December 29, 2017

Traditions for celebrating a Spanish New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is a big event in every part of the world and each region has its own traditions that make it unique and special. Of course, in Spain we have our own too.

Being with your loved ones

Most people celebrate New Year’s Eve at home with their families. However, if they live far away from home, they celebrate New Year’s Eve with their friends. After midnight we toast with champagne and in some homes kids toast with “champín” which is a special champagne with no alcohol.

12 grapes

The best-known tradition is eating 12 grapes. The last 12 seconds before the beginning of a new year, we eat 12 grapes following the sound of the bell of the Plaza del Sol (The Sun’s Square), in Madrid. This is the most famous bell in Spain. That’s why lots of people welcome the New Year at the square although most people normally follow the chimes on the TV.

The 12 grapes

The 12 grapes

Starting the New Year with the right foot

While eating the 12 grapes some superstitious people keep only their right foot on the floor. That way they will start the first day of the year with good luck.

Practicing the 12 chimes

In some big cities like Salamanca and, definitely, in Madrid, they verify that their bell works well before New Year’s Eve. Many people gather together to practice eating the 12 grapes in 12 seconds. However it is said that if you eat the 12 grapes before December 31 at midnight it gives you bad luck, so people practice with olives, jelly beans or chocolates.

Conguitos - Spanish version of M&Ms

Conguitos - Spanish version of M&Ms

Eating lentils?

Some people eat a teaspoon or a plate of lentils at midnight or on December 31st or January 1st for lunch. This is a symbol of the abundance, prosperity and economy throughout the year.

Red underwear

Another tradition is to wear red underwear because it will bring you a great year of love. Besides, it’s a day for dressing up because many people go to a cotillón after or before midnight. A cotillón is a party where people dance, eat and have fun all night long. Some people wear masquerades and other special costumes. In fact in many small towns people like to dress up.


We don’t have a firework show as big as people have in the States or in other places of the world. But we like fireworks too so some people buy them and shoot them off.


January 1st after partying all night long, we eat some churros as breakfast before going to bed. But don’t be too excited, only some breakfast bars and churros kiosks are open because the January 1st is a state holiday and stores are closed.

Churros con Chocolate

Churros con Chocolate

We don’t have the typical American kiss welcoming the New Year but we kiss all our beloved in the cheek to wish them good luck for the coming year.

December 20, 2017

Volunteering in Sevilla

Hello! My name is Samantha Dinsdale, and I am a junior from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, USA. I am a Medical Biology major on the Pre-Medicine track with a minor in Latin American Studies. I decided to study abroad here in Seville, Spain in the Fall 2017 semester, and while fully immersing myself into this beautiful culture, I was given the opportunity to volunteer at a private hospital. I created a curriculum vitae and wrote a motivation letter, both in Spanish, and sent them to Miriam, our program coordinator, to have my information passed along. Upon my arrival, Miriam helped me gain contact with them and schedule an interview. The interviewers were from the International Office of the clinic and were enthusiastic about helping me find a position at the clinic. I first needed to take a test that every employee and volunteer must pass before starting. The test was to ensure my knowledge of the rules and regulations of the clinic, and after the lengthy process I was finally able to begin volunteering.

During my time at the clinic, I shadowed urgency and family medicine physicians who were eager to teach me and speak with me in Spanish. I learned how to diagnose and treat patients, the process of obtaining a medical degree in Spain, and how the clinic itself operates. Everyone within the clinic was kind, and I could improve my Spanish by speaking to every fellow employee, the patients, and pharmaceutical representatives. I loved going to the clinic every week to see how medicine in Spain operates in comparison to the United States. I learned a lot from this experience and will carry it with me throughout all my future endeavors.

December 18, 2017

Most important events in Spain

The Three Kings Parade (January 5-6)

Spanish people love Santa Claus but they love even more the Three Wise Men who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. This is a great day for little kids, and not so little. That’s why we have a huge parade with kids throwing candies and other gifts. There is a parade in the main cities and neighborhoods on January 5 and 6.

