A Year Abroad

This story originally appeared as the feature article in Grove City College’s Office of International Education newsletter Going Global in November 2016. It’s longer than what I normally post, but it provides a nice overview of my year of studying abroad.

I was feeling disoriented in the Boston Airport. I had just said “Puedo ayudarle” to the woman trying to work the automatic paper towel dispenser in the bathroom. She looked at me confusedly. Wait! I thought. They speak English here!

“I can help you,” I repeated in English. I waved my hand in front of the motion sensor, and a paper towel appeared. A student who had been on my flight looked at me and smiled. We had both just flown from Spain to the US after a semester of studying abroad. We started talking about how strange it was to hear announcements in English and to be able to understand the conversations happening around us. We wished each other good luck with the rest of our journeys home. That was May 5th, 2016.

That was not the first time I had felt disoriented in the last year. That feeling started almost as soon as I left my college after finals in May 2015. My mom helped me pack everything up, and we drove away from campus at the end of my sophomore year. I would not set foot on campus for over a year.

I wanted to study abroad in Spain ever since I started studying Spanish in high school. Once I arrived at college, I decided to go to Spain in the spring of my junior year. My parents and I also started talking about a May intersession trip to the UK and France at the end of my sophomore year. This trip was the perfect opportunity for me to fulfill a class requirement, go to the UK and even France, and stick to the plan of studying in Spain for a semester.

Then, in the spring of my sophomore year, I found out that I was accepted to study at Ulster University in Northern Ireland through a scholarship program. I also found out that I was accepted to the US-UK Fulbright Commission’s Wales Summer Institute. Fulbright Summer Institutes happen all over the UK, and they are funded by the US-UK Fulbright Commission for students in their first and second years of college.

In spite of all these unfolding travel plans, the goal was not always to study abroad for a year. Many people see the end product and go, “Wow! A whole year! You’re so lucky.” Actually, luck had nothing to do with it; my family’s hard work and sacrifices were everything. My family made it possible for me to take classes outside of normal semesters to finish all my non-major class requirements by the end of my sophomore year. Because I did that, I could spend an entire year abroad without losing any opportunities to take classes of my choice during my senior year, for which I am incredibly grateful.

In May 2015, I boarded a plane to London for a travel course with students and professors from my college. It was a fantastic experience. We spent a few days in London and visited famous places such as Westminster Abbey and the British Museum. We also went to Paris, where we talked about Jean Baptiste-Lamarck and the study of natural history in France. We spent the last part of the trip in Nantes. One day, everyone visited a university in Nantes with which my college has a partnership. We had fascinating conversations with French students about natural history and about their lives in France. I flew home from France on my twentieth birthday.

After three weeks at home in late May and early June, I flew to the UK to begin six weeks in Wales with the US-UK Fulbright Commission with seven other American students from all over the country. For the first two weeks, we were based in Cardiff University in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Then, we went to Bangor University in North Wales and Aberystwyth University in Mid-Wales for two weeks each. We learned about the history, language, culture, politics, and traditions of Wales. I wrote academic essays about the country’s diverse cultural identity. At the end of our time there, everyone presented their work to our professors and attended a fancy reception in our honor. The summer in Wales was unforgettable. I flew home on August 1st.

I spent five weeks at home, and I saw some of my college friends. My friends were wonderful about keeping in touch during all the time I was away, and they continued to be over the next year. On Labor Day, I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The first two weeks there were filled with orientation activities for all the international students arriving at Ulster University. I lived on campus in a flat with Kim, an American; Lauren, a Canadian; and Yuan, who was from Beijing. I loved being an international student. In addition to my flatmates, I became friends with people from Sweden, Switzerland, France, and all over the US. In our free time, my friends and I explored Belfast, hiked, visited castles, explored St. George’s Market, listened to performances of traditional Irish music, and got to know the areas surrounding Belfast.

