Mariah Coxwell
2009-10 Outbound to Spain

Hometown: Callahan, Florida
School: West Nassau HS
Sponsor: Jacksonville Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Alicante Rotary Club, District 2203, Spain

Mariah's Bio

¡Me llamo Mariah, y yo voy a España!

I love it when I have the chance to inform someone that I'm going off to Spain for a year. It's really a dream come true, an opportunity of a lifetime, being given the chance to go abroad for a year. And I am so incredibly grateful! The sense of pride and anticipation I feel is simply magnificent. Thanks again and again to everyone making this possible.

Where I currently live, in the very small town of Callahan in North Florida, there are only two stoplights, and everybody knows everybody. I have quite a large family, with five brothers and two sisters. My house is constantly in motion, filled with three rambunctious little boys, two laughter-filled sisters, a comical 16-year-old brother and two amazing parents who deserve awards for their years of hard work. My older brother is married and in the U.S. ARMY, stationed in Alaska. The support from my family is truly phenomenal. My friends are awesome about everything too. Everyone has been with me 100%, because they all know this is exactly what I've always wanted to do, and that I will not only benefit myself, but others as well through this process and following.

I'm in love with travel, trying odd foods, and meeting new people. I also absolutely love to sing and to laugh. I easily identify the beauty in my surroundings and I always have a smile on my face. I am so intrigued with the idea that I am going to become bilingual. For awhile, I really had no clue concerning what I wanted to do with my life after high school. At last I have the self-assurance that I’ve longed for. I know this experience will open doors to things which I cannot even fathom. I can’t wait to share this life-changing experience with others!

Mariah's Journals

October 5 Journal

I would like to list some of the things that have happened in the past few weeks. I have almost been in Spain for a month now, and it really has flown by.

Since I arrived here, in my new city of Alicante, the beauty has simply enchanted me. Taking the bus to the center of the city is amazing, I get a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean Sea lined with mountains and fantastic sky scapes. I also love taking walks (adventures) or meeting friends at the beach. The atmosphere is so relaxing and almost like a dream.

Yes, jet lag killed me for the first two days. But here most people like to enjoy what is called a "siesta", which is an afternoon nap, something I partake in almost daily, when I do not have prior engagements with friends or language class. Siesta is one of my favorite things about this culture, along with the food.

While my first weeks here have been sometimes difficult, missing home or struggling with the language, my host father is always there to make me laugh. Now, I do not always understand his jokes in Spanish, but I do recognize some and I love hearing the English words he attempts to use every now and then. It brings me great joy to hear the strong accent and to joke around with my host family.

Ah, my first day of school.. I get introduced to some people by my new neighbor, Javier, then follow my new friends to find my class. And this year, new to the school, they have to move around classes, even though the kids in the class are nearly all the same. So, I end up following people everywhere, and it almost always works out nicely. Unless I happen to walk to the bathroom or take my attention away from whoever I am following, then I am in trouble. But, as I slowly explain in my best Spanish that I have this or that class and that I am an exchange student, I always get pointed in the right direction. People are super nice here, very helpful, which I appreciate so much. And soon enough I will have all of the locations of classrooms down. Until that time, I will follow whoever I can.

I have been lost quite a few times, I have walked more in one day than I would a week in Florida, and I have struggled with my confidence as far as speaking Spanish. Yet every circumstance always teaches me, strengthens me, and molds me more and more into who I am, or rather who I will be. I would not realize how incredible my life is and how important the people are around me if I did not have to go through some hardships. And so far they seem to pay off quite nicely by the way.

Have I mentioned the food? I think I did already, but it deserves the attention. I eat so much organic, fresh food that tastes so wonderful. It is definitely a key to my heart. Which I know I have to be careful, having a love affair with the food.. But really, as much as I walk, I think I will be just fine.

Language school is a great thing for me. Well, for anybody. I am in a class that lasts two hours every Monday and Friday, with men and women (and one other teenager) from China, from Germany, Austria, England, etc.. and I am loving getting to know people who are all having to learn a foreign language like me!

Many times I have had language miscommunications, like asking for "butter" for dessert instead of the postre I meant to vocalize. Every single day, I have at least one moment that sends me on an emotional high, something makes me laugh hard, or something beautiful takes my breath away.

Well, I must go eat, ¡hasta luego!

December 13 Journal

Hola, ¿Que tal? Quiero a explicar a mi vida a todos ustedes.. I'm afraid this journal is a little bit overdue. Nevertheless, I will try to elaborate as much as I can on all that has happened in the past 2 months. As with every exchange student, I'm experiencing a serious mental block trying to function in all English, because my brain is now getting accustomed to processing and outputting Spanish words, phrases, and sounds. Yet, with college coming in my near future, I must exercise the two languages as much as I can.

