Meet Katie Gabriel. Huntington Beach, CA native, Indiana University Delta Gamma, and currently traveling the world from her semester home base in Sevilla, Spain.
I got a chance to catch up with this old and true friend of mine about her adventures. Ed Sheeran in Prague? Check. Riding camels in Morocco? Check. Cute Spanish boys, lots of sangria, and fascinating classes? Check, check, and check.
Alright, Katie lets get started. I've known you forever and I know you have traveled often with your family. Was that what inspired you to go abroad? Why Spain?
I have always wanted to go abroad. With my strong German heritage I always thought that it would be back to the motherland. But when Spanish started coming easier to me in middle school, high school and then later college it made more sense for me to go España. It was my parents especially who pushed me to see that Spanish was a useful skill that I should pursue. When it looked like my credits would be up for my Spanish minor and it would be useless for me to go to Italy or France for my Apparel Major, I decided to make Spanish my second major and go full steam ahead as a Spanish speaking gringa. My sophomore year I looked into going to Spain and I knew that I wanted a more personal experience than in a big city like Madrid or Barcelona and Sevilla seemed like the perfect fit for me.
Sevilla truly is one of the most personal and intimate cities I have ever been too. Definitely a favorite of mine! I know you live with a host family and I think that is such an awesome way to really get a taste of being a local. Tell me all about them!
I am living in one of the “barrios” or neighborhoods of Sevilla known as Triana. It is across the river from the city center and I honestly don’t think I could’ve asked for a better place to live. I have a roommate from IU that’s here with me and we live with an older woman, Maria Jose who is INCREDIBLE. She is this 72 year old woman who is precious. She has 6 kids and 10 grandchildren who visit often. And scandal alert: one of her sons fell in love with one of the other girls she was hosting for study abroad and they now live in Philadelphia. She has been living in Triana her entire life, and in this apartment specifically for 40 years. The people of Triana are something special. They all have pride for their little “pueblo” and it is so fun to see. Everything is about the people in the street and that is their lifestyle. They don’t ever have anyone but family over to their houses so to meet with friends it is always in the streets.
Oh my gosh, it sounds like you couldn't have a more perfect fit! Because you are in such a real situation living with locals, was there anything that was an absolute culture shock to you?
The first cultural shock here was definitely the eating times and what they eat. I’m kind of a picky eater so that made me nervous to begin with. Breakfast is just about always and only toast and coffee and that’s fine with me. Lunch however is not until about 3 pm and then dinner is at 9pm or later which was very difficult to get used to. One culture shock that was awesome to find was that they fully embrace the idea of the siesta. Everyday, everything shuts down for lunch from about 3-5 pm for the siesta. While napping isn’t always necessary, it is encouraged, or even just taking the time to rest. I love this part considering I can nap like it’s my job.
Siestas are definitely one of the highlights for me as well when I go abroad. Okay, so besides living a fabulous life with an amazing family, you are definitely studying. Do your classes even compare to those at IU? I'm sure you are taking some pretty interesting courses.
My classes here are wonderful. When we first got here, all of the students inmy program had to take a 2 week intensive Spanish course which was super helpful as a refresher. Now I am taking 3 university classes and 1 at my program’s study center. My university classes are all for “extranjeros” or foreigners, so it’s all Americans in the classes but the Spanish students are always out roaming the halls. At the Universidad of Sevilla I am taking Hispanic Poetry, The History of Flamenco and Reading, Writing, Cooking and Eating which is THE most amazing class ever. Every other week we get to go to this kitchen that our professor owns and cook typical Spanish dishes with a chef from one of the top restaurants in the city. At the center I am taking The Novel and the Cinema which is also super cool because my professor is wonderful. We watch Spanish movies and discuss their literary counterparts. The workload so far has been pretty easy, because Spanish people do not like to do work. When I was in my intensive course we had to interview students from the university and we asked them how much they normally studied in a week without exams. Our mouths dropped to the ground when they said that some of them don’t study at all if they have an exam. This was a bit of a shock but now I see that there really isn’t much homework or even any so it makes sense.
