Mikenna now works in the Study Abroad Services Center for the University of Florida. She is the Spain & Portugal Advisor. You can find out more about Mikenna by following her Instagram @MikMaus713 & @Kitchen1142. She also has a fun blog, Life Along the Riverbank.
What did you learn while studying abroad that you now implement into your daily life?
While in Spain, I learned many valuable skills and lessons. One thing I developed abroad is the value for good (and patient!) communication. Whether it’s something small like calling a soft drink a coke vs. a soda, or something bigger like using a different language; communicating effectively can be hard. Being patient, taking time to listen (not just with the purpose of responding, but rather understanding), and leaving room for grace in a conversation can make all the difference. It not only cuts down on miscommunication, but it lets people know that what they have to say matters. Communication helps build and strengthen relationships. It makes the bigger picture run smoother. There’s a Nelson Mandela quote that says “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I’ve seen that in action so many times, especially abroad. I think it is important to figure out what everyone’s “language” is and make an effort to speak it.
Another thing I learned was the power of the “average” day. I told myself before I went to Spain that I wouldn’t let myself waste a single day. It was an opportunity of a life time, and I was going to make the most of it. I think I did a pretty good job. But the thing I realized is that, after a while, Sevilla felt like home. I got comfortable and I found a routine. When I first arrived, everything was glowing, magical and new. As I spent more time there, I had to put forth more effort to still find the magic in what had now become “normal.” But I made sure I kept putting forth that effort and I realized that I could do the same back in the States as well.
People work for months and years to be able to go experience something new and magical on vacation. Maybe for a week? When they come home and fall back into an unsatisfied, tired, disappointing day-to-day, longing for another getaway. They aren’t willing to put in the effort! Study abroad taught me to be mindfully present of where I am and who I’m with, even if I’m not gallivanting across some magical and foreign country. As Confucius said, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart“. Jim Elliot similarly expressed “Wherever you are, be all there“. I keep a daily gratitude calendar and try to be a tourist in my own city a few times a month (or more). Our lives are built by how we spend our days, so I try to spend mine well, no matter where I am in the world.
What was your favorite memory of studying abroad in Seville?
While I have SO many, three instantly come to mind:
- One day I was walking home from class for lunch, when about a block away, I started hearing this music. It was faint at first, so I wondered if someone had their car window down, or a speaker in their backpack a few streets over. The closer I got to my apartment building, the louder it got, until I was unlocking my apartment door. I realized my host mom was blasting Enrique Iglesias from our apartment! When I got inside, I barely had time to put my backpack down before she and my roommate grabbed my arms and twirled me into the living room to dance! After I don’t even know how long, my host mom finally started making lunch and I ended up being late to my afternoon class because of the dance party. It was so worth it though!
- Near the end of my program, I was on my way home from class for the day, when a guy, hands full of grocery bags, stopped and asked me for directions. In Spanish. Without even missing a beat, I responded back with directions, in Spanish! After he passed and I continued home, it occurred to me that he must’ve thought I was a local since he asked for directions. I understood his question; I knew where he needed to go and how to get there. Also, I had responded (correctly) in Spanish! I felt so proud and accomplished, I ran the rest of the way home. I burst through my host family’s door and told my host mom “Soy Sevillana, finalmente!!” (I’m a Sevillan, finally!!).
- One day during Feria de Abril, a week-long festival in April, my roommate and program friend decided to play tourist, since we were out of school and our days in Sevilla were numbered. We rowed boats in the Plaza de España, took pictures in a wooden cutout of 3 Flamenco dancers, and wandered around taking pictures and souvenir shopping until it was time to get dressed up and go dancing that evening.
What food do you miss most from Seville?
All the classic tapas—patatas bravas, tortilla Española, croquettas, ensaladilla, gambones—and their prices. Here in the States, places advertise “tapas” or “sharables” on their menus, then charge $10 or $12 a piece. It isn’t right! They’re supposed to be cheap so everyone can order 2 or 3 or 4 and share. In Spain, if you pay more than 4 euro for one tapa, you’ve paid too much.
Any advice to current or potential students?
- STUDY ABROAD. Do whatever you have to, make it happen.
- If you are studying a language (or even if you’re not) and you want to study it abroad, do a homestay if at all possible! I still talk to my host mom today. I would’ve left all my stuff in Spain if it meant I could bring her back with me.
- There is a whole world out there. Each little nook and cranny has its own unique things—art, food, music, architecture, language, community—to share. Don’t let someone or something convince you that you wouldn’t like it or you shouldn’t go. Especially if they’ve never been themselves. Get out there, see it for yourself, and form your own opinion based on your own experiences. Places aren’t always as dirty, loud or dangerous as others think. Just go for it. If you’re nervous, take a buddy!
- Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself. Whether that’s going to the movies in your hometown, or going to a foreign country on a solo trip. Learn to enjoy your own company!
What have you been up to post ISA?
After I got back from my semester abroad, I studied abroad again on a faculty-led program in Viet Nam. I started taking Arabic language classes at my university (University of Arkansas—Woo Pig!). I even stayed a year after I graduated to take more language classes. Then I moved back to Memphis, TN (my home town) for a few months to rest and regroup after college. Now, I am working as a Study Abroad Advisor for Spain and Portugal at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Interview conducted by Jessica Terrell, an ISA Alumni Relations Coordinator.
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