This post was written from the perspective of an American woman who studied abroad in Seville, Spain.
Tomorrow marks 10 years since my arrival in Spain as a study abroad student. I remember those first few days like they happened just last week and so I’ve been mildly panicking about how it truly has been 10 whole years since that incredible chapter of my life. (I wrote about what my first and very long 24 hours were like if you’d like to get a feel for that first.) Spain in 2010 was a whole different world back then before technology, investors, gentrification, and vacationers dug their claws into it.
Little did I know then that I would move back to this sun-soaked country around the middle of the last decade and make it my home. However, as soon as I landed and made my way down to the sunny South that January, I felt oddly enough at home in a country I had never been to before. I had this exciting feeling in my stomach that I was going to love it, even before our “love at first sight” moment happened.
I have seen so many changes happen in this country in the last decade, both good and bad, and I am deciding to stick life out here until it becomes less sustainable (if it will). There’s something about Spain itself that draws someone to it with its hidden gems, gorgeous nature, and countrysides and rich history. I’ve met a couple of dozen people in the last five years who were study abroad students here either the same year I was one (2010) or had studied here as late as 2014. Regardless, I love to ask people why they came to Spain because I secretly make a list of all the cities people came to study and discover Spain in. It’s quite fun to learn which cities have made the most impact on others and their Spain journeys.
Before we begin with my list, I must give you some background info on where I studied and why. While I am now based in Madrid with my British husband, I never imagined I would live here in such a big, bustling metropolis of a city. It seemed a bit out of my comfort zone in 2010 which meant that I never pictured myself living in Madrid or Barcelona. Though, to be fair, I did have a high school friend and fellow Spanish classmate who did decide to study in Madrid, which motivated me to visit the capital city all on my own while she lived here. How I viewed Madrid back then and how little I knew about the city both seem like a lifetime ago.
So where was my little study abroad home? The city in Spain that made me fall totally in love with the Spanish lifestyle, language and culture?
It was Seville, Spain.
You might’ve heard about it or read about it before but until you see it for yourself, photos will not do it justice.
Besides forgetting to take my luggage off the very first AVE train I rode in the Santa Justa train station and marveling at just being in Spain, the very first landmark I saw was the Torre del Oro. It was enormous and gleamed brightly in the sun. It was funny it seemed so gigantic to me because the day before I was walking around midtown Manhattan during a layover tilting my head up to admire the NYC skyscrapers. On the other hand, It wasn’t a structure I had ever laid eyes upon before so maybe that’s why it was so impressive to me.
That day and those four months in my life back then are still memorable to me today. In fact, you can still choose to study in Seville with the same program I did back in 2010. It makes me really happy to know that the study abroad organization I used for my semester abroad is still going strong and many more curious Americans like myself are experiencing Seville just like I did.
Anyway, enough reminiscing about how amazing Seville and studying abroad is, let’s get to this list!
1. Cheap tapas that were actually large and filling
One of the things I still love about Andalucía is its abundance of large tapas or small plates of traditional food.
Around other parts of Spain, the portion sizes for tapas have shrunken a bit and the prices have skyrocketed in places like Madrid and Barcelona. However, many restaurants and bars in cities like Granada, Santiago, León, La Coruña and Seville offer a complimentary tapa with each drink you order.
Granada is by far my favorite city for getting delicious free tapas you can make a meal out of but Santiago was my old home and a city I know better.
Your most basic tapa would start with a small plate of potato chips or crunchy bite-sized bread snacks called picos. You may even be lucky enough to get the plate of ham and cheese or bowl of olives table behind you didn’t want – not kidding- but my advice is to politely decline that. This is the normal-sized free “tapa” you usually find in cities like Madrid and then the good stuff comes at a price.
However, large parts of Andalucía are still known for their very generously sized tapas that consist of: solmillio al whisky, berenjenas con miel or berenjenas rellenas or a nice, thick piece of tortilla española. A couple of those could fill you up and call you good for the rest of the night – believe me!
In fact, most of the time when I went out for a drink with local friends (and their friends), we went somewhere that had a large selection of tapas. I could count on one hand how many times I actually went out for a full meal with friends back then. It was partially due to the fact that I was living with a Spanish couple in a host family setting but it also goes to show you just how big tapas culture was in the South especially.
2. When social media didn’t control our lives and getting an invite to the Spanish social networking site Tuenti was everything
There was a time in Spain when social media had little to no influence over today’s young people. Facebook was for sharing photos and finally creating a status without the word “is” being automatically generated. Twitter was used for news and short updates and Instagram and Pinterest didn’t even exist!
Meanwhile, Spanish developers were busy creating their own social networks and one of them was Tuenti (which is now primarily known as a phone provider). I never actually did access the website or create an account (see below) but from what I heard it had a very similar layout to Facebook.
And today, in 2020, I just realized that this invitation was from one of my real-life friends! haha
It brings a smile back to my face thinking about how much simpler and more interactive your social life was in Spain. I learned how to enjoy life wholeheartedly and be more in the moment. If I used social media (or even if I didn’t get an invite to join Tuenti), I mainly used it to make plans and meet up in real life with my friends.