Carnaval (February - flexible date)

This festival has a different duration depending on the city. It is an event  in which people dress up (as funny things, characters…) in most places. In Cádiz, people walk around the city to hear original songs sung by different groups too and a contest is held in the Falla theater. In the Canary Islands and Badajoz, as well as in some other countries of Latin America, the festival is called “murgas”. There is another type of Carnaval in Las Palmas (a huge one) in which they choose the Queen of the Carnival and there is a drag contest too .

Semana Santa (or Holy Week) (March - flexible date)

There is not an exact day for the beginning of Holy Week or Semana Santa: it depends on the moon. Semana Santa begins the first Sunday of March when there’s a full moon. It is a huge event for lots of Spanish people but it might change depending on the region. Find everything you need to know in the post  and in “Semana santa: Seville’s biggest holidays”:



Las Fallas de Valencia (March 15-19)

Artists work really hard on building colossal statues made of paper, cardboard, wood or cork. From the 15th to the 19th of March, there are lots of people in the streets wearing traditional costumes, eating sweets, and there are sculptures that can be visited outside and inside. Las Fallas starts with the “Crida” the last Sunday of February in which the Fallera Mayor (the ambassador of this festivity) calls all the population of the city. A contest is held the last day of the festivity and then all of the artwork is burned at night. You can also find the "mascletàs" that are held from at 2PM and consist of a huge pyrotechnic show. The fire is the essence of the party, it purifies the vices and evils of society and a new cycle begins. It is a renewal from the ashes, the beginning of spring.

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Feria de Sevilla (April-May - Flexible)

We have a lot of ferias (fairs) in Spain and in different dates. However, the one in Sevilla is the main reference. Here you have everything you need to know about the Feria of Sevilla:

“Vocabulary to enjoy the Feria de Abril as a true sevillano”


“A bailar a bailar alegre sevillanas”



Fiesta de las Cruces (May - Flexible date depending on the city/village)

The “Cruces de mayo” (May Crosses) is a Christian event takes place in May because it is the Virgin and the flower’s month. Depending on the city, it is celebrated during the first week of May, every weekend or both. Córdoba is really famous for its “Cruces de mayo” because every square is fully decorated with flowers and a cross in the middle (decorated with flowers too). Some people wear flamenco dresses in some villages. Córdoba also holds contests for the best decorated square.

La noche de San Juan (June 23)

It’s summer! and in many places of the world we celebrate this festivity. Many Spaniards spend the night at the beach, with huge bonfires and fireworks. It welcomes the summer and originally it was celebrated on the 21th, but because of St. John the Baptist we celebrate it on the 23th.


San Fermín (July 7)

It starts with the “chupinazo” from the balcony of the City Hall of Pamplona on July 6 at noon and it ends at 12 AM on July 15 with the song “Pobre de mí...” (Poor me), which is a farewell song. One of the most famous activities of the Sanfermines is the “encierro”, which consists of running through a route of 849 meters in front of the bulls to lead the bulls into the bullring. Each “encierro” normally lasts an average of 3 minutes. After that, all day long consists of eating and having fun with friends. There are open air music and dance.

Fun fact: the famous film “Knight and Day” (starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz) placed this event in Sevilla and Cádiz. However the event takes place in Pamplona (Navarra) only.

La Tomatina (August flexible)

La Tomatina takes place in the Valencian municipality of Buñol (Valencia). It is always celebrated on the last Wednesday of August. The participants throw tons and tons of tomatoes (that are not edibles) at each other.

La Mercè (September 24)

La Mercè is the one of the biggest festivity in Barcelona. It is celebrated in honor of La Virgen de la Merced (Mercy’s Virgin). There are parades, a meeting of giants from all over Catalonia, a contest of castells (human towers) and Sardana dancing (typical dance from Catalonia). There is also a wine fair, the correfoc (people running and dancing with fireworks wearing demon’s costumes), a marathon and the "Piromusical" (fireworks and lights accompanied with music all over the Montjuïc).