Three classes per semester is the norm in the UK. I had two classes on Tuesday and one  class on Wednesday. I took marketing and communication classes that counted towards my major. I loved learning about familiar subject material from a Northern Irish perspective. Because I did most of my schoolwork on the days that I had class, I had plenty of free time to explore. On the long weekends, I explored Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland, visited Dublin and Cork with friends, and took a solo trip to Scotland to see Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Loch Lomond. My mom visited me in November, and we went to Dublin, Galway, the Aran Islands, and Belfast. On the last weekend of the semester, three of my friends and I went to Florence for four days. After we came back, I took my finals, and it was time to go. The semester was fantastic; I had become hooked on Irish music and on Northern Irish history. I did not want to go home in December.

Over the holidays, I moped. I was glad to see my family and I even got together with my
college friends again, but my heart was still in Ireland. I was not fun to live with, but my
gracious parents patiently listened to my stories and recognized that I was struggling. However, they made me realize that it was time to snap out of it and time to think
about Spain.

I landed in Seville in early January and met other students in my program, including my roommate Cassie, at the airport. Cassie and I didn’t know each other, but fortunately, we clicked right away. That’s one of the themes of my year abroad: the people made the experience. I met great people everywhere that I went. While I was in Seville, my friends Bethany and Greg from college were there. I was happy to see some familiar faces after starting over with new people every few months.

For the first two weeks in Seville, Cassie and I attended an intensive Spanish grammar class with the other students in our program. Then, the regular semester at the University of Seville started. I took classes in English about photography and the relationship between the US and the EU and classes in Spanish about the history of the Arab-Islamic world and Spanish phonetics. I loved my classes. Each one met twice a week, and there were no classes on Friday. On trips with ISA, my program provider, I saw Madrid, Toledo, Granada, and Córdoba. On trips with friends, I visited various towns in southern Spain and explored Seville.

Spain stretched me and challenged me in ways that I needed to grow. I took breaks when I needed to by traveling to other places. For a week at Easter, I went on a solo trip to Oxford, England, which was a bucket list destination. Over a different week-long break, I went to France to stay with my friend Pauline, whom I had met in Belfast. I also visited my college friend Suzanne, who was studying in Paris. Suzanne had already visited me in Seville, which was wonderful. Each time that I went back to Seville, I felt refreshed.

On our last night in Seville, my friends and I sat alongside the Guadalquivir River and talked about our semester. I thought about my year away. I was thankful for the adventure, but it was time to go home to my family. The next day, when I landed in Philadelphia, I ran with all of my suitcases to see my dad. Being at home over the summer was hard as I experienced the reality of reverse culture shock. I was confused and frustrated as I adapted to life back at home with my family, and I struggled to feel content where I was. My family was there for me through all of that. Long conversations with my mom helped me to reflect and deal with emotions and thoughts that I had not processed for an entire year. I will spend the rest of my life understanding how my time abroad has affected me. Through it all, my family and friends have given me tough love when I need it and a safe place to
vent. Even if I do not express it the right way all the time, I am truly thankful for my amazing support network.

Studying in Spain was difficult. Cassie and I shared a room in our host family’s apartment. My host mom and I got along, but I did not have warm, fuzzy feelings for her like some of my other friends who studied abroad felt for their host families. Speaking Spanish every day was difficult even though I had studied the language for six years. I had trouble understanding the southern Spanish accent. Cultural differences were more apparent than they had been in Northern Ireland and Wales, and I could not become accustomed to the enormous amounts of food that my host mom served. I do not know what I would have done without the support of my family and friends.

Maybe you connect with my struggles with culture shock and reverse culture shock. Maybe you didn’t know that studying abroad could be so awesome or so challenging. Maybe you are on the fence about studying abroad or encouraging someone else to study abroad and you’re wondering if all the planning and the sacrifices are worth it. Here’s my answer to you: absolutely. When you go abroad, the memories you make and the lessons you learn will be with you for the rest of your life.

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Photos from 2015

You may have seen some of these photos from 2015 on Instagram and Facebook, but it’s time to put them on the blog! I took the photos of London and Paris while I was on a travel course with my college last May. The ones from the fall of 2015 are from my semester in Northern Ireland. I’ve included an extra photo from Wales, too.

24 Hours in Sevilla — ISA Study Abroad Student Blog

Here’s a post I wrote for the ISA student blog!

