STEM Program in Seville: Interview with Alison Smith

API Seville and current Stonehill College student, Alison Smith studied abroad this past spring as a Biology Major. Alison’s host university in Seville; Universidad Pablo De Olavide allowed her the opportunity to complete field work at Centro Andaluz de Biologia de Desarrollo (CABD); the premier Developmental Biology research institute in Spain which is located on the same campus as UPO. We had the chance to interview Alison and hear about all things Seville, UPO and CABD:


Alison’s Lab crew!

How did you choose Seville?

When I was looking into applying for programs I knew I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country as a Spanish minor, and I knew I wanted to be able to travel… so Spain was a great choice. From there I have always lived in a small town so I welcomed the opportunity to live in a city for a semester. I also loved all of the history and traditional cultural events it had to offer during the spring semester. I wanted to be fully immersed in the culture and therefore being able to attend Semana Santa and Feria de Abril in my home city was an amazing opportunity.

What about Seville did you enjoy most? 

I honestly enjoyed everything about Seville but what I enjoyed the most was that I never stopped being in awe of the place I called home for a semester. No matter where I was in the city I always found something new that I had never seen before. No matter how many times I walked the same route to the metro every day and night I never stopped being in awe of the beauty of the walk. On top of that I truly enjoyed just how nice everyone in Seville was, everyone I came in contact with was so kind and willing to speak to me whether it was just walking down the street or over a cup of coffee at a café.

What was most surprising about your semester? Biggest takeaways?

The most surprising thing about my semester was how close I got to so many Spaniards throughout the semester. By the end of the semester, I was not ready to leave, I was distraught about leaving my lab partners and my host mom, Juana, who were all influential to my success in Seville. My biggest take away was how fluent I became in the language, by the end it was almost comical because as my Spanish improved my English got worse one day while FaceTiming my best friend Kristen I responded to her question in all Spanish – just because I had only spoken in Spanish in 3 months.

Tell us about the CABD?  What was that experience like? 

The CABD or the Centro Andaluz de Biologia de Desarrollo is the premier Developmental Biology research institute in Spain which is located in Seville on the same campus as UPO. Since it is a developmental research institute there are primarily developmental biology research projects occurring using things such as Drosophila melanogaster and zebrafish. It is a beautiful institute with a little fountain inside,  plants hanging on the balcony and everyone within the institute was so kind. It was my favorite place to go before and after (and occasionally in place of) class. Not only was I able to apply my science knowledge but I could take what I was learning in my advanced conversation class like colloquial phrases and directly use them (or attempt to) with my lab. I always enjoy lab work and research more than I do lectures and therefore my lab in the United States is where I feel the most at home so overall the CABD was a nice home away from home for the semester.

The CABD was amazing! I loved everything about it from the building to the people, to the research itself. The center was a great internship placement everyone there was so kind and willing to teach me everything in Spanish so I could learn Spanish and new science techniques at the same time. The experience was great, the lab was run completely in Spanish which made excelling in the language so easy. My boss or principal investigator was so kind and allowed me to learn so much in the lab while allowing me to be independent and complete my very own project. My lab partners were not only my lab partners but my best friends in Spain I did everything with them from going out to get tapas and having dessert at their apartment after work, to attending their birthday parties and even Feria de Abril. My relationship with them hasn’t ceased I talk to all of them on a regular basis in both Spanish and English they are still my best friends.

How are you translating your experience to the next steps in your educational journey?

I am returning to Seville in September to attend one of my lab partners doctoral thesis defense, and during this time I will be staying with my host mom, which I am very excited about. I am also applying for a Fulbright study research grant for the 2017 academic year to return to Seville to work in the same lab in the CABD. Following this I hope to earn a PhD in Developmental Biology which is what the CABD is centered on as a Developmental Biology institute.

What advice would you give to a prospective abroad program participant?

My best piece of advice for anyone thinking about or wanting to study/intern abroad is leave your comfort zone for the semester. If you go abroad with your closest friends also make new friends, if you don’t know anyone make new friends, try new things, travel new places, and if you’re wanting to learn the language in the country talk to people… talk to everyone. Do not be nervous that you will make a mistake because most people are also learning a foreign and mistakes are how you will learn – no one will think any less of you for making a mistake but rather they will think more of you for trying to learn their language! For me I made constant mistakes at first while working with a center full of native speaker while living in a homestay with a mother who knew no English, but I got better and that is what I wanted. Study Abroad will be whatever you want to be so go out and live the experience however you want to!

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