Spanish bucket list for the average college student

February 11, 2013
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Plaza de España in Sevilla

Submitted Photo
Caroline Argall at the Plaza de España in Sevilla

Whether you’re planning to backpack through Europe, study abroad or explore Spain on a family vacation, this blog will provide insights into the essential places that college students must visit during any trip! Each week we will feature a different college student who has been to Spain to give readers tips, hints, and suggestions for their own trip as well as to compose a master “bucket list” of things that should be tried at least once while traveling through the enchanting land of España.

Caroline Argall, a master’s student at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, chose to study abroad in Granada, Spain during her undergraduate career because she was looking for adventure and a chance to obtain required course credits to apply to her Spanish major.

“I thought Spain would be the perfect place to enhance my Spanish fluency, a great ‘hub’ for travel within Europe, and a great place to spend a semester while earning college credit,” Argall said. “I lived with a host family while I was there, as it was a requirement of my program. My family consisted of a Senora who was in her late 40s, and her two children who were 10 and 13. My Senora’s ‘piso’ (apartment) was about a 35-minute walk from school.”

She took an advanced grammar course, a linguistics course, a Spanish law course, and a culture of Islam course, all taught by Spaniards in their native language! Like many college students on a budget, Argall said she had to be quite frugal when packing for the trip, so she did not have many options for what to wear from day to day. Since she was traveling in one of the leading fashion-forward countries in the Western world, she had to be creative.

“Leather riding boots were very big over there,” she said. “I wore mine every single day until it got warm.  Every woman had them on. I was often seen in jeans, riding boots, a solid long sleeve shirt and a scarf.  I was able to switch up my look with different scarves, which are so easy to come by there and are very inexpensive!”

Argall did not plan to do much shopping in Spain because she wanted to save her money for the extensive traveling she planned to do. However, she said she wished she would have known how much money she was going to spend while over there.

“When you are traveling almost every weekend, it is amazing how quickly, say, $1000 can fly out the window,” Argall said.

This trip was Argall’s second to Europe, as she had traveled to London previously with her parents, but she was still amazed at the cultural differences between Spain and the United States.

“The biggest difference between Spanish culture and American culture is definitely the way they look at leisure time,” Argall said. “A great way to summarize this is that Americans live to work and Spaniards work to live. In other words, work largely consumes our lives in America.  It is the central focus of our day. In Spain, everything begins a bit later and things close in the middle of the day so that workers can return home to eat a meal with their families.”

She added that while weekends in America are often spent ‘catching up’ from the busy workweek with laundry, errands, and appointments, in Spain, weekends are spent with family.

“Families rarely sit at home in front of the TV,” she said. “They go out as a family and have a coffee at an outdoor café, for example. Strolling about a plaza is another common activity for families.  Basically, life moves a lot slower and seems to be a bit more enjoyed over there. Things are not nearly as leisurely in America, as we are constantly running from one thing to the next.”

In fact, taking time out of one’s busy schedule to adopt a leisurely attitude similar to the Spaniards’ goes along with the first item on Argall’s ‘Spanish Bucket List’ for other college students traveling abroad.

Alpine Living | Anna Ramia

Alpine Living | Anna Ramia

Bucket List No. 1: “Sit in a plaza on a Sunday, have a beer or coffee, and watch. You will understand the beauty of this once you do it.”

As a self-professed Type-A personality, Argall said she learned a lot about herself while in Spain and found herself changing certain habits and attitudes.

“I learned that I don’t need to always schedule my days back to back,” she said. “I learned how to travel, be safe, and have a blast.  I have grown back into my old ways a little, but I don’t feel so guilty anymore for having some ‘free time.’ I learned that is just as important as your work time.”

Argall said another big cultural adjustment for her was adapting to the different eating and sleeping schedules in Spain.

 “It was difficult for me to wait until 2:30 or 3 p.m. to have my first large meal of the day,” she said. “I would often stop at a market on my way to school to get fruit and bread, as I knew I would not make it through until the meal that afternoon like everybody else could. Additionally, it was difficult for me to stay up as late as they do.  My younger host siblings would stay up on school nights past midnight, when I was in bed by 10:30 p.m.”

On the weekends and nights where she knew she did not have to get up early for class, Argall was interested in exploring the nightlife in Spain and found it to be much different from nightlife in the U.S.

