Getting lost is not always a bad thing. In fact, it often brings unexpected gifts. Perhaps, during the process, you develop a greater appreciation for a place from stumbling across previously unknown thrift shops, pottery stores or art markets on a simple walk around the city, just as I did.
During the beginning weeks of my four-month study abroad experience in Seville, Spain, I got lost frequently. This was a strange experience for me. In the United States, I was used to not getting lost; while walking or driving around, I generally had a grasp on which way to turn in areas with which I was unfamiliar. And while it is expectedly normal to feel lost in a new city, I was amazed at just how easily I became lost in the Spanish streets even four weeks into living there.
The obvious explanation for why the streets in Seville were more difficult to navigate than, say, the streets in Ann Arbor is the different types of city planning that went into both. Seville (2,200 years old by some accounts) is a much older city than Ann Arbor (just over 190 years old, as it was founded in 1824). I am not an expert in the field of city planning, but from what I understand, the streets in Seville do not match the linear grid format that most American cities are built upon. In Seville, you could not just “go around the block” and end up in the same place you started, as you can in my hometown. There are plenty of narrow and winding streets in such an old city that present their challenges to newcomers. However, while these streets contributed to getting me lost so frequently, they also presented that certain type of beauty and desire for wanderlust that one imagines finding in a European city.
I never thought about getting lost as a problem during my abroad experience. I was lucky enough to feel safe and there were people willing to help me if I needed it. Through this process, I was able to develop a connection with the city that I do not think would have been possible without first hand experience getting lost and finding my way back through the winding streets. I got to see so much more through this process.
However, if I ever needed help navigating the winding and narrowing streets of Seville, I was able to consult my host family. I considered living with a host family to be one of the most beneficial aspects of my study abroad experience. I enjoyed having a home to go back to during my time in Spain. It was nice to have home cooked meals every day at the kitchen table. In addition, my host family was always willing to help me out when I needed assistance with directions or the best places to head to if I needed to buy something. One of the important things they were able to help me with was navigating the bus routes in the city.
I realized it would not be a good idea to get lost while taking a bus. For the length of my study abroad experience, I was located in the heart of the city. My host family’s home was located just steps from the Real Fabrica de Tabacos, where the main offices for the University of Seville are located, and close to museums, restaurants and shops. Given this, most everywhere I needed to go was in walking distance. However, I decided I wanted to take a course in the Communications department to fulfill credits for my other major. This department was located much farther away and I needed to take a bus to get there.The buses in Seville cover a lot of area, from the downtown area to the suburbs, so I wanted to make sure I was headed the right way whenever I hopped on a bus in the city. My host family made sure I would not get lost by telling me the route to take to the Communications Department and how to purchase a card to get cheaper fares. Even though my first time on the bus was nerve wracking and I got off the bus two stops too soon, this was very helpful and got me to class on time for the first day of classes.
Taking the bus also allowed me to see more of the city than I would have by traveling on foot. I drove passed a lot on my 25-minute bus ride to class twice a week, allowing me to see some of the newer parts of the city. While the area I lived in was primarily old construction, I passed by a lot of newer office buildings, skyscrapers and homes while on the bus. The Communications Department building was located in La Cartuja, which was primarily constructed for the 1992 Expo/World Fair. Many of the buildings in this area appear significantly newer than the part of the city in which I lived. This allowed me to gain a new perspective of the city. I appreciated the history of the older parts of Seville in addition to their attempts to construct more modern buildings to maintain a diverse city.
It was definitely worth it to travel far to get to class at the Communications Department. Even though I spent a limited time here, the class material was more hands on and the professor I had was more invested in whether or not I did well in the class. While I learned a lot in my other history classes, I have a stronger interest in communication studies and it was interesting to learn this material in a different language. It was definitely a challenge, but I was ultimately successful in the course through office hour visits and lots of studying. Through this class, we also had to opportunity to do a lot of group work, which was beneficial. Some of my group members even asked me to record a radio advertisement for one of their other classes. Even though they wanted to use my accent to create humor in their project, it was a fun experience to go into the studio, as you can see below, and I tried to be a good sport about it.
If I ever found myself bored (which was rare), I liked to explore the city by going on long walks. I found plenty of thrift stores and flea markets during these walks. One day, I found myself wandering the streets looking at tables laid out with anything you could imagine. There were clothes, antiques, home goods and the list goes on. The stores on these streets were packed with vintage clothing as well. I also had fun finding art galleries, which sold work from local artists. These were some of the memories I have from walks around the city.
During my time abroad, I reached a point when I needed to get a haircut. I have never gotten a haircut when the individual cutting my hair was not speaking to me in English. Since I tend to be a bit protective of my hair, this was a nerve-wracking experience. But, once again, my host family was there to help. They drove me to the place where I got my hair cut and made me feel more comfortable overall that everything would be fine. I explained what I wanted successfully and ended up with a haircut with which I was happy.
So, I guess the first sentence should read: “Getting lost is not always a bad thing when done within reason.” It is possible to find the beauty of a city through discovery of a new favorite vintage clothing store or awesome local art market, but it was important for me to remember my limits. I utilized my resources–friends, host family and transportation–to figure out the best plan of action for exploring the city. I enjoyed wandering, but remembered the city was best discovered with additional help at times.