It’s been five months since I came back to the U.S. after a semester studying abroad in Spain. My journal is full of reflections on how the experience changed me for the better; I discovered more things about myself and the world while abroad than I can count. Besides the personal revelations, I also developed some healthy habits. Here are just a few everyday customs I picked up in Seville:
A few weeks into the semester, I was walking six to eight miles a day like it was nothing. Cars just aren’t an everyday necessity for many Sevillanos: instead of roadways, they opt for bike lanes, sidewalks and public transportation.
When I returned to my home university, the 20-minute walk across campus felt like a breeze. I couldn’t believe I used to take the bus to class. Seville taught me that walking isn’t so bad after all, and in a socially distanced world, that lesson is more important than ever. Walks I used to take for granted are now daily opportunities to refresh my mind and body between long hours of online schoolwork.
Mixing up my mealtimes
I used to feel a twinge of guilt when I ended up eating dinner past 8 p.m., like it was a sign I didn’t have my life together. But in Spain, lunch is around 3, and dinner is around 9. It took me a bit, but my body adjusted to the new rhythm—so thoroughly that when I got back to the states, the thought of eating a large meal before noon made me nauseous.
If the Spanish schedule has taught me anything, it’s that mealtimes are a social construct. So nowadays, if typical American lunchtime rolls around and I’m not feeling it, I don’t force myself to eat. I just wait until I’m hungry and carry on happily with my day.
Embracing local history
Traces of Spain’s rich historical background are everywhere, from the towering Catholic cathedrals to the intricate Arabic architecture to the traditions of the Spanish people. It’s hard to ignore Seville’s past, and for good reason: the modern culture of Spain is inextricably bound to its origins. Without my professors, my host mom and the Internet providing historical context, I wouldn’t have grown to appreciate or understand Spain as I do now.
I learned to love history in Seville, and I’ve applied this newfound passion to my home country, as well. As I seek out information on America’s past, I’ve come to see history as a valuable asset in understanding the world instead of a set of tedious factoids.
From around 2 to 5 p.m., stores close and streets empty as Sevillanos retreat from the grind of the workday for a leisurely lunch. Siesta was sometimes a source of frustration, especially when I needed to run an errand. But I slowly grew to appreciate the time of rest. While I rarely napped (the literal meaning of the word), I still enjoyed long lunchtime chats with my housemate and host mom and time to regain my energy before my final class of the day.
When I got back home, I was struck by the chaos of the American workday. For a few weeks, I felt like I was drowning in a culture of productivity, always striving to get more done. That’s where my experience with siesta has come in handy. The laid-back Spanish approach to life has taught me to prioritize rest. My to-do list might be formidable, but I’m learning to acknowledge that living a balanced life is preferable to working myself to death.
These little lifestyle changes are subtle, but they’ve had a huge positive impact on my well-being. I’m grateful for the much-needed perspective my time in Spain provided. I’m counting down the days until I get to return, but until then, I’ll carry a bit of Seville into the choices I make each day.
Shannon Gage is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Seville, Spain, during the Fall 2019 semester. She is currently a student at Liberty University.
Shannon Gage is the Fall 2019 Alumni Ambassador in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Liberty University.