Rising junior shortstop Jane Alexander studied abroad in Spain this summer and shares her experiences in the and beyond in her blog (Gil Talbot).
I just returned from finishing my citation in Spanish (basically a recognition from the University that you are proficient in a certain language) through a summer abroad in Seville, Spain! I took two classes taught in Spanish, one on religious culture in Spain and another on health policy in the EU, that will count as two credits of Spanish class (one credit each class). Since I’m fulfilling my citation requirements through a study abroad program I’m also fulfilling my “Foreign Cultures” CORE requirement. In addition, this means that, if I want to, I can take three classes instead of four in the spring semester during season to lighten the load a little bit. I think this is what they call this a win-win-win situation. The program runs anywhere from three weeks to nine weeks, depending on how long you choose to stay (each class runs for three weeks, three hours every day). In order to receive credit you need to stay for 6 weeks (or two classes) and to get funding from the Rockefeller Center you need to stay for at least 8, but believe me you won’t want to ever leave!!
We finished class by noon every day and spent the rest of the weekdays exploring Seville; the shops, the food, the sites, the food, the beaches nearby, the food again... I got to taste all of the local favorites – tortilla española, gazpacho, paella, croquettes, as well as a couple odd regional specialties including pig neck and bull tail, which were both actually very delicious. Every weekend we packed up our backpacks and drove or flew off to another city, country, or continent. Some of our trips our program organized and some we planned all on our own. I’ve never felt more capable than after my friends and I navigated an entirely new city or country all on our own. We traveled all over Spain, visiting Granada, Barcelona, Madrid, Extremadura, Cordoba, and Trujillo to name a few, then kept exploring outside the country. I jumped into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time off a cliff in Portugal, rode a camel in Morocco, saw the Eiffel tower in Paris and played with the pigeons in Piazza San Marco in Venice. It’s amazing how many different places are within reach once you’re already studying in Europe. I without hesitation describe these two months as the time of my life.
I was lucky enough to be there when Spain won the world cup, and watching a country as soccer-obsessed as Spain celebrate their first world cup victory was definitely a once in a lifetime experience! I have learned to love the sport (and the players) and literally couldn’t go a day without watching some sort of soccer once the Copa del Mundo started. It didn’t stop at soccer though; we got to enjoy the true Spanish national pastime, the Corrida de Toros, on a holiday called Corpus Christi. We were told these were some pretty fancy bullfighters, and given the number of sequins on their outfits, I believe it. We of course had no idea what was going on, but a woman behind us kindly explained everything to us. Since this was a few weeks into our stay, we could actually understand the Spanish she spoke to us, which we couldn’t have made us more proud.
There are plenty of sports to watch in Spain, but when you tell people you need to actually train for one they look at you a little funny. Although the Spaniards themselves may think you’re crazy for wanting to lift weights, there are enough study abroad students to keep a few gyms in business. My program had a deal with a gym right by our school so we got a great student discount. Let me tell you though, this was no Palmer Dixon. The gym was 4 floors, each of which was tiny and packed with machines – absolutely no Olympic platforms in sight. Most of the cardio machines would be in use (unless you went during siesta time) so my friends and I quickly befriended the spinning instructor named Rafa and attended his classes to get our cardio in. Once we figured out the pounds to kilos conversions we stepped into the weight room, which was just a bit larger than our locker room at school, and hicimos pesos with the men of Seville. We got a little creative with their equipment, pushed a few things around, and made it work, even though we raised a few eyebrows in the process. With no one to play catch with and no cages to hit in I also had to get a little creative with how I could fit softball into my abroad experience. I decided that I would embrace my time away from a bat and ball as an opportunity to really work on the mental side of the game. I brought film of me hitting and fielding and a couple books on the mental aspect of sports, including my favorite, Mind Gym. I came home nervous to see what my swing would look like, and to my surprise a two month break hadn’t erased my ability to play the sport I had spent 11 years of my life playing. In fact, right after season it was probably just what my body needed. I came back anxious to play, trying to get my hands on a bat or a ball as soon as I could, and every athlete knows that feeling reminds us of why we love what we do – why we wake up at 6am for conditioning, why we give everything we have in practice when we just got out of a full day of class and have a meeting or two waiting for us afterward, why we dedicate ourselves to our teammates and them to us. A little absence does make the heart grow fonder, and even hungrier for an Ivy title, if that is even possible.
This experience wouldn’t have been the same at any other time in my life. Studying and living in a country is a completely different experience from vacationing or visiting one, and in my opinion a much richer one. I can’t wait to return to Seville, which I really do consider my own to some extent, and show people where we lived, what we saw, and what we learned from the perspective of a Sevillan. I feel so lucky that I got the opportunity to study abroad while I was in college and had the unique experience of doing so while playing Division 1 softball. There aren’t many college softball programs that allow you to spend two months of your summer navigating through Europe and I love Harvard Softball for allowing me the opportunity to do so. Now that I’m back, though, it’s time to get to work on that 2011 Ivy title!!