Since studying abroad, a feeling that I’ve heard expressed by other students is alienation. There’s inevitable disappointment when the fantasy you created in your mind prior to leaving the U.S. doesn’t manifest exactly into your reality. I am myself guilty of allowing this phenomenon to take hold. I imagined my life in Spain to be accompanied by local friends, taking me under their wing and showing me the ins and outs of Sevilla. What I and I’m sure many other students abroad have found is that a sense of belonging in a foreign place isn’t immediate. Truthfully, it’s taken me over a month to start feeling like I’m getting the hang of life in Sevilla.  That being said, if you continue to prioritize aspects you wanted to gain from study abroad, it’s likely they will find their way in, in some form or another. For me, this goal was to experience and actively participate in Spanish culture.

The best advice I have for this is to take the first step. You’ll most likely find that when you make an effort, the world around you responds in a positive way. An excellent avenue for cultural enrichment in Spain is flamenco. The Spanish love their flamenco, and for good reason. This is an art that’s deeply embedded in the culture and actually originated in Andalusia.  The more I dive into the art of flamenco, the better I’ve begun to understand the Andalusian people.

My flamenco journey began in a dance studio, where bright lights and large mirrors made it impossible to hide from myself. My flamenco teacher was abrupt, straight to the point—that classic Spanish forwardness that used to stress me out but I have now come to appreciate.  Some of my dance classes ended with a sense of hopelessness; a dance so complex, how could I possibly remember it all? Whereas others I left with pride, having made it through the whole Sevillanas without forgetting more than a few steps. Each time the group would meet, my confidence grew. Not necessarily because my skill was growing, but rather because I was more comfortable making mistakes.

Our teacher spoke to us only in her native tongue, which was a confusing learning curve at first but ended up being incredibly beneficial. The language, paired with aspects of the body and movement, became an unexpected yet effective approach to improving my Spanish.

In my last class, I left a little somber, sad not to continue learning, but also incredibly excited and apprehensive. Anyone who knows how to dance in the Sevillana style and has the confidence gets the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned in Feria.

After taking the risk, signing up for the class, and potentially subjecting myself to awkward discomfort, I was rewarded with a sense of belonging. This feeling is infectious, and I’ve continued to dive deeper. I’ve been taking flamenco guitar lessons, attending local jam sessions, and the ultimate goal of friendship and community has begun to find its way in.  By taking an interest in such an important cultural tradition, living here has started to make more sense. The best decision I’ve made this semester is to jump headfirst into things I want but have always been too scared to reach for. I’ve chosen to open my heart and mind to another culture, and in return, Sevilla has begun to embrace me as well.

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