Every September, there is a conference hosted in Europe that is called EAIE. The purpose is for international educators to get together, meet with partners, and learn about the best practices in international education. As the advisor to our international exchange students, I was afforded the opportunity to travel alongside Blair McElroy to Spain!
Neither of us had ever been to Spain and I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it would be warm and beautiful, but beyond that, I was ready for anything. We made lists of things we wanted to see and do (thanks, Pinterest), booked our flights, reserved our hotels, grabbed our passports, and we were on our way!
Packing for conferences is a little different than packing for vacation or a study abroad program. We have to pack conference appropriate outfits that can also be worn all day while exploring the city. Our time in Mississippi has served us well because we had outfits that were both professional and weather appropriate. Some of our international partners weren’t as comfortable in the warm climate.
The EAIE conference was incredible. It’s fascinating to be in a conference center with people from all over the world who have the same mission: to expand partnerships and fine tune program offerings for their students. We talked to hundreds of people and walked away with new partnerships and ideas.
But, let’s talk about Spain. It is abundantly clear to me why Spain has become a top destination for Ole Miss students. It is so beautiful.
We spent 4 days in Seville, Spain. One of those days was dedicated to exploring the city. By the end of the day, we had walked 12 miles. Over the course of the 4 days, we visited The Seville Cathedral & La Giralda, Real Alcázar, The Plaza de España, Metropol Parasol, and ate at gelato shops every night. All of these attractions were unique and stunning. We learned about Spain’s history, saw embellished alters, and climbed to anything that would give us a view of the city from above.
Seville is pretty cozy with something new to see every time you turn onto a narrow street. Seville felt like an old town with little neighborhood shops and restaurants. Walking through Seville was totally navigable; Attractions were close to each other and made crossing things off of our bucket list super easy. We explored everything we could get into. A free museum gallery about diversity? Sign us up. A parrot saying “hola” again and again in a restaurant? Si, por favor!
The food in Seville was not what I expected. I didn’t know that Iberian ham was a special treat in Spain. It seemed like every restaurant had ham hanging in the windows to be finely carved and served to us. I had caramelized brie on toast and will probably never taste something that amazing again. While in Spain, I desperately wanted to try an authentic churro; Apparently churros are a breakfast food. Our hotel in Madrid had churros at the breakfast bar and I don’t think I would have returned had I not finally tried them. So good.
Traveling from Madrid to Seville was fairly easy to figure out. Before we arrived, we weren’t sure exactly how the train worked, but our fellow advisor, Brad, assured us we’d see what it’s like when we got there. We traveled from Madrid to Seville on the Renfe train. On our way back to Madrid, the train was all booked and we took a Socibus which was about a third of the cost, but twice as slow. When you’re traveling abroad, sometimes you just have to roll with it and enjoy the journey.
Before catching our flight back to the States, we had one day to explore Madrid. We walked all over the city and tried to cross things off of our Madrid list, but a lot of attractions were closed for renovations. Madrid was less cozy than Seville and more reminiscent of New York or Paris. Madrid had gold details on impressive buildings and chillier weather.
No matter how much I prepare for a trip abroad, there are always surprises along the way. Like, the fact that Christopher Columbus’ remains are apparently inside of the Seville Cathedral. Or that The Alcázar of Seville was originally developed by Arab Muslim kings. Later, Catholic kings took over and layered their own styles onto and into the palace. This specific mixture of styles is called “Mudéjar ” (which means of or denoting a partly Gothic, partly Islamic style of architecture and art prevalent in Spain in the 12th to 15th centuries). Traveling abroad, though exhausting and at times overwhelming teaches me so much about the world that I am thankful to experience first hand.
Spain was a place I always dreamed of visiting but I don’t feel like I’ve seen nearly enough of it. Our taxi drivers would reference the northern countryside and describe a lush, green landscape. Seville and Madrid were so different, and I know Barcelona, Malaga, Toledo, and all of the other corners of Spain have something different to offer. I’ll see you again someday, Spain!