Studying in Seville brings personal and professional benefits to Northwestern student

December 12, 2016 | Joelle Ziemian
Alexandra Karahalios (left) has been capturing every moment of her semester in Seville.

Alexandra Karahalios (left) has been capturing every moment of her semester in Seville.

Each Tuesday morning, sophomore Alexandra Karahalios walks the ancient streets of Seville — from home to classes at 500-year-old University of Seville to her internship at an NGO, where she works with disabled adults. She is deepening her language skills and giving back to a community she has come to love during her JYS academic semester — and building her CV at the same time.

Karahalios, a native of Northfield, Ill., is a political science and Spanish major at Northwestern University. She is one of 14 JYS students spending the semester immersed in Spain’s culture. Sweet Briar College established JYS — the Junior Year in Seville — in 1983 and each year hosts students from colleges across the U.S. for a semester or full year.

Studying beside Spanish peers at the University of Seville and living with host families, the JYS students have embraced their academic and community life. Most of the group has chosen to volunteer or intern at a nonprofit or business.

Karahalios volunteers at Asociacion Tandem, a warm and welcoming organization providing disabled adults with tangible work and interpersonal skills through occupational therapy. Tandem’s approach is to meet the individual needs of each disabled student by understanding their individual personalities, strengths and goals. Tandem offers swim and dance lessons, sophisticated art creation and sewing. Staff accompanies the disabled students on excursions to restaurants and elsewhere in Seville. All these activities help students collaborate, communicate and resolve conflicts so they will thrive in the workplace.

Karahalios didn’t choose the work to deepen her CV; that is a side benefit. Rather, her goal was to demonstrate that her Spanish fluency allows communication with colleagues as well as classmates.

Karahalios with Pili at Tandem, where she interned.

Karahalios with Pili at Asociacion Tandem

What she did not expect was how passionate she would become about the work.

“I’ve loved the opportunity to work with these teachers and get to know the students, who are some of the most positive, kind-hearted, inspiring people I’ve ever met. They’ve given me a different perspective through which I’ve learned more about the Spanish language and culture, but also the importance of patience, communication, honesty, and the importance of enjoying and appreciating my life on a daily basis, rather than waiting for the ‘big moments’ to come around.”

Karahalios says that the semester abroad would not be as fulfilling or complete without volunteering at Tandem.

She says she’s loved every second of her time in Seville. She was astounded by how warm and inviting the city is, even though Seville is the country’s fourth largest. Seville is the capital of Andalusia.

“I have loved the experience even more than I thought I would,” Karahalios says. “I’ve really enjoyed the way of life in Seville. Although the stereotype that those from Andalusia don’t work and spend all day relaxing is not true, I have noticed that the sevillanos in general tend to enjoy life more and take advantage of the day-to-day.”

The JYS student has grown close to her host family. They linger over meals and spend a lot of time talking about life. She will always consider them family.

Seville’s people and culture have seeped into Karahalios’ heart and she will be sad to leave at the end of semester, only two weeks away. She wishes she could study and work with Tandem for the rest of the academic year, but she knows she will return to Seville to live there after graduation.

Field trips to historic sites are a big part of the experience for JYS students.

Field trips to historic sites are a big part of the JYS experience.

Seville is part of her now.

Karahalios plans to eventually attend law school and become an immigration lawyer. Immigration issues are an interest because back in Chicago, she volunteered and taught citizenship classes in Chicago’s North Side.

College students who choose to study abroad always say the experience changes them in unexpected ways. They return home different people than when they boarded the airplane at the beginning of the semester or year.

For Karahalios, that could not be more true.

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