I think I could take Cooking and Eating everyday for the rest of my life and be content. That is so incredible, it sounds like you are definitely getting the full experience. Alright, let's get to the good stuff. Boys. More specifically, Spanish boys. I think they are some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Thoughts?
Spanish men are the epitome of beauty. Seriously. My friends and I have yet to go a day without seeing several we would like for esposos (hubbies). Everyone is so casually cool and chic and its irresistible. Now when a nice looking fella walks by, all my friends and I just have to say “yes” and know exactly what the other is thinking. The best and worst place in the entire world is the gym. They are actually perfect there and it is intimidating and distracting and wonderful all at the same time. There are definitely some that are way into guiris (foreigners) and you will find them frequenting the popular clubs and bars with Americans. Most are very friendly, but some can be a little bit too forward and creepy. We learned “da miedo” aka creepy on the very first night. You also have those that look at us like we’re the plague and that my blonde hair makes me an alien. One night at a disco, about 4 guys from a VIP table, there to celebrate a birthday, started shouting “rubia, rubia!” at me. This is something I’ve had to become very used to. Even my señora calls me rubia. Well anyway these Sevillanos all started touching my hair and pulling it and one even proceeded to lick my face. Needless to say it was definitely an experience that was traumatizing. But this was a very rare occurrence, for sure not the norm. The Spaniards are known in general to be more touchy, it’s even in the way they greet each other with the double cheek kiss. I have met a couple of very sweet guys while I’ve been here and it’s so fun to hang out with them and exchange new words and practice our Spanglish (I’m becoming quite fluent).
Ugh, you are living the absolute dream. What about Sevilla do you love? I know you have had the greatest semester thus far, but what in Sevilla made you fall in love with it?
In sevilla, definitely go see Plaza de España, the Cathedral/La Giralda, go to Mercado Lonja del Barranco (gourmet market) and eat yourself silly with tapas of the most amazing variety, walk around the Zara heavy shopping streets, sit at a café with your friends and share a pitcher of sangria, eat churros con chocolate on the bridge at 4 am, sit by the river during the day and wave at all of the kayakers, and check out Triana and Los Remedios, the neighborhoods across the bridge!! Seriously they are so special and wonderful and my heart is always so full whenever I return home to Triana. My ABSOLUTE favorite place in Sevilla to just be is Genova Café on Avenida de la Constitución in El Centro. Seriously, I frequent this place on the daily. The waiters know my name. It might actually be a problem but I don’t care. Everything and everyone there is amazing. They have the most amazing bread for tostadas in the morning and their café con leche is my fave. Probably will be the thing I crave the most when I return home.
Becoming a local in a city is one of the coolest feelings. I remember how that's how I felt in Florence! I know places in Spain such as Barcelona and Marbella are known for major partying and night clubs. Is that the case with Sevilla?
There is so much to do for fun in Sevilla! The culture is constantly vibrant and bubbling and the list of options is endless. My friends and I love to walk around the city on the weekend at night because it’s when it really comes alive. There are all kinds of street performers from flamenco, singing with their dogs or doing roller skating tricks that will blow your mind (yes roller blading is alive and well and Sevilla and it’s strange and awesome all at the same time). Nightlife is a big part of Sevilla. The Sevillanos love to go and grab a cervecita, where ever they can find it the cheapest, and any day or night of the week. There are definitely some big discotecas that are packed with Americans and Spaniards alike on the weekends. These are BUMPING and so much fun. There’s a mix of Spanish and American music (fun fact: they love “Up in Here.” Still not entirely sure why) and everybody just dances until 5, 6, 7 o’clock in the morning. The party almost seems to never stop here. Nights to the club normally start with the Spanish version of a pregame, the botellón. Everyone goes to a location close to the club and brings bottles of alcohol and soda or juices and mixes up cocktails in the street. These can either be very intimate with a small group but some are known to get to be up to 10,000 people. For this reason, they’re technically illegal, but so much fun and a great way to get to know a lot of people at once and before the craziness of the disco starts. And of course no night out is complete without churros for drunk food at the end of the night. They will blow your mind away more than any piece of drunk pizza you could ever have. There is also a bar scene with two major streets. Calle Betis in Triana or Calle Alfalfa in El Centro. Some people may be partial to one or the other, but that’s normally just based on where they live (for me Calle Betis is where it’s at, Demo Bar specifically with 1 euro chupitos (shots) fodayzzz). Really anywhere you go in sevilla on a late night is going to be great, but don’t make the mistake of going anywhere before 12:30 at night. Or forgetting to buy alcohol before 9:30, because that stops too.
