Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Take A Paseo With Me

May 22, 2024
By Yoonie Yang, Huntsman '25

SA: CASA Seville: University of Seville

Yoonieone of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents, shares her experience abroad during the Spring 2024 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

For the past 134 days since I landed in Sevilla, Spain, every day, I’ve walked the same route from my house in the San Bernardo barrio to the Real Fábrica de Tabasco (or the historic Royal Tobacco Factory) building in the center of the city for my classes. While some days it feels repetitive, I’ve found a sense of comfort in this minimally strenuous walk: the same, short 15-minute distance (12 minutes if I speed walk) back and forth paseo.

Leaving my apartment complex after a quick ride down the elevator, the building doorman and I always wave a brief “¡Hola!” to each other. On some days, it’s gone beyond to “Buenos dias” o “¿Cómo estas?” but I’ve started every morning in Sevilla with a hello from a stranger. Turning the corner, I run into another familiar stranger from my life here in Sevilla, an elderly homeless woman who sits in front of our local grocery store every morning and every afternoon. We’ve gotten to know each other over the course of these past five months, and she reminds me to recognize and acknowledge those around you, even if the situation may bring some feelings of discomfort.

Yet, my favorite part of the paseo is walking through the park next to the Plaza de España. Strolling in the cobblestone path with trees lining both sides, and passing along the children’s playground with a zipline (which I don’t remember my elementary school playground having a zipline), sometimes I like to keep my Airpods in my pocket and listen to the sound of the water fountains almost piercing through the perfectly clear and blue sky and the glowing sun rays passing between the branches. The walk feels unfamiliar and awkward without the sun; Sevilla is not Sevilla without the cloudless sky and the burning rays.

Every morning when I make this paseo, I’m able to get a snippet into the lives of the sevillanos that live here, from children playing at the park to the couples newly met and newly wed. Through these observations, I’ve learned that Spanish people truly know how to rest and laugh and play and enjoy because their balance of work and life isn’t limited to just a daily walk in the park or an intentional book by the river. It’s integrated into every aspect of their lives. At our daily siesta, my host parents–without missing a single day–will watch their favorite shows in the living room while Manolo massages Maria’s feet. During the largest festivities of the spring, la Féria, adults go out to bars and dance in a way that reminds me of youth; I start to feel nostalgic for it as if I’m not currently living in my own.

Living 3,648 miles from campus in the small, traditional, and slow town of Sevilla, I’ve been experiencing my newly coined mid-juventud crisis: trying to understand who I am, what I need and what I want when the environment and the people around me are wholly strange. Stepping away from the intensity of work and success in America, I’m learning how to fall in love with the little, non-ambitious life. That perhaps studying late for that exam is not worth the slow picnic at the riverfront you’d otherwise miss with friends. That perhaps the faults of my personality – my anxiety about school and the type-A, wound up version of me – is a result of my surroundings rather than a reflection of my soul. That perhaps the most important thing we should be working towards is creating a sense of support because my quaint apartment in San Bernardo is constantly flowing with the love of my host family and their large, six child family.

When I leave the park, I see the crowd of tourists with their big bright hats and their big bright shirts walking across the same streets that I’ve been walking for months. It’s on this slow paseo that I remember how grateful I am to make the vacation stop of others my little home for six months. Because no matter how many times I see the cathedral (the largest Gothic cathedral in the world!) against the background of the moon, I stop and shudder at the magnitude of it all. In the nights when I feel most lonely and overwhelmed, I sit at the steps of the Plaza de España and listen to the saxophone of the older man who always plays at the second steps of bridge stairs. And when I feel like my chest is closing up, I find myself breathing again sitting at the edge of the Rio Guadalquivir at sunset.

So when I finally make it to the large wooden door of the Fábrica de Tabasco, I’m ready.

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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.

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