Marley Kropp is a student at Grove City College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain. I’ve been in Sevilla for a few months now, but I never get tired of exploring the city. Here’s your guide for how to spend 24 culture-filled hours here. It’s based off of […]

via 24 Hours in Sevilla — ISA Study Abroad Student Blog

How to Balance School, Work, and Travel

Here’s a post I wrote for the ISA student blog while I was in Spain. Check it out!

ISA Study Abroad Student Blog

Marley Kropp is a student at Grove City College and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.

I bet you’re thinking about studying abroad because you’re interested in traveling. If you have studied abroad, you know that taking trips is one of the highlights of living in a foreign country for a semester. Just so you know, there’s actually some studying involved in studying abroad. I know it’s a crazy thought, but don’t worry. It’s absolutely possible to take advantage of all the opportunities to travel and still work hard in school while studying abroad.

My friends and I planned our trip to Ronda, Spain in advance but not too far in advance. My friends and I planned our trip to Ronda, Spain in advance but not too far in advance.

The key to balancing school, work, and travel is getting an idea of the academic demands of the university where you’re studying as early on as possible. Depending…

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5 more days in Spain

I can now count on one hand the number of days that remain of my semester in Spain. It’s been quite the semester. With language barriers, the complicated bureaucracy of the Spanish university system, adjustments to living with a Spanish family, and countless other daily frustrations, I have been challenged in ways that I wasn’t in Wales or Northern Ireland. All of these challenges seemed to come to a head in the middle of March when I was in the midst of midterms and I felt particularly low. I couldn’t imagine how I would get through the last six weeks of the semester.

To my surprise, the second half of the semester has flown by. I think that part of that was because I left Spain twice. I had the opportunity to travel to Oxford, England by myself, which was an amazing trip. Being surrounded by so much history and spending four days in a place that has always been on my travel bucket list rejuvenated my spirit. I returned to Spain feeling refreshed and more clear-headed.

Here I am under the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford.

Here I am under the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford.

Two and a half weeks later, I was on a flight to France to visit my friend Pauline, whom I met in Belfast last semester. She graciously showed me all around Normandy (including a D-Day beach) and her hometown of Paris. The trip was topped off with a day in Paris with my friend Suzanne, who is currently studying there. After that trip, only three weeks remained in the semester.

Honfleur is a beautiful town in Normandy where the Impressionist painters and many other creative types loved to hang out.

Honfleur is a beautiful town in Normandy where the Impressionist painters and many other creative types loved to hang out.

When I landed in Seville, I was happy to find that my perspective had shifted entirely. I was excited to be back where I had established a home away from home. I was determined to take advantage of my last bit of time in Europe.

I have been enjoying my time with my friends here, especially my wonderful roommate Cassie. I can’t imagine this semester without her encouragement, humor, Texan pride, and general awesomeness. I sure am going to miss her, but that’s why there are flights between San Antonio and Philadelphia.

Here's Cassie on the beach in Cadiz, where we went for a day trip in February. We've had fun adventures together this semester.

Here’s Cassie on the beach in Cadiz, where we went for a day trip in February. We’ve had fun adventures together this semester.

This summer is going to be a good one. Over the past year, I have been home for only a few weeks at a shot. I’m looking forward to catching up on a lot of family time and settling into a routine with an internship.

The challenges of my  year abroad and particularly of this semester have made me a stronger, more resilient, and more open-minded person. It will take me a long time to realize everything that I have learned and all the ways that I have grown through these adventures, but I’ve got the rest of my life for that. For now, I’ll enjoy my last five days in Seville with a mixture of studying for finals, spending time with my friends, and packing.

It's a little blurry, but here's the Giralda at night. It's images like this that will stick with me for a long time and that put all the challenges of this semester into perspective.

Here’s the Giralda of the Seville Cathedral at night. It’s images like this that will stick with me for a long time and that put all the challenges of this semester into perspective.

6 Truths of Learning Spanish in Sevilla

Check out this post from the ISA Student Blog about learning Spanish in Seville. I can relate to it 100%

ISA Study Abroad Student Blog

Aubrey Rumore is a student at Arizona State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.

I started learning Spanish in kindergarten. First grade through seventh grade, three years of high school and a 300-level college class that I tested into freshman year. The study abroad program I applied for included a two-week language intensive course before I started my classes at the University of Sevilla. Despite taking the past three years off, I felt prepared enough to dive headfirst into Spanish-speaking.