Okay, so obviously I need to go back to Sevilla and take you with me because I completely missed this nightlife you're talking about! That is incredible, I would have never known. Now that you're basically a local of Sevilla, where else have you traveled to during your time abroad?
So far I have been to: Brussels, Belgium, Prague, Czech Republic, Granada,Spain, and most recently Tanger, Tetuan, and Chefchaoen, Morocco. Hands down my favorite was Prague. The city is so cool and very very beautiful. The people are amazing and the food is even better. After our trip, my friends and I agreed that we saw all of the major attractions but could have easily stayed a week exploring the city more. I saw some good friends from school, which was incredible, and the perfect taste from home. I have a one friend who is studying there for the semester and from one of his Czech friends he found out that there was some concert that Red Bull was putting on in what used to be a slaughter house. Honestly, one of the COOLEST experiences we could’ve ever had. And after that we went to a club that all of IU happened to be at and basically had a massive frat party in Prague. I mean what more could you ask for. It is now on the top of my list (other than Sevilla) for european cities to visit. My least favorite was Brussels. It is very stereotypical: great French fries, chocolate, waffles and beer but not a whole lot else. There seems to be a lack of culture in the city. It was cool to see, but I would not go back or highly recommend it. I’m super pumped for the rest of my trips planned to: Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Paris, Valencia, Lagos and Mallorca. There are also big weekends here in Sevilla like Semana Santa and La Feria coming up that will be unreal experiences.
Wow, world traveler over here! But its my understanding that you didn't just go to any concert...
I saw Ed Sheeran in Prague. Who gets to be able to say that they did that? Honestly it felt like a dream. Constant chatter in the classrooms before and after the weekend is everyone’s travel plans and everyone’s mouths dropped when I told them this. He is absolutely amazing. We saw him Thursday night in a tiny hockey arena. It was his first time performing and even visiting in the Czech Republic and needless to say everyone was pumped up. The entire show was acoustic. Just him and his guitar. I had constant chills the entire time. He is just such a good performer and it is incredible to see him do it up there all on his own. The other surreal factor was that in a country and city where English was scarce, EVERYONE knew the words to the songs and was singing along. It was such a cool and unique thing that I could add on to my study abroad experience and I feel so #blessed to have gone.
My jealousy is through the roof right now. One last question: you have had an incrediblesemester so far. Is there a mindset or mantra you live by while abroad?
When I left for Spain, a good friend wished me luck and said to me: “Follow your heart and fall in love.” To me, this wasn’t just to be with a person and I have seen how many amazing places this mantra has taken me so far. Whether it’s falling in love with my city, moments, people, a special chico, my new friends, my señora or whatever, bring it on. Every single day that I get to walk to class, I have to literally think and remind myself, good Lord I live here now. I don’t know how I could’ve gotten so lucky. Sevilla is everything that I could’ve asked for in my study abroad experience. So with that, I think that my main goal is to continue to embrace what this wonderful city has brought and continues to bring and find more of what makes it such a gem. When I leave, I want everyone to know that “Aro cabesa, soy una Sevillana!” (AKA: Well of course I am a Sevilla girl).
Want to see more of Katie's picture perfect semester? Check out her insta @katiegabriel