Día de la Hispanidad - Fiesta Nacional de España (October 12)

This is the national day of Spain. The celebration traditionally includes a military parade attended by the King, along with the Royal Family, the President of the Government and other high representatives of all the powers of the State. October 12 is celebrated in Zaragoza too with Fiesta del Pilar (local festivity).


Día de todos los santos (November 1)

This day (All Saints’ Day) many people visit the graves of their deceased and they pray for those who left. We do the same thing the 2nd November and it is called the “Deceased’s day”. On the other hand, the night of Halloween is celebrated on Oct. 31 (1 night only) and is more and more popular in Spain.

The Constitution Day (December 6)

This is the day that our constitution was signed after several years of dictatorship and a process of transition. Two days after this day, we celebrate the day of the Immaculate Conception. Although Catholic in its origins, this festivity remains as one of the official State holidays and there are events in some cities like Sevilla. In this city the Tunos go around the city singing and glorifying the Virgin.

October 25, 2017

What you need to know about Spanish filmography

Traditionally the Spanish movies had the Spanish folklore as the main theme. So when we search for ancient films we find stories based on a little boy or girl who sings and dances flamenco. By watching old Spanish movies, you perfectly feel how that time was and how my grandparents felt.



But Spanish filmography has evolved and it has become more international. It is clearly shown in movies like “Regression” by Alejandro Amenábar, “El laberinto del fauno” by Guillermo del Toro, or “Volver” by Pedro Almodovar. Maybe those names are familiar to you because some of our directors are internationally known.

You can also enjoy the international Spanish movies in your own language like “Lo imposible” by Juan Antonio Bayona, or even improve your Spanish listening skills by watching films such as “Grupo 7” by Alberto Rodríguez, a good example for practising the Andalusian accent.

Lo Imposible, by J. A. Bayona

Lo Imposible, by J. A. Bayona

However, Spanish directors haven’t abandoned the traditional part. We love our culture and our differences too. But we love mocking ourselves even more. That’s why we enjoy movies such as “Ocho apellidos vascos” by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro (this one is the highest-grossing movie of all time in Spain) or “Señor, dame paciencia” by Álvaro Díaz Lorenzo. As you might know, Spanish people have diverse ways of thinking, diverse traditions and (it is said too) different personalities depending on each region and these two films are inspired in Spanish stereotypes taking it to the extreme.

8 Apellidos Vascos by Emilio Martinez-Lázaro

8 Apellidos Vascos by Emilio Martinez-Lázaro

Spanish TV series have become great too. They are equally divided into:
one third of thrillers (“Mar de plástico”), one third of comedy (“La que se avecina”), and one third based on true stories of the Spanish Civil War (“Amar en tiempos revueltos”) or Spanish history, even though they might add some fictional elements (“El ministerio del tiempo”). Millennials, like me, have learnt a lot watching these historical series with their grandparents, who enjoy telling their anecdotes about those times.

La que se avecina

La que se avecina

You can practice your Spanish and learn more about our culture, history and sense of humor watching some of these TV series: La casa de papel, Tiempos de Guerra, Ella es tu padre, Los Serrano, La española inglesa, Lo que escondían sus ojos, El internado…

La española inglesa

La española inglesa

I encourage you to choose one and start watching it in spanish (with subtitles if you need it) and, if you are brave enough, turn on the TV or join your host family and watch it completely in Spanish…Why not?

September 22, 2017

Spanish Music

When we talk about Spanish music the first word that comes to our mind is “flamenco”. Spanish music is really famous, especially flamenco, an art that mixes music and dance originated in southern Spain. Flamenco has evolved and transformed over the time to incorporate modern music sounds from rock, pop and blues. Some famous Spanish flamenco artists include Raimundo Amador, Ketama and Rosario Flores among others. In Flamenco, “el cante flamenco andaluz” retains an emotional lament while the “cante flamenco Gitano” preserves a folkloric style. Both incorporate expressive hand-clapping accompanied by the fervent clatter of dancers’ feet. 

