Before going on Erasmus, search I imagined myself settling in smoothly, finding myself some local Spanish friends on day one, speaking fluently after a month or two, partying all the time during the year long summer because really, the south of Spain is “practically Africa,” and truly be livin la vida loca. Needless to say, my expectations were far from the reality of my Erasmus year, but despite a few bumps along the way, I can definitely say that it was the best year of my life (so far). For me, a lot of the positive aspects of my year were based on the fact that I couldn’t have chosen a better city. I didn’t know much about Seville before going, I just looked at the map and chose the most southern Spanish place available for study because if I was going to leave Ireland for a year, I had to leave the rain and the cold too. Luckily for me, Seville is without a doubt one of the most amazing cities in the world, and I wish everyone could have had the pleasure of living there for nine months like I did. I’d happily write a whole piece on how much I love Seville, but I’ve been asked to write about my Erasmus year as a whole, so I’ll save that for some other time.
Despite the warnings, I hadn’t found a place to live before going over but after a few nights in hostels and some brief fears of homelessness, I moved into an apartment with two other girls by day five. Hitting it off straight away, we went to college together, got three pet goldfish, one each (RIP Javier), went out together, and became the best of friends in less than a week. Registering for college was one of the tougher parts and really made me appreciate UCD’s system, but after a few email conversations and meetings with the right people, it all worked itself out. The first few months were definitely among the highs of the year, and things like budgeting or college were last on my list of priorities. I bought myself rollerblades because Seville has nice big cycle lanes on all the main roads and I wanted a new hobby. I think I used them three times. I joined the fancy gym with the outdoor pool and spent most of September and October going to pool parties, outdoor clubs, and meeting so many new people, all while pretending classes didn’t exist.
Unfortunately, after such ignorantly blissful highs, there came lows. With hindsight, these ‘lows’ were not that bad, but after living a dream life also known as denial for two months, reality set in and it seemed harsh. Apparently classes did exist, as did exams; I had to speak Spanish to become fluent; finding Spanish friends was not that simple, even in Spain; living with people was more than just getting along; sinks leaked; bathrooms flooded; the weather got colder and the seemingly eternal holiday came to an end. After having spoken to other students, I’ve come to the conclusion that an Erasmus slump is a common enough thing. Mine was November, because of a combination of midterms, assignments and having to find a new person to move in after a housemate unexpectedly leaving. To top off my list of (minor) woes, I realised how completely unprepared I was for winter because funnily enough, as it’s warm for most of the year, they don’t tend to have central heating in the south of Spain. Oops. Another thing I found hard was that many friendships on Erasmus were only short term, which could be upsetting. On the other hand, this meant I got to meet so many different interesting people, all while making a few lifelong friends along the way. All of these things happened at the same time, making this the most difficult time of my year. It might not come about for everyone in the same way but like real life, problems, both big and small will pop up at some point or another, and probably all at the same time too.
Once the college deadlines were met and the stress of assignments was gone, I decided to force myself a little and make efforts to meet new people and do more things, sometimes venturing out into the cold when I just wanted to stay in bed. My change in attitude changed the rest of my year for the better. The main turning point was when I went on an ESN trip to Cordoba and Granada with a classmate, where I ended up making some of my closest friends for the year. The amazing weekend in Granada, the prospect of many more future trips, the new friends, combined with the excitement of going home for Christmas, seeing my family, friends and most importantly my cat, marked December as the end of my ‘Erasmus slump’ and the anticipation of a second semester and a fresh start set in. Unlike UCD, our winter exams took place after the break. On one hand this meant I got to enjoy the Christmas season in Seville, walking around the city at night, enjoying the lights and smells of frankinsence and churros from the markets, however it meant that my time at home was technically a study week, and the return to Seville was a bit more daunting than exciting.
After two weeks of rather stressful exams it was time to say goodbye to all the friends who were only there for one semester. By then it was already February and I had less than five months left in Seville and was determined to make the most of it, going out more and seeing as much of Spain as possible, as well as enjoying Seville itself. Going home in June completely broke and without a word of Spanish was a better option than going home with regrets. Almost as if by magic, my newfound ‘yolo’ attitude got me a long way and from February onwards, I had the most amazing time. Despite having failed two exams, and having to do extra classes to catch up on credits, I managed to make a timetable I was happy with, and actually enjoyed going to class. I had family and friends coming to visit and I made sure to have plans almost every single weekend. I got some responses to online ads for grinds so I was making a little extra cash teaching French and English. I also befriended a Spanish classmate, a Sevillian flamenco dancer no less, who basically took me under her wing. She invited me out with all of her friends, and my spoken Spanish improved significantly, even if I do have a bit of a southern accent now. Although I already appreciated living in such a beautiful city, it’s thanks to this friend that I really fell in love with Seville and its unique culture.
One of the highlights of my year was the ‘Feria de Abril,’ an annual week long cultural celebration in Seville involving flamenco dresses, men on horses, sevillana music and dancing. Everyone gets involved and people come from all over to join in on the celebrations. It takes place in the street, in public and private owned tents, called casetas, where people go to eat, drink, sing and dance with their family and friends. My newfound dancer friend put me through to a seamstress to fix up the old-fashioned flamenco dress I found in a charity shop, invited me to her family’s private caseta and I had the most authentic Feria experience I could have wished for.
Between February and April, I went on many weekend trips where I made great friends and had some unforgettable experiences. I got to see the Prado in Madrid, went on camel rides in Morocco and got a bit too close to some angry little monkeys in Gibraltar. I also spent a weekend at the beach in Portugal with friends and flew to Barcelona for a few days. When I wasn’t travelling, I was going to pool parties, festivals and whatever other event was on in the city. During my last few weeks, I stayed in Seville and just savoured my time wandering around the city alone, sitting by the river with some friends and a cold Cruzcampo, going to see a Sevilla football match, trying snails for the first time, or returning to the Plaza de España “one last time.” I had exams in June, but as I’d gone to classes all semester, I didn’t find these too difficult, and I was too busy enjoying my last few days in Seville to notice anyway. People in the south of Spain have a knack for knowing how to relax and enjoy themselves in the present moment that I admired, and I was learning to adopt this, choosing to work by the pool or on the balcony, making my study less productive but all the more enjoyable.
Leaving was bittersweet and I might have cried a little in the taxi to the airport. I was sad to be finishing my Erasmus year, which I would recommend to everyone, and even moreso to be leaving Seville. I was going to miss little things like going for a cheap tapas or two or five, while being serenaded by a gypsy guitarist, and having every street I walk on lined with orange trees. Despite this sadness, I was grateful to have had such a phenomenal experience and happy that I could go back and visit any time and have my friends and my beloved city waiting for me. There’s a famous flamenco song called ‘Sevilla tiene un color especial’ (Seville has a special colour), that fully captures the spirit of the city, and that I now like to occasionally cry to. Everyone’s Erasmus experience is very different, but I think regardless of where people choose to go and who they meet, it’s worth doing, while remembering to enjoy every moment, not being disheartened by bumps in the road, and just saying yes to as many people and experiences as possible. Looking back on my year I have no regrets and I like to think I would have made Ricky Martin proud.
– Laura Claffey