A Glimpse Into Our First Day in San Sebastián

By Sameera Jangala

Running on 3 hours of sleep and a powerful dose of Tylenol, I suddenly find myself seated on the bus to San Sebastián. The gentle hum of the engine and the endless winding roads lull me to sleep, but the views of the Basque countryside have captured my full attention. Valleys upon valleys of luscious greenery surround us. Speckled upon the scenery are small villages and towns, settled at the base of the mountains that envelope them. I try to soak in the little details–tiny red-roofed houses, sheep grazing the hills, locals hanging their clothes out to dry–but words are not enough to capture the moment.

There is a feeling of peace in this city. The days are not rushed, but relished. There is beauty in how slow the days go, giving us the time to be present in the moment. We wake up early the next morning to bike into town and grab breakfast before our first Spanish class. I had not ridden a bike in a while–I forgot how freeing it was. The wind whips through my hair as we pedal through the city. The beach looms into view, and I cannot help but stare in awe. Alas, I keep my eyes on the road so as to not run into an innocent passerby.

My stomach grumbles as we stop at La Tahona, a bakery not far from class. Rows of pastries line the display case as the smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the air. After much consideration, I grab a chocolate croissant and a glass of pineapple juice–a decision that I thank myself for later on.

Pastries at La Tahona

Upon arrival at Lacunza, our language school, we are greeted by a chorus of “Hola”s and bright smiles. I take my seat in class feeling a bit nervous. My Spanish was rusty from years of not using it. As we converse, it comes back little by little. I learn that my deskmates are from Luxembourg and England, and had come to San Sebastián to improve their language skills as well. It feels good to be immersed in the language once again, but it is even better to be able to use it to interact with so many different people that I would have never otherwise crossed paths with.

After class ends, we change into our bathing suits and head to Ondarreta Beach. The water is crystal clear. It changes shades of blue, gradually becoming darker as the ocean fades into the skyline, which is interrupted by islands lush with blooming foliage. The clouds from earlier in the morning had cleared, the sun now beating down on us as we swim and walk along the shore. The smell of salt sticks to my hair and my clothes–a reminder that I am actually here and not living a dream.

Later in the evening, we head to La Parte Vieja, or “The Old Town”, where we attend a walking tour of the city. The streets are bustling with excitement as people weave in and out of bars and stores, oftentimes with a glass of wine or a cone of gelato in hand. It is close to 8, but the sun has not even begun to set and the scene is as lively as ever. Professor Z acts as our translator as we follow our guide through the narrow walkways, learning of the history behind each of the buildings and art installations. The Basques take a great deal of pride in preserving their past for future generations, made evident by the brilliant architecture lining the streets. As the tour concludes, we head to the first pintxo bar we can find in search of dinner, and then finish off with a gelato for dessert.

A church in La Parte Vieja

Biking back to the hotel, we again pass the beach–this time lit up by the city lights. We pull over and sit along the railing, appreciating the view. High tide sends waves crashing into the stone wall, white foam reaching our toes before being pulled quietly back to sea. Conversation, laughter, and music fill the air as we venture onto the beach to scavenge for seashells. Up until now, this whole experience had felt surreal, as if I were watching a movie of someone else’s life. But as I stand here, with my hands sandy and full of shells, surrounded by a group of wonderful people, I realize just how lucky I am to be living it.

Picture taken post seashell collection session


Follow UMass Lowell students as they take learning outside the classroom and are exposed to structured situations and experiences through a Humanities lens in San Sebastian, Spain.

Chosen as the 2016 European Capital of Culture, San Sebastian offers students the best of both worlds: a modern Europe-an city with an Old Quarter that preserves its rich legacy of history and culture.

Students will be immersed in the culture of San Sebastian through field trips and excursions, on-site lectures, an examination of Basque and Spanish history, politics, culture, geography, cuisine, literature, cinema, sport, and art.

To learn more please visit our About the Program page or contact us.