Education in Spain

Education in Spain

Here’s my last blog post for the Junior Year Abroad Network. It’s probably the weakest one, just a warning, so click at your own risk. Just a few of my thoughts on Spain’s education system.


La Feria de Sevilla

Every year, two weeks after Semana Santa, comes the Feria de Sevilla. With a completely different atmosphere than Semana Santa, Feria is basically just a week long party, but still manages to be steeped in tradition. The official start is Monday at 12:00am, when they turn on all the lights, including the Portada, the giant gate which is different every year and which they spend months building. The fairgrounds are covered in “casetas” little booths/tents which families, companies, associations, or even political parties own. For this reason, it is well known (though little talked about) that the Feria is essentially a classist event, divided between those who can afford casetas or know someone who owns one, and those who do not have that luxury. Even so, I’m not going to say that I didn’t have a ton of fun.

My Feria experience started when I went with my roommates on Monday to see the fairgrounds lit up. After, we walked through the grounds a little, and my roommates made fun of me because I was just looking around everywhere, wide-eyed and mouth slightly open. It was amazing! The atmosphere was one of complete happiness and free of worry. There were people dining in their casetas, and, although very few people go dressed in flamenca the first night, there were already people dancing Sevillanas. Sevillanas are a song and dance style, the dance a little bit like a simpler flamenco (NOT flamenco, but influenced by it) and danced by pairs. The songs are usually very light and happy (unlike flamenco). Here’s a popular one:

Title loosely translated to “How attractive is Sevilla!” (As in, how attractive Sevilla is right now, no doubt about it!) Never said I’m an aspiring translator… Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you might be able to pick out some words like “casetas,” which I just explained, and some landmarks like the Giralda and Torre del Oro. After I the awe wore off a little, we headed home pretty early around 1:00, because we planned on returning the next night for a true Feria experience. It’s not uncommon for people to be at the Feria all night… in fact, the time the feria is the least crowded is around 11:00-1:00 in the morning, as people go home to take a nap and prepare to come back.

On Tuesday night around 10, we went back, armed with the traditional drink of Feria, called “rebujito.” Rebujitos are a mix of mazanilla or “fino” wine, (actually sherry) and lemon-lime soda, usually 7up although I don’t know how long 7up has been the official mixer. While Sevilla’s finest pay up to 12 Euro for a pitcher of rebujito in a caseta, Sevilla’s youth prefer to botellón, which was actually really fun because in the streets surrounding the entrance there were hundreds of Spaniards, which really made it like one giant party. Partly due to the incredible ambiance of Feria, and partly due to our trusty rebujitos, Feria was even more magical that night. We walked around a little, then I wanted to see the “Calle de Infierno” – or “Hell Street,” the area of Feria with all of the classic fair stuff – Ferris wheels, rides, games, etc. Supposedly this street is for kids but Ana and I went on the Ferris Wheel, which moved surprisingly fast but gave an incredible view over everything.

Next, we went to find the caseta that I had an invitation for. The mother of the girl I teach English to gave me an invitation to her company’s caseta – this is serious stuff. Most casetas have security guards and you cannot enter unless, if it’s a smaller one, the owner gives you permission, and if it’s a larger one, you have an invitation. Once inside, we hung out a little bit, as I tried my hand at “dancing” Sevillanas. Meaning someone asked if I wanted to dance, I insisted I didn’t know the moves, and I spun around a little bit like a fool, but still managing to enjoy myself. There was so much life! Everyone was literally dancing the night away, and it was visually impressive – women dressed in flamenco dresses, men in suits, everyone enjoying themselves, from babies to grandmas.

The next day, I went dressed traditionally in a flamenco dress. I had to borrow a dress from my English student, so it was a little short and not my favorite, but Flamenco dresses can cost hundreds of euros so I was not interested in buying one for one day. But the rich Sevillanas do just that! The normal folk might get a dress every few years, but it’s common, if you have the money, to go every day of Feria dressed in a different dress. A lot of the dresses have the traditional polkadots, but there is a wide variety of patterns and colors. There are even a few short flamenco dresses, but they didn’t seem to be too popular this year. My roomate also helped me out with a bun and I wore the traditional flower and earrings (although mine were  smaller than my roommates’). It was fun seeing Feria by day! There were horse-drawn carriages going up and down the street, and the same festive atmosphere as the night before. However, I definitely had more fun Tuesday night. Perhaps because I was more comfortable in normal clothing, or maybe the magic of the night. Either way, Feria was a blast, and I’m so glad I got to experience it.

