6 things I learned while studying abroad in Spain


Hi, my name is Megan and I am a rising junior here at Mercer University, majoring in Marketing and Spanish. I thoroughly enjoy visiting new places, meeting new people, and trying new things. But on the flip side, I would definitely consider myself a homebody who loves my family and friends with my whole heart!

Around three and a half years ago, when little high school Megan had to make her college decision, it was pretty clear that the answer was Mercer. My decision then became even easier when I realized how many international opportunities were offered as well!

The summer after my freshman year, I was invited to participate as a Spanish translator for a team of future engineers and chemists in Ecuador through Mercer On Mission. It was seriously a life-changing trip, but that is a story for another time.

The following spring, I spent the entire semester abroad having the absolute best time of my life in Seville, Spain. And though I was living it up and learning a lot under the Spanish sun, I had to learn some things the hard way.

1. Europeans walk…A LOT.

Now I knew that Europeans were notorious for walking a lot, whether it be to school or work or lunch. What I did not realize was that I would be walking on average around 10 or so miles a day!

My feet were definitely suffering the first few weeks, but I will admit that this was partly because I forgot to bring a decent pair of walking shoes that weren’t neon orange sneakers. (Go Bears, am I right?) It did give me a good excuse to buy myself a cute pair of comfortable shoes though! And although it was difficult at first, the pain faded, my calves got stronger, and all of the walking I was able to do led me to see beautiful and amazing things. Places like Morocco, Barcelona, Venice, and more!

2. Learning to do what the locals do and when they do it.

In the United States, we are pretty used to having a big healthy breakfast, a light lunch, and then a hearty dinner, right? Well, the Spanish meal schedule is the complete opposite of that. Just to give you a little insight as to what my day would look like, let me show you!

8:00 a.m. – Desayuno (Breakfast): A slice of toast and an espresso.

At first, I was so surprised! Is that it? Where is the fruit? The eggs? I am going to be hungry in 20 minutes. But what I didn’t realize is that in a few short hours everyone enjoys their…

11:30 a.m. – Segundo Desayuno (Second Breakfast!): Either a pastry or toast with tomato and olive oil, and café con leche (coffee with milk).

Seriously my favorite part of the day! There was an amazing little coffee shop called Los Angeles on the corner by my school that I would go to every day for my second breakfast. I went there so much that by the end of the semester I felt like one of the locals strolling in asking for “the usual.”

2:00-5:00 p.m. – Siesta (Nap): Translates to nap, but really means just sort of a break. Although I definitely ended up using it for napping sometimes. 🙃

Shops all over the city will close so that business owners can go home for lunch as well as take a midday break. During the summer, Siesta is the hottest time of the day, sometimes reaching 115 degrees Fahrenheit. With that being said, it also makes for a good excuse to stay out of the heat.

3:00 p.m. – Almuerzo (Lunch): Some sort of stew, salad, and fresh bread.

This is always the biggest meal of the day. Since I lived with a host family, my amazing host mom, Maria Angeles*, would cook this meal everyday. Around the dinner table is where some of the best conversations happened and where I would get the majority of my Spanish practice, since my host family did not know much English.

*That’s my host mom in the polka dot fuchsia dress.

10:00 p.m. – Cena o Tapas (Dinner or Tapas)

Yes, they actually eat this late. Normally the dinners are light and often times this is when friends will gather together to catch up about their day. The tapas usually consist of smaller sharable sides like tortilla españolajamón serrano, a cheese board, olives, croquetas, and more!   

3. How to live out of a suitcase.

I am more than guilty of being that girl that loves shoes and clothes, so when I realized I would have to limit my wardrobe to one suitcase, I was a bit nervous.

But honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be! I may or may not have worn the same outfit like three times a week, but hey, we made it work. To anyone who plans to study abroad, my biggest recommendation regarding packing would definitely be to:

  • Roll your clothes. It seriously creates so much more room than just throwing everything in your suitcase!
  • Leave some room for souvenirs, too. I was able to bring some really cool items from Spain that will now serve as lifelong reminders of my awesome trip.
  • Bring a comfy pair of walking shoes, like we talked about in my first point!
  • Bring a warmer jacket, no matter what the weather is. I thought it was going to be warm weather the whole time I was there, but winter ended up lingering a few more months than expected and I really wish I would have packed a fleece jacket. Also, a lot of indoor places like the movies or restaurants can be really cold, too. Better safe than sorry.

*And you thought I was kidding about the same outfit every day! As you can tell, I only brought one scarf and one warm jacket. Haha. But like I said, we made it work!!

 

4. Even when speaking Spanish, some things still get lost in translation.


Growing up, I was exposed to a decent amount of Spanish, since my mom is Hispanic and because we visited her family relatively frequently. Going into my semester abroad, I was pretty confident about my Spanish-speaking skills and was mainly hoping to improve upon the level that I already had. But since my Spanish was from Chile, I came to realize that the way the Spaniards spoke it was very different. For example, my whole life I was taught that bombilla meant drinking straw, but apparently in Spain it means LIGHT BULB!! You can imagine the confusion on the waiter’s face when I stopped and asked him for a light bulb instead of a straw!!

Fortunately, these little embarrassing moments didn’t happen too often, but they did happen enough times for me to realize that the best way to learn and improve speaking a language is to be fully immersed. These kinds of lessons you don’t learn in the classroom!

 

5. The world is full of amazing people.

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my life. And on top of going to some amazing places, I also met some amazing people that I know will be lifelong friends! I would not trade my adventures for the world and cannot recommend it enough!

 

6. Spain is overflowing with culture and incredibly beautiful views.

I didn’t really know what to expect going to Spain, but I quickly came to realize that this country has everything!! It has mountains and beaches, snow and sun, and I was easily able to see it all! Through my study abroad program, we took a couple different trips within Spain. Some of those being to Granada, where we saw an amazing Moorish Fortress and Palace, and Cordoba, which has an amazing Mosque-Cathedral. But even when we weren’t traveling around the country, Seville was just a dream. My walk to school consisted of crossing the beautiful glistening Guadalquivir River, walking underneath incredible-smelling orange trees, taking a left at the marvelous bullfighting arena, and passing by the largest Gothic church in the world. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I was in a movie everyday that I was there. I feel very blessed to have been able to call Seville mi hogar (my home) for a whole semester.


 

Want to study abroad at Mercer? With a variety programs and no limit on how many you can participate in, your possibilities are endless.

Mercer On Mission: Meet the most fundamental needs of humanity around the world. Install water purification systems in Kenya, restore mobility to amputees in Vietnam, and so much more. In total, more than 30 countries have been served through this signature program.

Exchange and Affiliate Programs: To ensure that all students find the right study abroad fit, Mercer has partnered with select affiliate programs and universities so that you can study almost anywhere in the world and in every subject.

Faculty-Led Programs: Add experiential components to courses by making the world your classroom.

Summer Programs: If you don’t want to spend an entire semester abroad, you can spend the summer studying in places like Sweden, South Korea, China, France, and more.

Mercer In Oxford: Live at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and study at one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities.

Internships Abroad: Work with nonprofit organizations through Mercer’s South Africa Internship Program in areas such as HIV/AIDS education, clinics, schools, human rights, children’s rights, environmental protection, and small business support. Or, create your own opportunity to work in a country of your choice.

Learn more at mercerabroad.com.

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