At first, I didn’t want to study abroad in Seville, Spain. I told my study abroad counselor my priorities: 1) affordability, 2) ability to study communications, and 3) Europe, and she assured me that Seville would be the best option.
I wasn’t convinced; there were hundreds of programs on the site. I was sure she missed something. How could there be only one option? I scoured the website looking for alternatives. Everyone else was going to Florence, Barcelona, London—but when I looked them up, they were all outside my budget.
I landed back in Seville, where it just so happened that I’d be saving money on tuition. I’d go to a small community college, just outside the city. Talk about an authentic experience. Already in student debt up to my eyeballs, that was hard to ignore.
Because the program was small, I didn’t have an option when it came to housing; I was assigned to a woman named Ana, and I loved her right when I saw her. She wore leopard pants and indigo necklaces made of beads and stones. Her bright orange lipstick matched her sweater. Like a row of ducklings, eight girls tugged bouncing suitcases down the cobblestone streets, following our new mother to our new home.
It was out of a European storybook. Across from the Guadalquivir River and down an alleyway, stood large rectangular buildings with different colored walls. Each wall had a doorway, an entrance into separate living spaces.
Our door was on a golden yellow wall. A stone Buddha head and glass chandelier stood at the entrance. White paper lanterns dangled down from a high, sunroof ceiling. Inside, a marble staircase spiraled and encased the hanging lanterns. It was quite a hip and trendy home, just like Ana herself.
Ana told us to look around the house and choose a room; my friend Candance and I took off. When no one else moved, we realized that we were the only ones who understood Spanish. We walked into the first room with the smallest wrought-iron balcony, almost like a perch, that caught a glimpse of the river. We claimed it as our own.
Tired from our journeys, we relaxed for the rest of the day; actually, we did quite a bit of relaxing every day.
It wasn’t easy for me to get in the swing of a slower pace; I was used to doing productive things during the day, checking off my to-do list so they say. In Spain, it was so hot during the day that it felt physically impossible to lift a limb sometimes. All of a sudden, siestas made sense.
Siestas, or midday naps, were a religion. Everyone participated. From the restaurants and groceries surrounding our home, to college courses. The few times I found myself starving and without food at about noon, I was forced to wait it out.
There was one place, however, that seemed to stay open during siesta. It was a kiosco, a stand where you can buy drinks, along the river. They didn’t sell food but the strawberry mojitos were kind of like a smoothie and to die for.
I became increasingly, almost worryingly, comfortable with sitting at the kiosk for hours on hours on Saturdays, Sundays, and any time during the week when I didn’t have class. I hardly ever got “drunk”, but it seemed cultural to have just one drink, maybe two, in the presence of good company during the day.
Anyways, we’d chat and play magic card games until sunset. Spanish and English voices mixed and slipped and danced around each other. When I heard that our friend, Mateo, was quitting his job at the kiosco, I had to ask why. His answer blew me away.
He said something around the lines of, “I have money now, so I don’t need to work. When I need money, I find work again.” I couldn’t imagine living day to day like this. And I couldn’t imagine being satisfied without some kind of career; my entire life, I’d been conditioned to believe that a career was a basic need.
But it made me think about priorities—in the United States, we obviously value progress, success, achievements. In Spain, the priorities seemed so much different. It felt like a mortal sin to pass your neighbor on the way to school without having a good chat. It was safe to say that the Spaniards truly prioritized their relationships and social lives.
I grew up as a really shy kid that somewhat spread her wings (with some serious anxiety) and started talking to people in high school. Conversation was never my forte, but it started to become something I loved. I realized the importance of good conversation—the responses, the laughter, the sighs, the cries—the connection. The understanding and validation. That says this life you are living is real, because I’ve felt and seen it too.
Good conversations started manifesting into great relationships—especially with Ana. Candace and I would chat with her for hours, in Spanish. I found myself asking como? an irritating amount of times. To be fair, Andalusian Spanish has the heaviest lisp making it more difficult to understand, but I got better every day.
Ana invited us to dinner with her local friends, where we had drinks at a secret, local rooftop and danced and sang in the streets. We found out that Ana was an incredible singer and a well-known talent agent.
She was even invited to a variety of celebrity parties such as the Goyas—similar to our Oscars. Ana even let us wear some of her Italian, designer clothes to La Feria—the famous spring festival in Seville—where we were invited to stay in some private, local tents.
We became so close with the owners of the kiosco that on our last night, they stayed open until the wee hours of the morning. They even offered 50% to everyone in our study abroad group and when the party began to die out, Manuel let us behind the bar showed us how to make his (in)famous strawberry mojitos. I wish to God that I would’ve written the recipe down. I do remember the basic ingredients: muddled fresh strawberries, lime, lemon, mint, and white rum.
The everyday Sevillana experience reminded me of a family holiday, where everyone reunites and all you do is talk, play board games, and sit around doing essentially nothing all day. But it was everything.
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