Judges Abroad: Natalya's Spanish adventure comes to a close

Judges Abroad is a series of blog posts written by Brandeis student-athletes who are spending part of their junior year studying abroad. To read more entries in the blog, click here!

Buenas!

Well, my semester abroad has officially come to an end, so this is my bittersweet last post! My last day of classes and finals felt unreal because no one could believe we were already done with the semester. My classmates and I ended up becoming pretty close to one another but also with our professors, which made it even harder to say goodbye to everyone. On the brighter side, I've added yet again a few more cities in Spain to my list and now a few in northern Morocco! Our trip to Morocco was such an amazing and eye-opening experience, and with local guides, we learned so much, not just about the history and origins, but also about the many cultural differences and traditions. It was pretty hectic because we visited 4 different cities in just 3 days, and even though that's not nearly enough time to correctly learn and appreciate culture, it definitely gave me a good idea and a strong desire to go back in the future!

The weekend after that trip, I experienced my first big Spanish cultural celebration with Semana Santa or "Holy Week." Seville is known for having the largest Holy Week celebration in Spain and one of the largest in the world. People from all over the world come to Seville to experience the beautiful processions, and sometimes there are so many people that from a balcony or rooftop, you can't even see the street below. I was extremely lucky with my host family and my home location because our balcony gave a perfect view of the street all the way down to the bridge that crosses the main river, so we could see all the processions that passed through our area perfectly without having to deal with the crowds below.

Natalya on blue steps
Parade One Parade 2

The first Sunday of Semana Santa is usually the most popular to see, so we had most of my host family's relatives join us to see the processions from our balcony, and then the following day it was just family friends. The processions carry a lot of significance, not just in a religious aspect, but also in a cultural aspect, and the music that the bands play adds so much emotion and meaning to the event. Semana Santa has become such a large part of the city's culture and having the opportunity to share that with my host family and many others was my favorite cultural experience up until then. 

Key words "up until then"... It's tradition that exactly two weeks after the final day of Semana Santa - or Easter Sunday - that the famous Feria de Abril, or the Seville April Fair, starts. This is another big 7-day celebration that is super important to Sevillanos, but this atmosphere is definitely more lively and fun than Semana Santa, which is more of a reflective and familial celebration. Many other regions in Spain also have their own kind of fair, but yet again, the one in Seville is the most popular because it is always the first Fair of the year throughout the country and because the women wear the newest designer flamenco dresses that were showcased at flamenco fashion shows back in February. So the Sevillana women are the ones who debut the newest trends in flamenco dresses so that others from around the region come and see what's "in" to wear back at their own Ferias. My host mom just happened to have an extra flamenco dress that was exactly my size, so I was able to blend in like a real Sevillana, along with a few of my other friends whose host families also had dresses to lend. 

I knew Spaniards loved to party, but experiencing Feria was a whole new level and suddenly, just the phrase that Spaniards love to party became an understatement. During the day, the fair has a much more familial atmosphere, full of flamenco dresses, dancing, the carnival rides, and horseback riders and horse-drawn carriages.

Flamenco dresses

The nighttime part of the Fair is a completely different atmosphere. Between 8-9pm is when the horses and the kids clear the streets and the young women either go home and change out of their flamenco dresses and into much more formal, going-out outfits or just stay at the fairgrounds the whole day and night. Around 11pm/12am is when most everyone is in a caseta, which are big tents that belong to local families, groups of friends, businesses, clubs, trade associations and political parties. Most of the casetas are private and open only to members and their guests, but if you have a Sevillano friend with a caseta, you could be lucky enough to get invited inside. Each one is like a small nightclub, where there's always music, dancing, food, and drinks all until 6 or 7 am when the party is just starting to die down (the second picture below was taken at 4 am, so you can see how late Spaniards like to stay out!).

My host family invited my friends and me into their family friend's caseta and we had so much fun, dancing the famous "Sevillanas" dance that every Sevillano is basically obligated to learn before they can even walk. I only experienced 4 days of the Fair, which is still so much because every single day takes a lot out of you, especially when you're constantly walking around and dancing from 4 pm till 4 am. But it was my last few days in Seville, so I was determined to make the most out of them!  

My study abroad semester in Seville was absolutely the best experience of my life so far. I definitely did get the most out of my time here and I got to live the true Spanish experience all thanks to the amazing friends I made along the way, whether from my program or Sevillano locals and of course my amazing host family, who truly became a second family to me. I learned so much about the culture, the people, even myself, and my Spanish improved way more than I could've ever imagined. Words alone are hard to describe the great experience I had these past 4 months, but I hope my blogs helped give a better idea of how this semester went for me! Thanks for following my all adventures, and see you all soon back at Deis!!

- Natalya Wozab '20, Women's Swimming and Diving