“Staying out at a nightclub until 6 in the morning is very common in Spain, but truthfully I never was able to make it much past 3:30 a.m.,” she said. “The young people would start to go out to the bars around 11:30 or midnight, or they would ‘botellon’ (which means to drink in a public plaza or park.) It is technically not legal but not enforced either. Around 1:30 or 2 a.m., the nightclubs would open. They would stay open until 6 or 7 a.m. Young people were often walking back home when the next day sun was out.”

Argall said she enjoyed going out to the different clubs with her newly made friends; however, she still regrets not putting herself out there enough.

“I made so many friends…that were Americans,” Argall said. “My program was about 70 students, most from the University of Illinois, but some from the University of Wisconsin and some from the University of Michigan.  We all hung out as a group collectively and traveled in groups together, and we got very close. Unfortunately, I did not leave with any close Spanish friends, but some of my classmates did. For example, my friend Molly’s host family had two girls her age and a bit older that took her out to clubs with their friends.  That would have been really cool.”

Argall said she was always self-conscious about her Spanish, and she felt more comfortable with her American friends. Thus, she did not branch out as much as she wanted to, which leads to the second item on Argall’s Spanish Bucket List.

Bucket List No. 2: “Make friends with some Spanish kids your age, and hang out with them. This is how you will get the true cultural experience and your Spanish will improve immensely.  Arguably my biggest regret now that I have already completed my semester abroad!”

Despite not making any real Spanish friends, Argall formed many long-lasting friendships with the other students on her trip, and she said that they enjoyed exploring different places together. They were able to watch authentic flamenco dancing shows, performed in caves as they traditionally were, ate all the tapas that they could handle at their favorite restaurant, ‘La Bella y la Bestia’ (The Beauty and the Beast), and observed a few of the processionals during Holy Week, which Argall said is a very big deal in Spain.

“Unfortunately, I was traveling in Italy for most of Holy Week since our classes were cancelled, but when I returned I was able to see some of the processionals and was also able to attend Easter mass at the cathedral,” she said. “The processions were very interesting to watch; as the Virgin Mary would pass, I remember seeing people getting to their knees and crying.  The celebrations just made the holiday a very big deal, and made you remember what the holiday is really about. I very much enjoyed participating in that.”

Her group of friends took trips on most weekends to visit different areas in and around Spain, and Argall ended up having a site-seeing experience of a lifetime. When asked about her favorite memory or experience from the trip, Argall said it was hard to choose just one. However, a few that she mentioned include: staying in a small hostel with 11 other people on a weekend sojourn to London, getting her first Brazilian bikini wax, which is much cheaper in Europe than it is in America, and making the most of an “all-you-can-drink for five euro deal” at the opening of a nightclub. She also enjoyed skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and hiking with her boyfriend when he came to visit.

“[Bret and I] decided to go for a hike in the Spanish mountains,” she said. “We had no map, but we went for it. It was such a risk, but I am so glad we did it.  I walked across the longest wood and rope bridge I could have ever imagined and crawled under giant rocks on the edges of cliffs. Even now, looking back I can’t believe how brave I was. This experience made me so much more spontaneous and adventurous, and this was a time where I really proved myself.”

Argall emphasizes that she would not have experienced many of these adventures if she had not opened herself up to roll with the punches and be more spontaneous. She reiterates this in her third and final item on her Spanish Bucket List for fellow travelers.

Bucket List No. 3: “Go out and enjoy yourself, whenever you can.  You will likely be traveling so much on weekends that you will forget about your home city.  Go out and enjoy yourself on a weeknight for a drink and tapas.  This time you have there is limited. You will never have this time again. When in doubt, DO IT.  Whatever that ‘IT’ may be!”

Caroline Argall’s Spanish Bucket List (Summary)

1) Sit in a plaza on a Sunday, have a beer or coffee, and watch. You will understand the beauty of this once you do it.  That is all I am going to say.

2) Make friends with some Spanish kids your age, and hang out with them. This is how you will get the true cultural experience and your Spanish will improve immensely.  Arguably my biggest regret now that I have already completed my semester abroad!

3) Go out and enjoy yourself, whenever you can.  You will likely be traveling so much on weekends that you will forget about your home city.  Go out and enjoy yourself on a weeknight for a drink and tapas.  This time you have there is limited. You will never have this time again. When in doubt, DO IT.  Whatever that ‘IT’ may be!

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