Students are drawn to study abroad in Seville for any number of reasons. This city is the prototype of romantic Spain: it’s got flamenco, a Mediterranean climate and a common respect for the siesta. Not to mention, the cost of living is cheaper than in areas like Madrid or Barcelona, which means the price tag on a study abroad program here can be thousands less than those in more metropolitan cities.
These were a few of the reasons that enticed me to study here during my junior year of college. I knew I wanted to immerse myself in Spanish language and culture—like anyone else who studies abroad—and I wanted to be in a city that was big, but not too big. So I decided: I would spend my spring semester in Seville, perfecting my Spanish in the country where castellano, the European variety of Spanish, was born.
Now, two years since the conclusion of my program, I can safely say that my semester abroad was without a doubt the highlight of my college experience, but I could have benefitted from knowing a bit more ahead of time.
Know before you go
The accent here is rough
If you learned Spanish in the US, you probably never learned certain Spain-isms, such as the vosotros, second-person plural familiar, conjugation of verbs. I was disproportionately worried about such language technicalities; but many of them ended up being fairly easy to pick up on.
What I should have been worried about was the accent in Seville. The only difference I anticipated from Latin American Spanish was distinción, or the distinction used in Castilian Spanish between the pronunciation of “c” and “z” from “s.” But in Seville, hardly anyone speaks with distinción. What you’ll find instead is rapid-fire Andalusian Spanish.
Consider the phrase, “Apaga la luz” (turn off the light). In Seville, “Apaga la luz” sounds more like, “Apalalu.” Just cut off the “s” sounds on every word, along with most of the final syllables, and you’ve got Sevillian Spanish. Pescado = pecao; todos los santos = tosantos; etc. Good luck.
The climate is anything but tropical
Maybe you’ve done a Google image search of Seville in your research—looks pretty nice, huh? Palm trees, no less. Coming from Chicago, I equated palm trees with a tropical year-round climate.
Oh, to be so naïve.
Though Seville never sees blizzards (or any snow at all), winter in southern Spain can be brutal, and the cold can feel inescapable. Temperatures around 40°F (4°C) in January may seem balmy, but when paired with nonstop rain they can be unbearable.
Also of note, Spanish homes aren’t equipped with central heat. Especially in the south of Spain, apartments are built to stay cool during the hellish summer inferno, when temperatures can hit upwards of 105°F (40°C).
►Tip: If you live on your own in an apartment or dorm, be prepared to invest in a space heater. Just don’t leave it on overnight, as that could end poorly. A winter jacket, a pair of water-resistant boots and a high quality umbrella are other essentials.
It’s possible to spend six months here without improving your Spanish.
Sure, you’ll be “immersed” in the language, at least in the sense that all the signs are in Spanish. If you go to buy stamps, bus tickets or anything else, you’ll also use your Spanish. However, it’s frighteningly easy to stay sealed in the expat bubble for the entirety of your time abroad, rarely (if ever) speaking Spanish.
Believe me, I empathise with your apprehensions: Making Spanish friends is not always easy. It means putting yourself in a vulnerable position and accepting that most people here think of you as “That Foreign Student”.
The warm cocoon of expat friends is an alluring one—you’ll naturally want to commiserate with other expats from time to time. But remember that this city isn’t merely a satellite campus for your home university.
Don’t be shy. Speak with Spaniards, and develop a thick skin against those who insult your accent or your attempts to communicate. Speaking your second language may be uncomfortable at first, but your growth as a speaker and listener will far outweigh any initial anxiety.
Plus, if you only came here to get chummy with other students on your program, you may as well have stayed home.
►Tip: Take advantage of this opportunity to meet new people from a different country and culture. If you can, live in a homestay with a Spanish family or live with Spanish students.
If you want to study in Seville, stay in Seville.
Many of my study-abroad peers spent the entire semester gallivanting through Europe. Cheap flights to London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam will be tempting, but remember why you chose Seville in the first place: to get to know the city, the culture and the language.
If you only care about adding another notch to your belt of countries, then maybe traveling every weekend is sensible. But don’t forget, you can always make a trip to Paris later in life, when you have a job and some legitimate income (I’m not convinced our generation will ever see that day, but you know—optimism).
Sure, you might find a dirt-cheap Ryanair flight to Paris this weekend. But if all you can afford is one night in a youth hostel where you get drunk on boxed wine and stumble past the Eiffel Tower, is it really worth it?
Beware; it’s also easy to blow through your savings without ever leaving Seville. This may be a city with centuries of ancient history, but the shopping district is up-to-date. If you don’t know how to live on a budget, now would be the time to learn.