Beautiful Weather Helps Define These Spanish People

Chris Beard ’10 – Apart from the lively festivities and fascinating tourist spots, the most enjoyable part of my stay in Sevilla has been seeing how the history and geography of the region have affected the people and culture here so much. Though of course we in America are shaped by these things, it didn’t really hit me until I became immersed in the Andalusian atmosphere of the city, and started to learn about it from the Sevillanos themselves.

As my art history professor explained it, many of the people here still identify the city with its golden age, though it declined about half way through the 17th century (more than a 100 years before our country’s founding!). The city became really wealthy during those times and was considered a world capital—this brought them to start a ‘holier than thou’ competition with Toledo, building what is still to this day the world’s largest Gothic cathedral and really going over the top with their Holy Week. Even the city’s symbol is a source of pride, which refers to an event long ago when Sevilla was the only city to remain loyal to King Alfonso X after a coup.

But even though the city’s former stature was destroyed in a plague more than 350 years ago, you can still see the pride that the people have of the golden years. My host brother for example, though not very religious, walked around barefoot in a procession for 14 hours straight this year at Holy Week, carrying about 80 pounds worth of a Jesus statue on his shoulders. While many people in Spain are Catholic, and many cities also carry out celebrations during Holy Week, my family has explained that Sevilla is famous for its Holy Week because of how the city fills the streets in procession for the whole week and shut down schools and business in honor of the traditions that go back the years of Sevilla’s world prestige.

The city’s pride comes out again a few weeks after Holy Week, during the Feria de abril. This is like a week long fair where the whole city dresses up in traditional clothing and heads to the fair grounds, dancing the ‘Sevillanas’ while eating and drinking all day until about 7 in the morning—every single day. During this week, the city puts on its best in an event that brings widespread attention to the pride of the Sevillanos.

But the history only explains half of what makes the people here so unique. The weather and location also contribute an awful lot to the way they interact. Sevilla is in the south of Spain, and is the first part of Europe to get the warm air of the Pacific. Today was a cloudless 93 degrees, and I haven’t felt it get below 50 since I arrived in January; this great weather seems to be the other explanation for why people here are so uniquely outgoing, according to friends who compare the atmosphere to that of other places in Spain and Europe.

But I had a hint that I was about to be immersed in this warm sea of charisma even before I got off the bus to Sevilla and experienced the weather. On the way here, I struck up a conversation with a really friendly college graduate from the city that ended up giving me directions on where to go, and left me with her contact information in case I ever needed any help or advice getting around the city.

A few days later, on my way to meet a friend at a place I’d never been to, I got directions from a woman who was heading in the same directions. After explaining where to go, she immediately said, "Hey, you’re not from around here! Where’d you come from?" I’ve been ambushed plenty of other times by the friendliness of the people here, and have been invited to gatherings and birthday parties, simply for being the friend of a friend of a friend. I think my host mom summed it up best when she was telling me not to worry about getting off on the wrong stop on the bus for my first day of classes. "Someone will tell you where to get off," she said. "In Sevilla, everyone takes care of everyone."

I’ve enjoyed the small details of living abroad in Sevilla too. Jamón curado and sopa de lenteja are definitely two of my favorite foods I’ve ever tried. I’m going to miss watching Barcelona crush whichever unfortunate team it has to play every weekend, and the annoyingly dubbed American movies, and doing pescadito until the actual party starts sometime after 1 am. But the great part of this experience has been seeing how the beautiful year-round weather and the rich history have defined the people of Sevilla to this day. The city may not be what it was a few hundred years ago. But the memory of its history still resides in the people, who continue to remember it with their daily customs and traditions.

Studying Abroad: It’s About the Stories

Jacob Castilow ’10 – Most people I meet ask, at some point or another, if I like Scotland — a pretty generic question, right? I do enjoy the lovely scenery and the history — it’s all very rich and wonderful, but I enjoy the people in a much more impressionable way, and this is where I usually stumble with words.

I can speak of my trip to the Shetlands and maybe that can illuminate what I mean. The most striking example of the people-based, live-and-live attitude would be the Shetlands, these tiny remote islands off the coast of Scotland. The island is quite small and exhibits a remarkable community based attitude. After a rough fourteen hour ferry ride through the North Sea, I step on land feeling a little "Shet-lagged" — that’s suppose to be a joke — but having to be flexible with travel arrangements I needed to make accommodations to stay overnight in the port, Lerwick.
I found the youth hostel with the help of a stranger; and when I thought I found it, I went into the community center – it turns out the lady runs the hostel, but most remarkably, she said to me (from memory so the quotes aren’t exact, but they’re not in the least bit exaggerated), "Did you just come in off the Sunday morning ferry? You must be tired, the hostel doesn’t take bookings until 9:00am (it’s 7:30am), but if go….(I’ll explain this in a minute) you can set your rucksuck down, head upstairs, there’s a kitchen and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and wait in the sitting room until we take bookings." Wow! It may just be me, but that about knocked me off my feet- I felt so welcomed- but the ellipses- I fixated on the idea of a nice cup of tea in the morning after a very nauseating night (not really sea sickness, but the whole ride just turns your stomach) and this woman’s immense hospitality and when I nodded and went outside I couldn’t find the hostel nor could I remember her directions, so I went back in. The lady actually just walked me over to the hostel and showed me everything she had said — pretty cool!
The Shetlands was almost too good of a trip, really. It’s one where you hesitate to get on the ferry. Here’s a picture or two of it –  the road one is particularly memorable because once you get past Brae (you can Google Earth these if interested) there’s no public transport, but even the tourism office suggests hitch hiking, and I must admit it is an adventure in itself.
On our third day there, we hitch hiked a total of 56 miles in a day which means meeting some amazing people, did some amazing hiking along these goregeous sea cliffs, and as we grew tired we stopped for a rest in a bay only to be treated by a gathering of seals in the bay — I fell into the North Sea, about mid thigh, trying to get a good photo but that meant camping was out – the North Sea is quite cold.
To end this narrative, we figured that we were out this way and had at least go look at Dore Holm turns out we were a little farther away, and we just sat on the coast staring at another big rock in the sea, though we weren’t a certain at the time whether were were looking at Dore Holm or not. As the sun got low in the sky, we decided we had better start trying to get rides back into town – it was a great way to end the day, walking along those empty, yet beautiful roads back towards the only "big" town with the sun at our backs. There are loads of other little stories that really show the character of the place, but for brevity’s sake, I spoke of one of the good days; I wasn’t snubbing the landscape in the slighest at the beginning – it’s all very breathtaking, and I often find myself reciting this marvelous antipoem called "Grandeur" I memorized for a poetry class before I came, but the scenery can’t give you that warm fuzzy feeling when people are just unbelievable friendly nor could it give you the really humbling experience of having to rely on a stranger’s kindness to get you to a warm place to shower and sleep at night as opposed to having to camp in a sleeping bag on the side of the road cold and wet. These short, very human, very rewarding experiences are what gives Scotland so much charm.
The photos: First, an apology, these were taking with a disposable camera, would you believe it I forgot my digital camera that was specifically a present for this exchange program. Anyways, the road one looks pretty bare, and it was. There were only three houses visible, but if you strain your eyes you can see the numerous red-rock sea cliffs that were stunning at sunset, the open ocean, and the openness of the whole scene in general, not to mention the spectacular road (no joke). The next was part of the scenery of where we were hiking; it’s me in the photo. Of the places I’ve been, I can say that I’ve never seen a guard rail to date, and that makes me quite happy.