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Spain: An opportunity to study abroad

October 1, 2018

The Spanish-American Institute of International Education (or SAIIE), has been the host of the Seville, Spain, study abroad program over the last two decades. The resident director, Stuart C. Chipres, recently visited the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus. Chipres came to speak with a few students who are interested in making the roughly nine-hour flight across the pond.

Chipres grew up in Seville, and though he’s done a lot of traveling throughout his life, he still calls Seville home. Chipres brought the students through what it would be like for them to move in with a host family, (who often do not speak English), and begin the immersion into a new culture, while also attending school. This program is designed for students studying in the following programs: art history, business and commerce, cultural studies, history, intensive language tracks, international business, international studies, literature, Spanish arts, Spanish language, as well as studio art.

The trip itself is straightforward. Students would arrive in Spain in the fall or spring, met by either Chipres himself, or a staff member of SAIIE at the airport. Students will be given a booklet containing information about where they will live, their class schedule, and many important things to know during their stay. During the first week, there is a tour of the city, giving students a feel for the area, as well as the route they’ll take to school. Students will have about a five to twenty-minute walk from their home to school.

The first week of classes is a trial week, and students can see which classes work for them, making changes where needed. As for food, the host family will provide students with two meals a day. The host families typically live in apartments, but students get their own bedroom and, in many cases, their own bathroom. Most families will have children.

As a weekly routine begins, life continues to adjust for those studying abroad. Chipres mentioned many students leave feeling blown away by the laid-back culture in Seville. Students often note that the people of Seville are filled with a passion for life, through their food, city, sports, and just about anything else. Something else the people of Spain are passionate about is how they dress.

Dress code in Spain is much different than in the U.S. Chipres shares that in Seville, it is not common to see people in baseball caps, or with big slogans on their t-shirts. The style is not as casual as in the United States and tourists often stand out. Luckily, there are many places for shopping within walking distance to the student’s home. Packing for the trip won’t be incredibly complicated due to the mostly warm, sunny weather that is present all year in Seville.

When asked about potential concerns students may have regarding their safety in Seville, Chipres was very reassuring. The crime rate in Seville, though the city has about 700,000 people is surprisingly low. Chipres does cautions the students to be aware of the occasional pickpockets which are common in large cities.

Other than that, Chipres has seen very few issues come up throughout the years, ensuring that this is a welcoming community. Some students in the past have had health related issues and they were able to receive the medical attention needed. The University of Wisconsin- Platteville, which is the school that UWRF goes through for the study abroad to Seville, does offer a medical insurance plan to students who go abroad.

Though fall and spring semester are equally beautiful in Seville, a town not plagued by winter, Chipres painted a picture of the magic in the air during La Semana Santa. La Semana Santa, or Holy Week, takes place the week before Easter. A perk for students is that they get the week of La Semana Santa off from school. Chipres explained that it is not just a religious holiday but is open to all people of different faiths.

About fifty churches from all over Seville prepare handmade floats representing historical figures. For a normal sized float, about thirty people must practice year-round to master the careful coordination needed to make the annual journey. Larger floats can have up to sixty people, delicately taking the historical figures from their churches, to the Seville Cathedral. The Seville Cathedral is the third largest Christian cathedral in the world, and the first largest gothic cathedral. Chipres commented, “Think of it as a pilgrimage to the main cathedral, each brotherhood has a walk to the cathedral in the center of the city.”

Chipres also mentions that it is an honor to carry these floats. The figures are heavy in weight but also in significance to the people of Seville, some historical figures dating back as far as the 15th and 16th century. Another major celebration in Seville in the spring is la Feria, typically happening two weeks after La Semana Santa. La Feria is a large fair with a parade, and many traditional dances. Women dress in black, white and red Flamenco dresses.

Seville is a town rich with history and culture. Seville is also home to where Christopher Columbus researched, before taking several ships to ‘discover’ America. Those ships returned to Seville with gold, silver, and many other riches. This made Sevilla, at that point in time, one of the most important cities in the world. According to Chipres, “Seville was also a major city for the Muslims for nearly seven centuries. Some of our popular monuments are from back then. The Giralda and the Alcazar. Our river was also named by them, the Guadalquivir.” Seville has no shortage of Islamic culture, as well as Roman, Jewish, and many others.

The experience students have in Seville is a unique way to experience a different part of the world and connect with the people. There will also be a few weekend outings and activities included in the trip, as well as several travel options students can plan on their own.  In a city that came together with parts of many types of lifestyles, Chipres remarks,  “This heritage makes us very open-minded with visitors. We are a mixture of various cultures.” Chipres shares that he has seen many students truly transform while studying abroad, becoming more culturally and self-aware, long after returning.