With a co-major in international business and a minor in Spanish, I had known that I wanted to study in Spain since my freshman year. I lived and studied in Sevilla, a city of 700,000 inhabitants situated on the Guadalquivir river in Andalucia, the southernmost region of Spain. Over the course of the semester, I fell in love with the city, and the people I befriended. Through my classes at the University of Sevilla, I took a deep dive into the economy and structure of the European Union and studied the language and history of the country in a literature course. However, some of my most entertaining and interesting experiences came from the moments I spent with Maria del Carmen, my host mother.
For five months, my Spanish mother and I shared a flat in a twelve-story building not far from the Sevilla football stadium. We became very close and often talked about her life in Spain. After 70 years, she had seen much change in the country. She was born in Sevilla during the reign of the dictator, Francisco Franco, and her family was rather resistant during his rule. She told stories of the machismo culture that persisted at that time. Women’s rights were certainly limited. To leave the city required the written consent of her father and she often had to travel in the company of one of her brothers. Thankfully, her father was in favor of women’s rights at the times and he even bought her a car. I remember her smiling as she recalled her solo road trips that left men in awe as they saw a woman driving alone.
Maria del Carmen was also very vocal and active in opposition to Franco’s regime. During her time as a student at the University of Sevilla, she helped organize and participated in protests. When the mounted police arrived to disband the students, she told me that they poured dry beans and olive oil onto the streets. As a result, the horses would slip and fall, along with the police, and the students would escape. Unfortunately, during one protest, an officer caught her and hit her knee with a baton. As a result, she’s been walking with a cane for most of her life. But this only fanned the flames of her resilience. Maria del Carmen was a theatre major, and she travelled throughout Andalucia to organize plays and satires against the regime. Whenever the police arrived, she and her fellow actors would flee to the next city. She was truly an inspiring woman.
At 70 years of age, my host mom was still incredibly active in championing the rights of the people. On International Women’s Day, she was back on the streets in front of city hall with thousands of others. She was such an incredible influence on my semester abroad and an incredible influence on my personal life. We still maintained contact and I look forward to returning to visit her.