From Facebook’s chat feature before Messenger to sending text messages back home via email,
I really learned to appreciate the little moments in life and prioritize my time better in 2010 thanks to living here. I did my best to stay in touch with family and friends back home but I also got to focus on being present.
And one of the best activities I frequently saw was someone reading a book in a park. I don’t know when we stopped doing that in the US but goodness knows I will almost bet I haven’t seen that in my life!
We need to take notes from the Spaniards…
3. Calling your friend just long enough until their phone rings but not long enough for them to answer it
¿Cuando llegas, puedes darme un toque?
You know you were a cool 20-something in Spain back in 2010 if a) you made a local Spanish friend your age and 2) you had plans to meet up with them and both of you wanted to find each other at your meeting spot on time.
This one’s a little hard to explain if you did live here in the last 10 years, you’ll remember that both the cost of phone minutes and text messages in Spain were expensive. A text message with most carriers costs about 10 cents per message and most calls had a connection fee + the cost per minute to talk. So, in short, Spain used to be an expensive country for phone calls.
Give someone a missed call. (The literal translation of “un toque“)
It made sense back then as most Spaniards used pay-as-you-go cell phones and smartphones with mobile data were still a novelty. So, if you were meeting up with a friend or a group of friends, you called one of them if you were a bit late to let them know you arrived and they would call you if they were a little bit late or couldn’t find you.
Life before strong mobile data signal, sending your location and unlimited calls was a bit rough back then but still enjoyable. It also added mystery and intrigue when you were meeting someone for the very first time. I miss that about my earlier days here since now you can find out nearly everything about someone in a few taps on clicks of the mouse.
Besides, isn’t clicking on someone before you meet them kind of odd? (Surprisingly it isn’t 10 years later.)
4. Going to an Internet café and actually…using the Internet
The world today is just such a different place technologically speaking, even in Spain. I know a lot of friends and family members still have a desktop computer at home but most Spaniards don’t have one. And some don’t even have a landline phone in their homes! It’s just…simply not necessary.
But I do remember once upon a time when Internet cafés were frequented by locals and foreigners alike to actually use the Internet. Along with mobile phone plans being expensive, Spanish Internet companies didn’t yet offer inexpensive fiber optic or broadband Internet. I remember very vividly that we had to convince our host mother to install Internet in her home so that the four of us could use it to study, send assignments, make video calls home and maybe upload some photos from time to time.
I’m not sure if she kept the router after we returned to our home countries but hey, she was in her 60s at the time and watched TV more than anything else so I’m sure she canceled the contract.
5. Endless student discounts[Spoiler: I will be writing more on how to obtain the European Youth Card (Carné Joven) and the discounts associated with it in the coming weeks.]
I can’t even begin to tell you how many free entrances, special discounts and secret deals I’ve benefited from in the past decade by having a student ID and then later on (when I moved to La Coruña), the carnet joven. With certain museums and attractions here in Europe, this coming year will be the first time I’ve ever paid an entrance fee thanks to that card.
Last year, I did give myself some time to mourn the loss of the privileges that accompany that card but…then I decided my new goal would simply be to earn more money to see all these attractions at full price.
While it’s amazing that you can still be considered a youth until your 31st birthday in another country, there are special dates and rates you can benefit from during the year. Like I learned back then if you’re a resident of Sevilla, you can access all of its state-run attractions (El Alcázar, La Catedral, La Torre del Oro, etc) for free. In Madrid, you can get discounts at the Catedral de la Almudena for being a resident and free entrance into the Palacio Real on weekday evenings. The list goes on.
This one on the list is something I miss but it’s also something we can still take advantage of today in 2020. And I might even beg to differ that there are more discounts and free days for people of all ages now than there were back then!
6. When selfies and smartphones weren’t wildly popular
It’s hard to think back to when selfies weren’t common, isn’t it?
Like, just the other week when I was away on Christmas vacation and I stopped to take a photo of this quote that was painted on the building in front of me. However, I was walking along the main shopping street and more storefronts were behind me. A man nearby with his dog chose to pause and not peer into the shop window behind me because he thought I was taking a selfie in front of said store window.
Is it not normal to take a photo of what’s right in front of you nowadays? I was a little bit annoyed after that encounter but brushed it off.
Well, the answer above is yes. The selfie and selfie sticks did not exist back in Spain in 2010. I’m really super glad they didn’t because several first time moments would’ve been ruined by those awful retractable sticks. My heart goes out to everyone who sees the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Plaza de España in Sevilla for the first time and has to cut people taking selfies with selfie sticks out of their photos. They’re a real pain in my opinion (but have since made group shots a whole heck of a lot easier to capture).
7. Adding more money to the pre-paid balance on your cell phone at supermarkets, internet cafés or even payphones
Back at the beginning of the last decade in Spain and as I discussed above, making a phone call locally and nationally was a bit expensive.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I had moved back, that I learned that landline to landline calls were actually free. Which explains why some friends suggested I only call their house phone to talk.
It does also make sense as to why my host mom always made calls to her daughter (who lived on the opposite side of our building, go figure) on her house phone. Yet my roommates and I were never allowed to touch that phone (or go into the kitchen, but that’s another story….)
