el Parque del Retiro. El Parque del Retiro is a smaller park very close to el Palacio Real, which holds some statues from the book Don Quixote, and a beautiful fountain. By the time we reached the park, we were whooped from all of the walking so we took a seat on the bench and admired the view. Suddenly, from out of no where, 3 men show up right in front of us; one with a video camera, another with a microphone, and the last, and the strangest, had a large sign protruding from his back, above his head. We looked like we were being punked so I “casually” looked in every direction around me to make sure we weren’t about to be robbed.

They ended up being from a company called Varta that makes car batteries.  That day, they were in the park trying to make a commercial for their company. The man with the microphone asked us if we spoke Spanish because if we did not it would have been hard to make the video. Then, he asked if we knew how to make car noises and if we knew any brands of cars. Once he acknowledged us as qualified for the commercial, he sat in between us on the bench. The camera guy was set and off the microphone man went, “I am here with some Americans. Ladies, let’s get set [proceeds to act as if he is in a car], and go [pretends to turn on engine as we all make car noises]. Vroom, Vroom!” This was quite an experience, especially one to be a part of a Spanish commercial!

3. Seeing a current event as it happens

My friends and I had wandered pretty far into Madrid and turned back to the hotel to rest until dinner. On our way back, we passed through la Puerta del Sol. As we made it about halfway across, we heard shouting, whistles, and saw a decent crowd formed in the corner of the plaza. As we got closer, we saw that it was protestors situated just outside of a bank. If you do not already know, Spain has been having peaceful protests since about 2011 because of the huge economic crisis they have been facing. The people of Spain are protesting corruption in the political system and banks, as well as high unemployment. It was really interesting to see a current event with my very own eyes.

4. Eating “crickets”

Where my friends and I had tapas in Madrid. (Photo credit: Kate Schuler)
Where my friends and I had tapas in Madrid. (Photo credit: Kate Schuler)

After a long day of traveling through Madrid and a short re-cooperating nap, it was dinner time. There is no better way to eat and enjoy the Spanish atmosphere than to try some delicious tapas (they are very similar to appetizers in the U.S.).  We wandered through Madrid to find a tapas bar, Estado Puro, across from the Prado museum.  We were greeted at the door and shown to a table with Spanish and English menus. We all read off the Spanish menu and were trying to figure out what was what, with a little help from the English menu. The menu seemed endless and it was hard to choose which tapas to get so we asked the waiter for suggestions. We wanted to get four tapas to share among the four of us. Here were his suggestions:

  1. Meat bombs– They are like meatballs with cheese. We had planned on getting these anyways so we ordered them. They were buenísimo!
  2. Hamburgers– At first, I was very offended by this because we were clearly trying very hard to read Spanish, communicate in Spanish, and enjoy the Spanish culture. So I said, “NO!” as soon as he suggested it, but we still got them.  These hamburgers that he so kindly suggested, were 14 euro (around $16) for 4 mini-burgers. Note to self: don’t order American food again.
  3. A spicy potato thing- too spicy for me to remember the name of it or enjoy it.
  4. Croquettes– As soon as he said this word, we asked if he had said, “baguettes.” They were not “baguettes”, he kept repeating that they were croquettes, but we still did not understand and were unable to find it on the menu. So someone asked if they were “Crickets” and with a smile on his face, clearly not understanding this word, he said, “Yes.” These “crickets” were not crickets at all, but rather mozzarella cheese stick-looking, fried mashed potatoes with ham and cheese.  “Crickets” are my favorite tapas and story about miscommunication.

That tasty fiasco wrapped up our time in Madrid.

5. Exploring an Ancient City

Best view of Toledo!
Best view of Toledo!

My ISA group took an hour and a half bus ride from Madrid to Toledo.  Toledo is a city located on a large hill in the center of Spain in the La Mancha. Toledo has been populated since the bronze age and was a popular destination during the Roman ages as a central place for commerce. As we approached this city by bus, I was already able to see the breathtakingly beautiful city. Our first stop in Toledo was the best view of the entire city, as seen in the photo above. I had never seen such an incredible view.  Our day was filled with exploring the city through its narrow, cobble-stone paths and admiring immaculate, centuries old art work and architecture.  You will have to visit this city to understand the impressiveness. Wish I was able to see such a stunning view every day.

6. Getting to Know the Amazing Race: Israel

My orientation group with the Amazing Race team. (Photo credit: Mauri.)
My orientation group with the Amazing Race team. (Photo credit: Mauri.)

After Toledo, our group traveled quite a distance to reach our new home: Sevilla, Spain! We settled in on Saturday with our new families and Sunday came a day of exploring.  My group for the University of Sevilla met in Plaza Nueva for a short tour around the center of Sevilla. The tour was to give us a sense of direction to the University of Sevilla and the ISA office.  As we were crossing behind the bank in Plaza Nueva, we saw in the middle of the plaza a bed with two men desperately yelling for help and motioning to us. We knew they were in a competition, The Amazing Race: Israel. Our director did not want us to get involved for sake of time, but, then, he caved saying, “Actually, it would be really cool to be on TV!  Let’s help, but we have to be quick!”  Our group ran towards the two men in night caps.

Our group gathered around the bed and the two men, who spoke very little English, gave us instructions to lift the bed with them on it and carry it to a checkpoint at the end of the Plaza.  Immediately, the bed was lifted and we were running the course as the two men chanted, “USA, USA…!” We successfully helped them get to their checkpoint and proceeded back to the ISA office. Congratulations blue and yellow team, I hope you win!

7. Living in another Country

Beautiful sun setting over Sevilla from the Triana bridge.
Beautiful sun setting over Sevilla from the Triana bridge.