Some photos and a video about flamenco are included below.

flamenco flamencooo

What about modern Spanish music? There are plenty of popular Spanish songs and international Spanish artists like Joaquin Sabina, David Bisbal, Alejandro Sanz and Julio Iglesias that fill the radio with Latin rhythms and Spanish pop music. Some songs of this artists are “19 días y 500 noches”, “Ave María”, “Corazón partío” and “Bamboleo”. Even Spanish hip-hop has found its place in the music industry with artists like La Mala Rodríguez with songs like”Nanai”.

But not only flamenco is listened here. If you go to any pub or disco here in Sevilla, you will see that most of the songs are reggaeton, like “Cuéntale”, “Rey de la tarima” or “Hula Hoop”. Young people love reggaeton music because it’s easier to dance! Some Latin artists listened here are Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi, Romeo Santos and Maluma.

All types of music can be popular in Spain because there are all types of people living there. American artists are also listened in Spain; some of them are Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

And you, what type of music you have listened to in Spain do you like the most?

May 12, 2017


¡Hola de nuevo!

Not long ago, you were arriving at the airport with all your luggage, trying to get through your jetlag, full of doubts and mumbling an ‘hola’. How were you going to survive your time in Spain? Well, time does actually fly, and now you can laugh at all the insecurities you had when you first arrived in the country.

Now you probably know more places in the city than many locals, you have traveled around Europe (and even Africa), you can speak Spanish without going blank and you have boosted your confidence. To sum up, YOU have changed and that is fantastic.

photo 1 (post 3)

We are sure that you are looking forward to seeing your family and friends back home, but at the same time you will certainly miss this whole experience. How will you get back to your ‘normal’ life? We have all been there before and we know that it can be hard sometimes.

‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’ is a quote to follow during this transition but, what it is more important, try bringing everything you have learnt to your daily life back home. What about helping exchange students arriving to or departing from your home university? Why not engaging in some youth initiatives? And a masters overseas? How about getting a job where you get to practice your Spanish? Your experience abroad opens the door for many other experiences that are about to come. Your time here is not the end but the beginning of many other things! So, embrace it and keep the sparkle!

See you soon here, back home or in another corner of the world!

photo 2 (post 3)


April 27, 2017

Vocabulary to enjoy the Feria de Abril as a true sevillano

¡Hola a todos!

I hope that you had a fantastic Semana Santa and that you are looking forward to our other great spring festivity: the Feria de Abril (April’s Fair)! This year, the Feria will start on April 30th at 00:00h and it will last for a week. Interestingly, it was supposed to start at that time on May 1st but, since it was going to mean that the April’s Fair was not going to be celebrated in April, the town hall organized a referendum so people could vote if they wanted it to start a day earlier.

As usual, we want you to enjoy our traditions as a true sevillano. You have already learnt how to master the art of dancing sevillanas in our flamenco workshop and now what you need to know is this basic vocabulary related to the Feria de Abril:

  • Alumbrao: it is the official start of the Feria and the moment when all the lights (including the portada and the farolillos) are switched on. It normally takes place on a Tuesday at 00:00 h but this year, as mentioned above, it will take place on Sunday 30th.
  • Cacharritos: this is how we call the amusement rides of the Feria de Abril. They are located along the Calle del Infierno and it is the main incentive for children to come to the Feria. In addition, there are amusement rides for adults, such as the barca vikinga (Viking boat), rollercoasters, canguros (kangaroos…not the animal!), and the Ferris wheels.
  • Calle del Infierno: it literally means ‘Hell Street’ and it is where the amusement park of the Feria de Abril is. This part is separated from the casetas and you will easily find it as you will be able to see the amusement rides especially the Ferris ride from afar.
  • Casetas: they are the marquee tents where people meet to eat, drink and dance. Some of them are public but most of them are private. If you want  to get into a private one, you need to know someone who is a socio (member) of that caseta and can get you in.
Casetas y farolillos

