Blake is a senior Global Studies and Political Science double major.
My undergraduate summer experience was a UNC study abroad program in Seville, Spain. The program was held June 24-July 31, during which I took two classes taught in Spanish. The classes were on Spanish art and Spanish film, and both satisfied requirements for my Global Studies major under the transnational cultures theme. My purpose of attending the program was to gain fluency in Spanish, as I have been taking Spanish for essentially my entire life and have been unable to improve for years. While I did not become fluent, I do feel that my speaking and comprehension skills have improved greatly, as I was much more directly immersed in the language. I do feel more confident that I could gain fluency if given another opportunity to immerse myself and live in a Spanish-speaking country.
The program included multiple historical and cultural excursions, and allowed for personal travel time, all of which was truly enriching. As a group, the program visited Roman ruins in Spain and olive oil farms, learning about the rich history of Spain and the current economy and culture of food. We also visited Granada and Cordoba, two cities in Spain that have a rich Arab history, making it absolutely fascinating to see as the stark differences in architecture, people, culture, and food are extremely clear. This was a super interesting thing to learn about and see, especially visiting important sites like mosques, cathedrals, and the fortress/palace of Alhambra.
My personal travels began before the program started, because once in Spain the rules dictated that we could not travel outside of the country. I have many friends from high school who were foreign exchange students, and I was able to visit one in Valencia, Spain, and Dusseldorf, Germany. I later visited my cousin in Paris, France. This short week of traveling before I settled down in Seville was amazing, and because of scholarships I was able to have the money to make the most of my time abroad during COVID, which I am quite grateful for as we do not know how possible travel will continue to be in the future.
My other personal travels within Spain included a trip to Palma de Mallorca, to visit two other exchange student friends. This too was a great experience as I could be more immersed in the island by having a local showing me around, rather than acting as a tourist. It was also great to practice my Spanish with these friends. The following weekend, a group of ten students from our program in Seville traveled to Barcelona, where we had truly the most amazing time. It was great to travel to a different province of Spain other than Andalucia, because understanding the language differences and how Catalonians viewed other Spaniards was helpful in seeing Spanish culture as a whole, and it connected very well to one of our courses. We did act as tourists in Barcelona, and also learned quickly that it was a city full of tourists from all over Europe, and therefore we met dozens of people from other countries in the EU, providing for a great learning experience and for many the first and most substantial interaction with such a variety of foreigners.
While it is clear that I managed to make the most of our weekends in terms of traveling, we did have classes every weekday and lots of work, especially in the last week and a half. The courses ultimately ended smoothly, and were not so time consuming that we did not sufficiently explore the city of Seville and great attractions like the Plaza de Espana and the Seville Cathedral downtown. Further, as a transfer student and my only year at UNC being fully online last year, this was my first real opportunity to meet fellow UNC students with similar interests, and I was able to make many new friends, a great asset as my final and first true year at UNC begins. Overall, my summer abroad had its challenges but looking back is filled with great memories and opportunities that I will always be grateful for and I foresee being beneficial to my future.