Sevilla is now my new “home away from home” for the next 3.5 months.  At first, it was very intimidating meeting my new family, an older couple named Carmen and Miguel. When I arrived in Sevilla, I got off the tour bus to see a bunch of women waiting along the wall of a building chatting with each other. I knew my host mom was about 65 so I was looking for the oldest one on the wall. When ISA announced our names and family, I was met, surprisingly, by a very fashionable, not very old-looking woman. She spoke very fast Spanish so I just looked at her with the most bewildered look. She asked me, “Do you speak Spanish?” I told her I did, but was really nervous. I felt as though I had been fed to the wolves. My roommate, Carmen, and I hopped in the car and drove to her house, or piso, located in the area of Triana. Triana is a barrio of Sevilla located just outside of the city center and across the famous Triana bridge. That first day was a struggle, but I fought through it and, since then, I make daily strides towards improving my Spanish and having patience. I enjoy spending time with them and getting to know them better. Now, I am settled in and looking forward to the next few months.  I just hope the days slow down, time flies by here.

Hasta luego,

15 thoughts

  1. Wow Courtney that sounds awesome!! We miss you at home but are looking forward to exploring Spain through your eyes!
    Love, Mom

    1. (: Mom, Spain is so beautiful! I cannot get over this amazing country and the city of Sevilla!! I am unbelievably thankful for this opportunity!

  2. Courtney, you sound like you’re having an amazing time! I can’t believe all of the amazing experiences you’ve had in just a short week! And it seems that you are born to be a star, considering you’ve already made an appearance in a commercial and in the “Amazing Race: Israel” :)

    Don’t worry about the language barrier, as silly as that sounds. When I studied abroad in Ecuador, I was overwhelmed with the Spanish language at first too, even though I, too, spoke Spanish. However, it will become easier and easier as time goes on. Don’t be afraid to just jump into Spanish conversations (especially with your host family), even if you are not sure if you’re saying something right. People are pretty good about gently correcting you, and tend to be more impressed with the fact that you can even speak Spanish than they are concerned by the fact that you may not be saying something correctly. So be bold!!!

    And yes, miscommunication will happen, but that’s what makes life more fun and interesting ;)

    Can’t wait for your next blog!


    1. Tori, Spain is AMAZING!!! And ever day, it’s like I have to pinch myself because it is beautiful and I can’t believe I am here! It does not seem real! I am building up the courage lately to talk more in Spanish and jump in to conversations. It takes some real courage to do that and I am working on it! The people here are very nice about correcting me and helping me communicate. My Spanish has already improved tremendously!!! I am looking forward to how well I will be able to speak Spanish after 4 months!!!

    1. It is definitely one of my favorite parts! I was so impressed by the sheer beauty of the city when we were driving into it.

  3. What a wonderful post! The photos are beautiful, and make me want to visit Toledo. It’s fun to be part of pop culture and see current events.

    You’ll get the hang of and rhythm of Spanish, but make it a point to speak,listen to and read as little English as possible for a few months, otherwise it’s takes so much longer. Of course, you’ll get tired,frustrated and overwhelmed some days, so seeking out a fellow English speaker for a while is cool, as long as it isn’t daily. I’d suggest listening to and reading only to Spanish music,news, and tv too. You might want to limit contact with friends back home to a few times a week as opposed to being in constant contact. You can’t get to the point of thinking in Spanish as quickly if you’re constantly communicating in English.

    I say this because I found that the first few months, if I spoke more English than Spanish in a day, my Spanish was goofed up the rest of the day.

    You may find that when you visit small towns, folks,especially the older ones, will not speak a lick of English and their Spanish will be more difficult to understand. Don’t worry about not speaking or understanding well, as long as you try, they’ll appreciate it.

    Oh, and eavesdrop on everyone everywhere!!

    Be sure to go to the park in Sevilla, Maria Luisa (?) and see the peacocks.

    1. Thank you so much! I really enjoyed sharing my experiences!
      Some days I find it a challenge to speak in Spanish. You are absolutely right that if I speak in English for a while it is more difficult to speak in Spanish. I have found that it takes a lot of courage, a positive attitude, and patience to speak to Spaniards, but they really appreciate the effort! I want to improve my Spanish as much as possible while I am here. My host family speaks little to no English and it is great! I am able to communicate the whole time in Spanish! Sometimes it is a struggle to get my point across, but they are patient and understanding. I am really thankful for them because they are really pushing me to use Spanish to the best of my ability and to improve it! Oh, eavesdropping……one of my favorite things to do here. Sometimes the things people talk about really make me laugh!
      I wandered, about a week ago, into the Maria Luisa park, but I don’t think I went far enough in to see the peacocks, but I will have to check it out!
      P.S. Do you have any suggestions for music? A lot of the music the people my age listen to here is American pop music and I would like to listen to Spanish music.

  4. Court, I literally cried as I read this! I miss you so much! It sounds like you are having the a wonderful time! In your first week you’ve had so many wonderful experiences. You have no idea how jealous I am!!

    Miss you mucho..Nissa

    1. aww Anissa!! Spain is amazing. It is everything I have ever wanted and more! I can’t wait to share all the crazy stories with you when I get back! Miss you too chica!! But no worries I am safe and busy…as always! (:

  5. Hey Courtney! My name is Megan and I’m your University Relations Rep for BW (I graduated from BW in 2011). I think I may have talked with you at the fair in the fall. I am so glad you’re enjoying Sevilla! I studied there during spring semester 2010 and loved it. I look forward to meeting you when you’re back on campus in the fall and chatting about Sevilla!

    1. Hi Megan!! Yes, we talked about Sevilla last fall!!! Sevilla is an absolute gem and I am so grateful for the opportunity to study abroad here. We will definitely have to talk about it when you come to campus!

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