Casetas y farolillos

  • Farolillos: they are the little and colorful lanterns located all around the Real de la Feria and switched on during the alumbrao. They are an authentic landmark of the Feria.
  • Pescaíto: it is the night when the Feria officially starts. People gather in the casetas with their friends and family to eat fried fish for dinner before going to see the alumbrao.
  • Portada: it is the main entrance to the the Feria de Abril and its lightning (alumbrao) during la noche del pescaíto marks the beginning of the Feria. Each year, it has a different design and in 2017 it commemorates the 25th anniversary of the celebration of the Universal Exposition of Seville (Expo ’92). The portada is the main meeting point for sevillanos, although meeting someone there is difficult because it is always crowded.
Portada de la Feria

Portada de la Feria

  • Real de la feria: it is the enclosure where the Feria de Abril is located. It is divided into two parts: the part where the casetas are and the part where the cacharritos are.
  • Traje de flamenca: it is the traditional dress worn by women at the Feria. It is a slim-fit dress that normally has some kind of print, such as polka-dots or flowers. Women combine them with colorful mantoncillos (shawls), earrings and brooches. Additionally, they wear flowers in their hair.
Traje de flamenca

Traje de flamenca

You can now go to the Feria de Abril and enjoy it as a true sevillano!

April 12, 2017

Experiencing Semana Santa with your 5 senses

¡Hola de nuevo! After 3 months in Spain (yes, time does fly) you are more than ready to experience one of our biggest festivities: Semana Santa (Holy Week). As some of you have already realised, Semana Santa can be quite confusing and even daunting. There is a lot going on at the same time, and that is why we want to help you understand it and make the most of it.

Although Semana Santa has a strong religious background (as a commemoration of the Passion of Jesus), it is also a cultural and social event that can be enjoyed by everyone. To understand it better, we recommend you this comprehensive post from a former mentor:

Sight: procesiones, pasos and nazarenos

If you are in the city center during Semana Santa, you will definitely see at least one of the over 50 processions. They are religious statues representing the Passion of Jesus on enormous pasos (floats) carried around the streets by costaleros (bearers) and accompanied by hundreds (or even thousands) of nazarenos (penitents) who hold candles. The itinerary of these processions (from their home churches to the Cathedral and back) can easily be found on the Internet and the local newspapers.

Photo 1


Hearing: bandas, marchas and saetas (and silence)

Some processions are silent, while others are accompanied by a choir or chapel music, and a lot of them feature a band (banda) following the float and playing hymns (marchas). Along the itinerary, talented individuals may express their feelings towards the procession by singing a religious, flamenco-style song called saeta, which is often sung from a balcony.

Silence is also a key element at Semana Santa, since it is a way of showing respect and appreciation for the processions. Everyone must remain silent when the float arrives and, in some particularly grave processions, during the whole time. How to identify if that is the case? If the penitents are dressed in black, it can be a sign, but the best idea is looking around and behaving like the Sevillanos.

Photo 2

Smell: incense and flowers

The strong smell of incense, an aromatic essence meant to purify, accompanies every procession. It is carried by young boys (or girls) called monaguillos who spread it in front of the pasos (floats) during the whole itinerary. Floats are also decorated with fresh flowers in gracious bouquets.

Touch:  crowds and no touching

The city center can get quite crowded during Semana Santa, since everyone wants to see the pasos on the first row and some areas are of restricted access. Try to avoid big crowds and, if you get trapped in one (bulla), be patient and collaborative.

Another important thing is that you shouldn’t touch the floats. Although some people do it, it can damage the float decoration and thus it is not a good idea.

Taste: torrijas and pestiños

As you know from previous posts, in Spain we love eating, and Easter is no exception. Torrijas and pestiños are always present at our homes during these days. Torrijas, like French toasts, are prepared with honey, eggs and wine. Each family has its own recipe (claimed of course to be the best). On the contrary, pestiños are made of flour, but are also covered in honey.


These torrijas were made by my grandma (and, of course, they are the best)

These torrijas were made by my grandma (and, of course, they are the best)


Pestiños made by cloistered nuns

Pestiños made by cloistered nuns

Now you know a little bit more about Semana Santa, but we encourage you to go a see pasos and, whether you are a religious person or not, to embrace this very different experience.