Untitled ISA classroom

For my roommate and the 20 other students in this class, the intensive course served as a comprehensive review. For me, it took every ounce of my focus to catch the gist of what the teacher said. I spent every day of the course scribbling notes on verb tenses, rewriting conjugations over and over again, Google-translating words on…

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A Portrait of Seville

I’m taking a photography class at the University of Seville. My midterm project was to put together a compilation of images to showcase my interpretation of my experiences here so far. This collection of images gives a good idea of the kinds of things that I see on a daily basis while I explore my city.

Couple in a boat at the Plaza de España

Couple in a boat at the Plaza de España.

Church from across the river.

Church from across the Guadalquivir River. I thought that the contrast between the barbed wire gate and the church steeple was interesting. Maybe it’s symbolic of the tension between a historically religious culture and the modern tendency towards secularism.

Couple gazing across the Guadalquivir River.

Couple gazing across the Guadalquivir River. I love the area by the river.

Fishmonger in the Triana Market near my where I live.

Fishmonger in the Triana Market near my where I live. The vendors at this market have been there for generations. He was nice enough to let me take his picture.

Silhouette of my classmate with flags in the background at the Plaza de España.

Silhouette of my classmate with flags in the background at the Plaza de España. The blue flag represents the European Union, the red and yellow flag represents Spain, and the green and white flag represents Andalusia (the autonomous province in southern Spain of which Seville is the capital).

View of carriages from the top of the Giralda.

View of carriages from the top of the Giralda. The Giralda is the iconic bell tower of the Seville Cathedral. It offers great views of the city.

Little nazarenos for incense.

Little nazarenos for burning incense. These little guys are modeled after the people called “nazarenos” who march in processions during Holy Week. Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) is a huge deal in Spain, especially in Seville.

Kayaker engulfed by a swirl.

Kayaker engulfed by a swirl. Kayakers are a common sight on the Guadalquivir River. The shape engulfing the kayaker is part of the base of a lamp post.

Cobblestones.

Cobblestones. I love the streets of Seville.

Plaza de España railing.

Plaza de España railing. You’ve seen this picture before, but I included it in my photography project so here it is again.

Scooters in color.

Scooters in color. You’ve seen the black and white version of this picture. There are scooters everywhere in Seville.

Abandoned shoes by the river.

Abandoned shoes by the river. I found these abandoned leather Italian men’s shoes by the river one afternoon. I have no idea who owns them or why they were there, but they captured my attention.

Strawberries in Triana Market.

Strawberries in Triana Market. I was yelled at for getting too close to the fruit to take this picture. Now I know how serious the fruteros (fruit sellers) take it when they say they don’t want people near their produce.

Calle San Jacinto (San Jacinto Street).

Calle San Jacinto (San Jacinto Street). This is a street in my neighborhood. It’s always full of people, especially now that the weather is really nice.

Ceramic tiles.

Ceramic tiles. I live in a building attached to an old ceramic factory. This tile is on the outside of a ceramic factory around the corner from my street.

Last October’s Trip to Scotland

I’m going to insert a blog post about last fall in Northern Ireland even though I’m in Spain right now. It’s quite blustery today in Seville, which reminds me of my fall semester. I thought I’d tell you about the trip I took to Scotland.

In October, I spent five and a half days traveling in Scotland by myself. Because of my class schedule, I had two-day weeks and five-day weekends. I had taken solo day-trips and trips with my friends, but going to Scotland was my first solo multi-day adventure.

I had always wanted to go to Scotland, so I booked some cheap flights and hostels over a free weekend in the middle of October. I planned a trip based around my love of history and my desire to see both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I arrived at my hostel in Edinburgh on a Wednesday afternoon, and I spent that evening exploring the city on foot as the sun was setting. On Thursday, I visited Edinburgh Castle, which is perched on a huge rock in the middle of the city center. The views from the castle walls are incredible. Edinburgh Castle is full of museums and exhibitions dedicated to the history of Scotland, which I loved learning more about.

Outside of a Scottish military history museum inside Edinburgh Castle.