I’ll leave you with a video of my roommates dancing Sevillanas 🙂


Reembolso Cultural

Reembolso Cultural

So, my study abroad organization reimburses the money we spend on cultural activities within Spain, to a certain amount. We turn in all the receipts and with it, a little somethin showing how we spent our money and that we enjoyed it. I made this dinky little video, mostly with pictures that are already on facebook, but if anyone is interested, here it is.

Semana Santa

Currently, I’m seated tranquila as I do some schoolwork and listen to the sounds of “GOOOOOOOOLLLLL” fill the air. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t watching the game in our apartment, Sevilla FC is playing Valencia, so half the town is watching anxiously. Spaniards love their fútbol. Today as a whole was very relaxing. It’s May Day (Labor day, day of the worker) so there was no class. My roommate and I went down by the river and sunbathed for most of the day (I stayed in the shade). But just a few weeks ago the environment was completely different – I’m referring to Semana Santa, or Holy Week, for which Seville is famous.

I was in London for the first half of Semana Santa, so I came back on Wednesday, where I had the luck of seeing a procession pass by my balcony. Everything in the city basically shuts down for the week, especially the second half. It would be hard for it not to. Basically, every hermandad, which is, from what I understand, some sort of religious fraternity, has a procession that leaves from their church and goes to the Cathedral and back. Every procession has as a focal point of pasos, or floats, which are contain religious images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Every procession also includes nazarenos, walking with a large candle and in their garb of long robes and pointed caps. I know in the US we have the misfortune of associating this clothing with the KKK, but I promise they have existed a lot longer here. There are also penitents who walk carrying large wooden crosses and sometimes going barefoot…all of this to show religious devotion. Some of the larger processions contain thousands of people. The procession that my roommate is in, because of its size and distance from the Cathedral, takes a 13 hour round trip. No wonder the city shuts down. Processions are also frequently accompanied by extra-devoted regular folk who decide, (voluntarily!) to walk behind the Virgin and accompany her on her journey. Also included frequently are people carrying incense and a band. Oh, and those super heavy floats? No wheels – there are dozens of people under those floats carrying them. Wow.

There are also a lot of traditions built around Semana Santa. For example, special desserts – notably torrijas, which I basically think of as a less eggy-tasting french toast. Bread is usually soaked in an egg mixture, milk, or wine, then fried and dipped in honey or cinnamon sugar. People usually can dress how they want, but people usually dress up more on Palm Sunday, and some of the classier women wear black and mantillas, a black lacy headdress thing, to mourn the death of Jesus. When a procession goes by, people on balconies that are feeling moved at seeing the Virgin and know how sing saetas, or songs of devotion, to the Virgin. This video isn’t mine, but it’s an example of a saeta. Semana Santa is also fun for Spanish children. Sometimes, the nazarenos carry candy. It’s also a common activity for the kids to take a little bit of aluminum foil, roll it into a ball, and ask candle-carrying nazarenos to drip wax on their aluminum foil. As more and more wax gets rolled onto the aluminum, it essential becomes a giant ball of wax. My friend said her host sisters still have their balls of wax they added to every year throughout their childhood. This saeta video is actually sung in a church, but it’s a lot easier to hear than the recordings of ones sung on the street.

Luckily, I arrived in time for the pinnacle of Semana Santa, viernes madrugada (viernes = friday, and madrugada is basically the word for the middle of the night-morning time, around 2-6AM) On viernes madrugada, several important processions leave for the Cathedral at 12 AM, so the devoted Sevillians usually leave their house to view the pasos at around 12:30 and get home at 1 or 2…the next afternoon. I went with my roommate and her boyfriend to view la Macarena, a really popular procession that our other roommate is a nazareno in. Around 2:30-3, we had seen the pasos and went to view another in another part of the city. The craziest part of this for me was that even at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, the city was ALIVE. Old people, children…the streets were full of life in the absolute middle of the night. At around 4:30 am, my friend Shannon and I had about had enough, so we walked through the center of the city on our way home and came across my favorite procession of the week, el Silencio. As the name implies, this procession has no band or any noise at all. For this reason, it was really impressive, and almost eerie to watch. Just thousands of nazarenos trooping through the streets and beautiful floats gliding on the shoulders of some really devoted Sevillanos. I got home and asleep at around 5:30am, and woke up the next day in time to see my roommate finally coming home.

The next few days, I went to view some more processions here and there. I’m really glad I got to see Semana Santa, although I am not religious and so I think a little of the magic was lost on me. Either way, it is a huge part of life here for a lot of the people in Seville and throughout Spain, and it was definitely something completely unique and steeped in tradition. Here’s a not-so-great video I took of the procession going by my balcony.