Students Immerse Themselves in Spanish Culture While Visiting Madrid and Seville

Study Abroad Madrid Image by Courtesy
The Understanding World Cultures class takes a group photo by the Monumento Cervantes in Madrid.

By Brooke Coupal

Zipping by a river on an electric scooter is normal for students at UMass Lowell, but Warsame Hassan got to experience that same sensation more than 3,000 miles away.

During spring break, the public health senior rode a rented electric scooter alongside the Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain.

“There are so many beautiful sites,” says Hassan, who saw the Torre del Oro, a military watchtower constructed in the 13th century, and the Sevilla Tower, the tallest building in the historic city, during his ride.

Hassan is one of 10 students who spent nine days studying abroad in Madrid and Seville as part of Assoc. Prof. Daniel Arroyo-Rodríguez’s new course, Understanding World Cultures. To enroll in the course, students had to be a part of the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a support program for first-generation college students.

Study abroad Brithany Image by Courtesy
Brithany Ramirez Castillo poses in front of the Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid.

“A fun part of the trip was that we’re all first-generation students,” Hassan says. “It was special because most of us had never traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, so we got to do that for the first time together.”

As a former first-generation college student from Seville, Arroyo-Rodríguez saw the importance of study abroad experiences for RHSA students.

“More frequently than not, first-generation students either never have the opportunity to study abroad or they don’t even consider it an option,” says Arroyo-Rodríguez, who teaches in the Department of World Languages and Culture. “Studying abroad tends to be expensive, and this course is specifically designed to provide first-generation students access to resources that allow them to go abroad.”

The cost of the trip was offset by scholarships from the RHSA and the dean’s offices of the students’ colleges, for which business administration senior Cheila Ferrufino was grateful.

“The study abroad office was more than helpful in finding me scholarship money so I could go,” says Ferrufino, who also studied abroad in Cádiz, Spain, last summer. “Traveling is a privilege, but I feel it’s something that people should take advantage of if they have the opportunity to do so.”

Study Abroad Sevilla Image by Courtesy

Students stop for a picture in front of the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions of Sevilla.

The students spent roughly seven weeks learning about Spanish culture and history before visiting the country.

“(Arroyo-Rodríguez) had a good way of painting a picture for us of what we were going to see, but actually being there and seeing it ourselves? That was so interesting,” Hassan says.

The students spent their days visiting museums, including the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and the Museo del Baile Flamenco in Seville. They also toured historic buildings such as the Royal Palace of Madrid, examined architecture, tried traditional cuisine and watched flamenco dance performances.

A visit to the Catedral de Sevilla left an impression on junior nursing major Brithany Ramirez Castillo.

“Seville was like traveling back in time, and one of the places that transported me to the past was the Seville Cathedral,” she says. “This cathedral not only has impressive architecture, but also houses the remains of Christopher Columbus.”

Study abroad Seville selfie Image by Courtesy
Warsame Hassan, center, takes a selfie with his classmates while sightseeing in Seville.
While in Seville, Arroyo-Rodríguez’s class met students from Centro Norteamericano, an English-language school. The students bonded over their cultural similarities and differences. Hassan was shocked to learn that “we have a tooth fairy here, and they have a mouse that goes and takes the tooth.”

Back at UMass Lowell, the students continue to learn about Spanish culture while drawing connections to their study abroad experience. Arroyo-Rodríguez says the course is providing the students with a framework that they can use to understand different cultures, even beyond Spain.

“The first day of class, I told the students, ‘Imagine you’re working for a company, and they tell you that you need to move to Argentina. What do you need to learn, and where do you begin?’” he says. “It’s important that they develop strategies for learning about other cultures.”