Outside of a Scottish military history museum inside Edinburgh Castle.

View of Old Town of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle.

View of Old Town of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle.

I spent Thursday evening and Friday doing things suggested by Scottish people whom I met. I hiked up Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, large hills outside of town, for spectacular views. I visited museums and walked through neighborhoods that I wouldn’t have known about if they weren’t recommended. Asking people for suggestions of places to eat and things to do is one of my favorite parts of traveling.

Houses in Edinburgh.

Houses in Edinburgh.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

Piper on Calton Hill in Edinburgh with Edinburgh Castle in background.

Piper on Calton Hill in Edinburgh with Edinburgh Castle in background.

View of Edinburgh at sundown from Arthur's Seat.

View of Edinburgh at sundown from Arthur’s Seat.

On Friday, I took the train to Glasgow, where I stayed at a youth hostel in the bohemian West End. I spent that night in a traditional pub discussing history and politics with locals. I was so thankful that I’d gotten a crash course in Scottish history the previous day. The people I meet while traveling seem to become so excited when an outsider is genuinely curious about their history and culture.

Sunset over Glasgow.

Sunset over Glasgow’s West End.

I spent Saturday at Loch Lomond, a picturesque lake in the southernmost reaches of the Scottish Highlands. I was glad to spend the day on its “bonnie, bonnie banks,” as one traditional Scottish song says. Sunday was full of wandering around the West End of Glasgow visiting history and art museums. The UK is full of free museums, which I found both great and mystifying.

View of Loch Lomond from boat.

View of Loch Lomond from boat.

On the shore of Loch Lomond.

On the shore of Loch Lomond.

Arches over a walkway at Glasgow University.

Arches over a walkway at Glasgow University.

Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.

Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.

On Sunday evening, one of my roommates from the hostel and I spent three hours at a traditional music session in a pub. Spending my last night in Scotland surrounded by people of all ages singing along to centuries-old songs was wonderful. On Monday, I got up and flew back to Northern Ireland.

I will return to Scotland one day. I want to see the Highlands and the islands. I still haven’t tried haggis, and I want to see more castles. However, my first trip there was a great introduction and a fun adventure.

Snapshots: An Afternoon of Wandering

It’s been a little over three weeks since I got here! Classes for American students studying at the University of Seville started last week. If we were to take classes with locals, we’d struggle because of the level of Spanish needed to succeed. We also wouldn’t be finished with classes until the middle of the summer. It’s strange to see so many Americans in comparison to the relatively small amount that were at my university in Northern Ireland last semester. Spanish students started classes today, so hopefully I’ll get to meet some local students soon.

My classes are going well. I’m taking two in English (Photography and US-European Relations Since WWII) and two in Spanish (Phonetics/Conversation and The Contemporary Arab-Islamic World). With the intensive Spanish grammar course that I took in January, that’s a full semester course load. I don’t have any classes on Fridays, so that’ll be good for exploring Spain and some other places in Europe. This past weekend, some friends and I went to a town called Itálica to check out the ruins of the reportedly oldest Roman city in Spain. We also went to a port city called Cádiz to celebrate Carnaval. (Think of a mashup between Mardi Gras and Halloween.)

Here are some things that caught my eye today as I wandered through the city that will be my home until May. It’s not hard to see why I love Seville.

Abandoned scooters in an alley. They're a popular way to get around the narrow streets.

Abandoned scooters in an alley. They’re a popular way to get around the narrow streets.

Bridge heading across the Guadalquivir River into Triana, a neighborhood in Seville.

Bridge heading across the Guadalquivir River into Triana, a neighborhood in Seville.

Detail of underside of Triana Bridge.

Detail of underside of Triana Bridge.

Graffiti along the Guadalquivir River.

Graffiti along the Guadalquivir River.

Love locks on Triana Bridge and new boots. These boots recently replaced the pair that had been with me to every country I've visited. They'll see even more places in the future.

Love locks on Triana Bridge and new boots. These boots recently replaced the pair that had been with me to every country I’ve visited. They’ll see even more places in the future.

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Colorful buildings on Calle Betis (Betis Street). As the weather gets warmer, the outdoor areas of the cafes on this street will be full of people enjoying evenings by the river.