So, truthfully, I don’t actually miss this little activity from 2010. And I don’t miss having a pay-as-you-go phone but I do miss the little freebies Vodafone would give me with that plan. With the phone itself, I was given 10€ credit to make calls and texts. I started texting a lot right off the bat and made the mistake of calling my bank back in Florida telling them out of the country for school. That less than a 2-minute call cost me 1,20€!
If you think paying over a euro for an international phone call was insane, what about international mobile data charges?
Roaming? Accidentally forgetting to put your new smartphone on airplane mode during your flight?
One of my roommates who was assigned to the same host family as I had just that particular problem. There were a lot of rich kids who went to study abroad -I was not one of them- and I lived with a few of them while in Spain. What happened with her phone exactly?
Well, long story short, she left her new iPhone on (mobile data and all) during her entire flight from Dallas to Madrid. Never once thought to put it on airplane mode.
$1500 for service charges and mobile data roaming!
My study abroad semester would’ve been over before I had landed in Spain if I were in her shoes.
Not the case for her. Her parents just paid the bill when it came and although they were upset with her, they didn’t demand she come home or anything like that. No punishment or threats of being cut off.
My parents would’ve not reacted like that. At. All.
But like with any good lesson life throws your way, we should learn from them. And from both of those situations, I learned to only make calls like that via Skype since it gave much lower per-minute rates. The coolest thing with the pay-as-you-go plan from Vodafone then was that I only loaded more money onto my phone one or two more times and the rest of my stay they gave me bonus credit! Midway through my semester, I received a text message saying I was being credited 14€ for no reason in particular, which put me at 20€.
I definitely made that last until the end of my time. Gotta love a company giving you free money, right?
8. When the Metro de Madrid only cost 1€ for a single ticket
While I’ve been glad to call Madrid home since 2016, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I even went as far as to say I’d never move here.
Truth be told, I didn’t like how big the English speaking ex-pat communities were here and it seemed extremely hard to meet locals and actually improve your Spanish language skills. And it’s just extremely sought after to get a placement in the Auxiliar de Conversación program, which was going on when I was there but I simply had no clue it was.
While these things are true about the English speaking world in la capital, Madrid holds a certain charm and its something you can’t find in other cities. Argue with me if you will but it feels more traditionally Spanish than Barcelona does and dozens of madrileños have confirmed this for me.
However, back in 2010, Madrid looked a lot different. The city wasn’t actively doing construction on multiple metro lines (or closing lines in their entirety) or remodeling historic façades like they have been now. I had no clue what the tarjeta del transporte público (TTP, the city’s metro card) or that the 10 trip ticket pass was a better value.
In fact, paper tickets were still in circulation and the city’s infrequent metro riders didn’t know otherwise.
For me, besides the fact that Europe had a one euro coin in circulation, the mind-blowing thing was that you could exchange that coin for a metro ride in a major city. (Granted it only got you a trip to 5 stations away but how cool is that price?)
9. Hanging out at people’s apartments was more common
Possibly our goal was to see how many people we could fit inside one person’s apartment? haha
Ever since unlimited texting and smartphones hit the US, we’ve been increasingly getting more and more attached to our phones since before the last decade. On the flipside-literally-, tons of Spaniards in 2010 still had fully functioning flip phones and sliding phones, too. You basically called people from your cell phone when you knew you could pay for a few minutes of air time or to let someone know you were arriving at the pre-planned meeting spot.
The rest of the time you spent with other people?
You spent quality time with your friends, laughed at each other’s jokes, had a movie or cooking night, talked until the wee hours of the night. Your phone was pushed to the back burner without another thought.
Though, yes, some of your friends did take photos on their phones but digital cameras were still a novelty back then. And so was uploading all your photos to Facebook in bulk uploads. Oh, the simpler days…
10. Going off the grid was a lot easier
Technology has really advanced and evolved in the past decade. Not only in the United States, the UK and Australia, and other developing countries but also here in Europe. In fact, it’s influenced all of our lives around the world.
However, and as you can see from this post, the world was much, much different even just 10 years ago. Phrases like social media detox or digital detox were not yet in vogue back then. In fact, no one really needed to take a long break from them or eliminate electronic devices or apps from their phones until just a couple of years later. And now, you can find courses, books, and even in-person retreats to help you be more present and mindful of the world around them.
How did this work for study abroad students or Spanish young people?
Going off the grid was as easy as going off on a trip or going for a day hike and not having Internet access until you got to your final destination or returned home. It usually consisted of emailing your family from a hostel computer, planning a time to talk on Skype or something similar. No video calls from Facebook Messenger or FaceTime or messaging a WhatsApp group chat.
So, to some extent, I miss the days when teens and young people called their parents on the phone to let them know when they were coming home or just to chat. Or when a group of friends didn’t even think of stacking all their phones on the table or turning them all off just to spend time with the people in front of them. In short, I miss the days when our phones didn’t steal our attention and rule our lives.
Did you live in Spain back in 2010? What other things about that time am I missing in this post? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below!