This post comes to us from API’s Jason Kouba. Jason Kouba is a Senior Regional Director of Institutional Relations and Outreach with API.
NO8DO-Anyone who has ever had the privilege to travel, live, or study in Sevilla, Spain should be quite familiar with this rebus. The NO8DO appears on countless municipal buildings and vehicles, on manhole covers that dot this stunning Spanish city’s streets, and on thousands of souvenirs found in a seemingly never-ending stream of tourist shops. But to the true Sevillano, there is only one place for NO8DO to really lie, and that is within the hearts of those of us who have been fortunate enough to call this place home. The origins of this motto are a bit of a mystery, but the meaning is clear: Ne me ha dejado, or “she has not abandoned me.” As I returned to the city and country that I called home during my own study abroad experience, never had this been more clear to me…
20 years ago, on an otherwise insignificant fall day in Wisconsin, I left for what I knew would be an amazing adventure. I had decided to spend the semester studying Spanish is Sevilla, Spain; a city that I had heard of, but knew basically nothing about. One of my closest friends had studied there the previous year and told me I’d love it, so I figured “why not?!” As the first person in my family to travel outside the US (with the exception of a quick trip to Canada and a three-day cruise in the Bahamas!), I really didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully I had an excellent study abroad office at my home institution to help me prepare me for my experience, but to say that I had a clear idea of what I was about to experience is like trying to say one can understand what a cat is thinking when they instantly go from purring softly and contentedly, to grasping your wrist with their razor sharp teeth!
Things happened a bit differently 20 years ago when it came to studying abroad. I had no idea who I was going to be in Spain with, where I was going to be living, or where my school was in relation to, well, anything. Thanks to the arrival of Facebook, Google Earth, and the generally unrestricted access to the Internet that we have now, these may seem like completely ludicrous notions! But looking back it was all part of the experience at the time.
I arrived in the Seville airport and was handed a piece of paper with my address, and whisked away in a cab with my new roommate for the next 4 months. We arrived to a grandmotherly Sevillana woman standing on a balcony, 6 floors up, shouting incoherently with a beaming smile on her face. As we ascended the building (and of course we went to the wrong floor at first) I was filled with an excitement and an angst that I had never felt before. What was I doing? Was I going to like my host family? How would I make it without seeing my family and friends for 4 months? When was the excursion to Granada? Did I pack enough film for my camera? (yes, FILM!)
Despite not really gaining a true grasp for what my señora (and really everyone in Andalucia) was saying for at least a good week, I knew instantly upon seeing her that I had made the best decision of my life, and that I would forever be a different person as a result. My family was amazing. My classes were interesting. My roommate and my classmates were incredible. And most importantly, I fell in love with everything about Sevilla.
This past August I had the opportunity to return to Sevilla, to spend a week with two of my closest friends from my program. While we had not seen each other in almost 20 years, the moment we were in the same room it was as though we had been transported back in time. Everything was as it always had been, and we were together in the place that we never wanted to leave in the first place. We spent the days revisiting our old hangouts, touring the Catedral de Sevilla and climbing the iconic La Giralada. (In my opinion no visit to Sevilla is complete without seeing these sites!) We toured our old school and saw how time had passed and improvements had been made. We went to the first place that we experienced “tinto de verano” (a classic and refreshing summertime drink popular in southern Spain) and while the venue no longer bears the same name, the feeling could not be denied that we truly felt at home.
As we walked the streets and plazas of Santa Cruz, trying to recall where our favorite flamenco bar, La Carbonería was located, we shared memories and stories of what we lived 20 years earlier. The names and faces of friends with whom we encountered so many new things with came flooding back, and we recounted our trips to various cities in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. We all smiled with delight at the familiar sight of the street cleaners who come out at night, signifying that it’s probably time to go home. We shared our favorite experiences, and our biggest challenges, and in my mind, it was just the perfect reunion.
If you had told any of us so many years ago that going to Sevilla was going to have the impact on us that it did, I’m sure we would have brushed it off, just as you might ignore the advice of your mom regarding your choice in shoes. But it was extremely clear that our time here had changed us in ways that we never thought imaginable. After 20 years of barely speaking, and really, not speaking at all until Facebook came to life, we had rekindled the kind of friendship that it can take a lifetime to achieve. As the three of us attempted in a single week to share each of our personal stories with one another, and to somehow summarize 20 years of living vastly different lives, we realized that only one thing mattered: we were together again, and no matter how much time had or would pass, we would always have our time together in Sevilla. NO8DO