Student Stories, Semester Abroad

The "Authentic" Seville

January 11, 2019
By Elana Burack, CAS '19

CASA Sevilla - Spain

Throughout my time in Seville, Spain last fall, I thought a lot about what it means to be a traveler versus a tourist--to experience the culture rather than just photograph the popular highlights. I think an apt metaphor is to think of it as the difference between riding a bus and riding a bike. On a bus, the landscape whizzes by you at 60mph, and you're able to catch glimpses of beautiful countryside, roaming hills, old churches--postcard snapshots every which way. It's breathtaking and lightning fast. On a bike, however, it's a wholly different experience. You sweat in the same heat as the farmer out in his field, feel the same wind on your face that tickles the leaves of the olive trees. You appreciate the subtleties of the terrain as you pedal through each and every incline with aching legs and enjoy cruising on every downhill stretch. You begin to know the landscape intimately as you familiarize yourself with it over time--a journey of months to become acquainted rather than to just wave hello. That is what it is to be a traveler. It's a kind of knowing, a kind of knowing that seeks the authentic rather than the imagined, the cliché.

A few weeks into my semester in Seville, I visited a market in my neighborhood. I took a lap around, snapped a few pictures. Yep. Done. It was cool but not anything to write home about.

The next weekend, however, my homestay mom Carmen took my roommate and me to the mercado in Triana, and this time, it inspired me to write a blog post. She pointed out types of fish, explained why they all had eyes, showed us her favorite fruits, joked with the man behind the spice counter, bought some amazing cheese for us to snack on, took us on a stroll down a "secret path" by the river, wound through the streets of Triana to show us the best, most typical tapas places, had us pose in front of a wedding party dressed to the nines, walked us past an art fair... Carmen brought the market to life. It was one of my favorite mornings there.

Seeing a beautiful or interesting place is nice, but experiencing a beautiful place with someone else has the potential to be transformative. Going with Carmen was just that: transformative. She allowed me to see beyond just the surface level, to experience it through her eyes, to appreciate the nuances, to (at least attempt to) seek the authentic. I was riding a bike.

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Rows of meat and cheese in the market
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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.