March 10, 2017

The perks of being an exchange student

¡Hola a todos!

We are already halfway through the semester and most of you are now working on your midterm exams. For this reason, we thought that this would be the perfect moment to cheer you up by reminding you about some of the reasons why studying abroad is awesome!

  1. Learning a foreign language. Whether you like languages or not, being able to speak a language other than English is a great advantage. While studying abroad, you do not only learn a new language in class but also in real-life situations! This means that you get to learn words that you would never learn in a language class, including some slang words that locals use all the time.
  2. Getting to know other cultures. When you are abroad, you come across different traditions and customs that can help you understand how people in other countries think. The best thing is that, if you like them, you can incorporate them to your daily life when you come back home!


  1. Making new friends. Being abroad and speaking other languages means that you do not only meet other Americans, but also international students and local people. And having friends all around the world is the best excuse to travel.


  1. Getting out of your comfort zone. It is only when you try new things, when you really learn and acquire new skills. Being abroad does not only contribute to your resume, it also helps you to learn more about yourself and to become a more independent and resolute person.
  2. Doing new things every day. One of the best things of studying abroad is being able to answer ‘two hours ago’ or ‘today’ when asked ‘when was the last time you did something for the first time?’. In addition, when you come back home, you will have lots of stories to tell your family and friends.


  1. Appreciating your family and friends even more. Spending a time away from your usual social environment helps you reflect on how much you value them.

Can you think of  more advantages of being an exchange student?

Have a fantastic weekend!

February 23, 2017

WHERE FOOD IS MORE THAN JUST SUSTENANCE (understanding Spain through its food culture)

¡Hola de nuevo!

I hope you are all having a fantastic time in Seville. After almost two months here (yes, time flies!) I am sure you are already quite familiar with our gastronomy and words such as tapas or churros are already part of your vocabulary. But our gastronomy is much more than new flavors; it’s a fantastic gate to understand our culture:

Expression of our rich cultural heritage

In our last post, we talked about Spain’s cultural heritage, and our cuisine is a fantastic way of discovering it!

The Romans taught us how to cultivate wheat and vines, which explains why we love bread and wine so much. The Arabs brought to Al-Andalus new ways of cultivating fruit, vegetables and our precious olive oil. They also introduced new products that are now part of our most renowned dishes, for example rice (no paella without it), spinach (have you already tried our famous espinacas con garbanzos?), sugar cane, or citrics (yes, that means our delicious oranges). The Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Visigoths also left their mark our gastronomy.


Tapas, a way of living

A tapa, which literally means ‘cover’ or ‘lid’, was originally a hunk of bread that was placed over the glass of beverages to keep the flies out. This simple concept evolved to its current meaning, a style of eating. Going for tapas means sociability, cherished moments with your family and friends and informal gatherings in a relaxed atmosphere. If you are going for tapas, you know more or less when you are starting but you have no idea how the day will end (what we call in Andalusia a relío is not unlikely to happen: going for some relaxed tapas and ending up late at night or even early in the morning).


We love food

During my study abroad time in Australia, I remember my flatmates telling me ‘You Spaniards talk all the time about food’. And it is quite true, we are very proud of our cuisine and love sharing our family recipes (everyone will tell you how his/her grandma makes the best croquetas/gazpacho/whatsoever). Food is a way of relating to each other, of finding things in common.

In other countries food is seen as way of getting nutrients for your body, here it is a ritual that has its times and steps (therefore our very particular meal times). When we cook, we put a lot of time and effort into it and we love a nice and colorful presentation. But the most important thing is enjoying your meal with your family and friends, and creating a shared moment. When food is finished, instead of quickly leaving, we have what we call a sobremesa (literally ‘over the table’): time for chatting and simply enjoying each other’s company. For Spaniards how we eat is as important as what we eat.

Tapas restaurant

And well, as you can see I could talk about food forever, but it’s better if you go and taste it! See you soon at the ESA picnic!


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