Fun, fear and finding your feet

The date is the 18th October, and I’m wearing tiny white shorts that would be too optimistic for a British beach in July. Waiting for a lecture, a fellow student enquires as to whether I’m feeling cold. I’m not. And although Zara and Mango have been bursting with knitwear for at least a month now, sunglasses and even flip-flops would not look too out-of-place on the streets of this city. I’m not at Warwick, of course – Google Desktop tells me that right now in Coventry it’s 13 degrees and “Mostly Cloudy”. Instead, I’m spending this year over one thousand miles away on an Erasmus exchange in Seville, the incredibly flamboyant, artistic and cultural capital of southern Spain.

I left England speaking practically zero Spanish, and thus tightly clutching two Lonely Planet phrase-books that I still now, almost five weeks later, carry in my bag each day. I arrived in Spain by car having road-tripped through France with two other Warwick-ers – with not even a hotel room to stay at in Seville! There followed, then, probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life; spending five nights in four different rooms at two different hostels. After looking at six pretty horrific apartments, though I finally found one that I absolutely love. But for anyone else ever doing a year abroad, I’d definitely recommend getting out early, and sorting out at least temporary accommodation before leaving home.

Since moving in and settling down, my tan has grown darker, my hair has turned lighter, and time spent essentially relaxing has shot through the roof. Really due to the language barrier, I am not taking too many classes this first semester, so I have been able to happily while away afternoons reading on a park bench or under a tree. The main building of the Universidad de Sevilla – which also houses my Faculty of History – is a beautiful eighteenth-century former tobacco factory, at one time the largest industrial edifice in all of Europe, and situated right in the centre of town. Think fountains, courtyards, gardens, grand gates, and apparently even a chapel, and it’s not difficult to understand why I can’t say that I miss Floor 3 of Humanities at Warwick.

That said, though, I did absolutely love living in Leamington Spa, and I have many fantastic memories from both first and second year, but being out here really is something else. Indeed, seeing the return to Warwick earlier this month over Facebook prompted mixed emotions – and friends abroad in other parts of Europe this year have said the same. I was afraid before I came that I would miss friends, miss out, and even miss going to Smack twice a week. And I guess that all that is pretty natural. But even when looking at the photos from ‘Skool Dayz’, the stream of statuses about Evolve, and the now so-familiar ‘This is a photo opportunity’ group shots, I have to say that I am glad to be here in Spain this year. Life at Warwick was fun and easy and secure, and I do wish that I could have stayed there for longer, but the year abroad offers maybe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really step out of the comfort zone and to try something completely new. Up to this point, I am loving Seville and loving Erasmus, and I would undoubtedly recommend the experience to anyone who may be interested in future years. I would definitely like to thank the people at Warwick who, having been in Seville themselves last year, were so helpful and reassuring both before I came out here and when I first arrived. I really hope that I will be able to encourage others about the year abroad as much as Dorothy and Tom did for me.

Not everything has been plain sailing, of course. Whether it was the €250 that a cash machine took from my account – thankfully eventually refunded – or the colossal bruise still on my leg from falling into a bench and, consequently, the floor – in the middle of the biggest street in our neighbourhood, at the busiest time of the day, it did at first seem that something, admittedly small, was going wrong every day. Generally, though, so much of life here is so different to at home. Coming readily to mind now are scenes from the hulega general – general strike – of 29 September, or even how, when trying to buy my daily thirty-one euro-cent baguette in our local “supermarket”, I often wait for an age at the tills before someone appears for me to pay. Then, and I’m still not used to this, there’s the shocker that practically everything closes on a Sunday, and – definitely more positive – just how many public holidays creep into the calendar, giving us yet another day off university.

Then there’s the nightlife, to which I could dedicate a whole article. We started off by dancing the night away literally under the stars at outdoor clubs – very cool – but these have since closed for what locals deem to be the cold months. In Spain, though, or at least in Sevilla, you just don’t see people in the nightclub queue at quarter to eleven. Instead, the night tends to start here with standard pre-drinks at someone’s apartment, before moving on to bars or, more often, a botellón. Popular with both Spaniards and Erasmus, though in fact now illegal here in the Andalucía region, a botellón involves big groups gathering in outdoor public spaces – the word seems to be spread by Facebook – to drink before going on to the club. Usually not paying entrances for clubs here has come as a nice surprise, but regardless, arriving certainly no earlier than two means that leaving will come probably no sooner than five. And going to bed at seven in the morning for sure means that you won’t be up and out for that ten o’clock lecture. And most likely won’t want to go out the following night too. So I’m still undecided myself on whether it’s all just too hardcore.

The drama and sheer scale involved in most areas of contemporary life here can be mind-blowing. I am working my way at the moment through a great, definitely eye-opening, book – both history and travel writing – entitled Ghosts of Spain: Travels through a country’s hidden past. Written, in English, by the Madrid correspondent at the Guardian, it contains chapters such as ‘How the Bikini Saved Spain’ and ‘The Mean Streets of Flamenco’, with the second mostly based in Seville. I really knew very little about Spain before this year, having barely even visited previously, but I am now finding this recent, tumultuous past fascinating, and I can’t think of a better place to learn about it all than in a Spanish city park, usually accompanied by a bar of Milka chocolate, with the sun shining down from above.

Indeed, reading my guidebooks whilst winding along dizzy mountain roads last weekend – on the way back to Seville after a day trip to Ronda, a picturesque pueblo blanco town set in and around a deep gorge – I found myself saying how much I love Spain. I hadn’t really expected to feel this way – not so soon, anyway – but now I really cannot wait to see more and more (as much as possible) of this country. I check flight options on the Ryanair website practically every day, and I am looking forward in the coming weeks to a trip to Valencia, and one to Gibraltar and Morocco, having already visited Cadiz, Málaga, the beach town of Matalascañas and Lagos, Portugal.

There is still so much of Seville left for me to explore though, and I don’t think that a lifetime would be long enough to discover all that this city has to offer. Each time that I leave my apartment and head into the centre, I see the Torre del Oro and the peaks of both Plaza de España – my favourite sight here so far – and the Giralda bell tower of the cathedral; all stand-out features of where I currently call

I have never met someone who doesn’t rave about their Erasmus year; to anyone considering applying later this term, I would say: go for it; there’s really nothing to lose. You may arrive knowing absolutely no one – though plenty of people met fellow Erasmus-ers on the plane or in the airport check-in queue – and you for sure won’t be kindly ushered to accommodation as we were that first ever weekend at Warwick. But when things do eventually fall into place, the adventure just gets better and better, and I’m already certain that it’s going to be one to remember forever.


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