Navigating the Spanish Post Office while Studying Abroad in Seville, Spain
Within the first couple weeks settling into studying abroad in Sevilla I made a point of gathering friends and family addresses. This way their mailing information was easily accessible throughout my travels. While I knew I wouldn’t be writing them all simultaneously, intentionally having their addresses organized let me send postcards gradually while keeping track of who I wrote to as the weeks progressed. A self-proclaimed sucker for handwritten postcards, I was also eager to surprise my friends at unknown times.
I posted an Instagram story to collect a list of the mailing addresses of my friends and family so I could stay connected by writing to them during my time abroad.
MY FIRST TIME AT THE POST OFFICE
Initially, I only bought and sent three cards: one for my parents, my home roommate, and another friend from my university in the states. When I was ready to mail this first small set of cards, I nervously entered one of the main post offices. There were overwhelming blue and yellow signs, which added to my confusion regarding which service window I needed to approach.
After awkwardly standing near the doorway, I probably looked like a deer in headlights as one of the employees guided me toward a tablet to input the service I wanted. The system prompted receiving, sending, or attending a special appointment. I selected “Enviar,” and collected my ticket number receipt before waiting for the TV monitor to display my ticket number and corresponding service window in the lobby. After no more than ten minutes, my number binged on the monitor. At the window, it was pretty straightforward as I showed the man my postcards and said I wanted them sent to the U.S.
You’ll find postcards available on many streets! I recommend scoping out different stands because you will find deals such as three for one euro.
As the semester abroad progressed, I collected experiences and more postcards! Instead of making a separate trip each time I sent mail, I bought twenty stamps to have them on hand easily.
A collection of some of the postcards I gradually acquired throughout my travels. Instead of sending them from different cities while traveling, I mailed them all from Sevilla.
The next time I returned to the office for these stamps, I didn’t have the postcards with me so the man didn’t know I wanted them specifically for postcards (Mistake #1). Further, (Mistake #2), I didn't know the word for postcard - “la tarjeta postal.” When the man gave me a sheet of large stamps, it struck me as strange since they looked too big. I said, “Tienes sellos más básicas y pequeñas para tarjetas? (Do you have more basic and small stamps for cards?)” The man was adamant these were the most basic stamps available. While I wasn't fully convinced, I proceeded with the purchase since I didn't want to be a nuisance by asking for smaller ones again.
As you can see, these are nearly two times the size of a postcard stamp. They came to a whopping total of forty-two euros!
When I returned home, I held the stamps next to my postcards, and it was clear they wouldn’t work. Baffled by how I made such an embarrassing mistake, I explained the exchange to my house mom, who encouraged me to return to the post office and ask for an exchange.
Since I purchased the wrong stamps, I doubted I would go back to get different ones. Yet, provided how expensive they were, I wanted to try. After lunch, I returned to the post office and was pleased to be called to the window of a patient woman named Maria. She informed me the office ran out of postcard stamps, and therefore, the stamps the man sold to me earlier in the day were the most basic. Maria told me I needed to return another day with my receipt, credit card, and stamps and ask for the boss to get a full refund. Despite my unnecessary worries - it would be possible!
The next day I returned, I explained the situation again to another woman who almost made it seem I would need to return yet another time the following morning to do the exchange with the man who initially sold them to me. She specified when she said morning, she meant anytime from 8 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. In case you weren’t aware - morning in Spain is anytime before lunchtime, and lunchtime is generally later in the afternoon. Regardless, she processed a refund on my card, which was a relief! If you’re a friend or family member on standby for a postcard, know the efforts I went through to ensure you receive it. Thankfully, my postcards should all be in transit now, so continue checking your mailbox, friends!
The dropboxes are on the side of a post office in Sevilla. You can drop your cards here or at the counter after purchasing stamps. Or, if you get your stamps from elsewhere, you may have to drop them in one of the boxes accommodating the “Post by me” stamps throughout the city.
As I navigated this process, I gradually developed my confidence to communicate in Spanish. Going to the post office would generally be nothing to get excited about, yet, as simple as it sounds, adding in the layer of speaking Spanish, navigating this process became a story of personal triumph, and I’m pleased I didn’t lose any money! While adjusting to a new language and culture, you’ll surely face challenges in everyday situations. Yet, by putting yourself through some discomfort and confronting your mistakes, you’ll likely come to surprise yourself, just as I did during my various trips to the post office.
Sarah Everett is the Spring 2023 Alumni Ambassador in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Chapman University.