So, October was an eventful month. My host family and I, along with two other families, visited the southernmost autonomous community of Andalucía, in the city of Córdoba for a nice 4-day weekend. We saw so many amazing things, including the Mesquita of Córdoba, something that I consider another Wonder of the World. The Mesquita, or Mosque, is also a Cathedral, so it includes Moorish Muslim influence as well as Roman Catholic (it was built Muslim then overtaken by Catholic rule). I'd never seen something so huge and so different; it's difficult to explain its intensity. Pictures don't suffice, as the place breathed with ancient history, with faith and humanity. The city was very compact in the center, as the streets were nearly too narrow for most cars, and neighbors could practically reach across to the other side. We visited many old gardens and patios, which were gorgeous, we ate lots of authentic Andalusian cuisine, and heard not only Southern Spanish dialect, but overheard many other languages coming from Muslims, Brits, Americans, French, etc.. The trip was something I will never forget. It was a place very alive, full of tourists, pubs, and more importantly, a remarkable history.

Time between September and now really has flown by. And during so, the weather has been amazing. Yeah, being from Florida, the Sunshine State (or as the Spanish inquire frequently "it's the Land of Flowers, ¿no?") I'm used to relatively mild weather. But HERE, there's less humidity, more sun (can you imagine) and it actually has been warmer these past few weeks than in North Florida. I've been at the beach close to my house 4 times in the past week and a half. I love it. So, I'm loving the weather, the time is flying by, and my life here is becoming natural and normal.

Something else this experience is providing me with is a better appreciation for EVERYTHING. I was already a very grateful person, but now my eyes have been opened to so many more things. "Gratitude is the memory of the heart", and my heart is full, getting fuller, soon to overflow with so much. I see such a bigger picture now. I appreciate genuine, deep, laughter like nothing else. I know to laugh is something universal, but it takes new form and provides new feeling when this other language evokes it. That is where I find great joy. Laughing with my friends, or at my host father's jokes, or just at myself when I mess up. The feeling is priceless.

Thanksgiving came quick, and almost passed without notice. Since nobody celebrates it here I really had to put on my English thinking cap (as silly as that sounds) and focus on what I was thankful for, as well as take a little time to eat some good old American apple pie and go out for turkey wraps at my favorite little Kebap restaurant.. not exactly your average Thanksgiving meal, but it worked for me and my 2 American amigos. It felt so good to focus all of my energies on the fact that I am in Spain, learning a new language, and meeting amazing people.

To be blind to the obvious blessings is to be ignorant to the truth. I am embracing what I have been given, and enjoying and learning from this year as much as I possibly can. I will never be able to say "thank you" enough. To my parents, to Rotary, to my host family: what you all do is greater than money, knowledge, power. You provide kids like me with dreams come true.

En fin, Alicante is my city. I don't get lost any more, I give strangers directions. I don't mind walking anymore, as it provides me with endless places to see. You cannot take the car out on the rocks and cliffs on the Mediterranean, you must walk. It is fantastic. I think more than I ever have, about EVERYTHING. So much goes through my brain, as is my heart and my spirit. Every situation I go through is a learning process. I laugh, I stress, I cry, I breath, I grow. Y mi vida es la vida que me encanta.

Did I mention, I am known as "María" now? It's so very Spanish! I introduce myself and people assume I'm Española. ¡Qué felíz estoy!

February 28 Journal

"La vida es eso

que te pasa mientras

tu intentas

hacer otra cosa."

These past months have been filled with more than imaginable. I have spoken to more strangers in my host language than I thought possible, making new friends constantly, and new memories to last me a lifetime. The greatest component of all is that I can laugh in my language, as well as cry, dream and really feel. I'm living Spanish.

By no means however has the time passed with such ease and felicity always, as this is still reality I'm living in, believe it or not. Each day poses new challenges for me (some uncomfortable or difficult) which provide brand new learning experiences. There are really tough moments in which I have to focus and purpose myself, since there is nobody here to tell me what to do. In this way I am understanding how to make decisions and cope with new situations. (Provided by my mistakes, since I am all about the trial and error theory.)

Like the quote above, "La Vida", this life I am living is occurring before my eyes, during time in which I am trying to do other things. It's showing me to stop and behold the beauty in everything. I can appreciate the littlest things now, and realize I must not take a single second for granted, nor person, decision, etc.

Now I take much pride in being able to have a phone conversation in Spanish, something that upon arrival made me feel nauseous, incredibly nervous, and uneasy. It's funny, how things of the past look to me, now that I've advanced my language skills more than I perceived possible. I love it when my host mom or dad calls me at the house asking if I can make them dinner, or when I can give to an intellectual conversation. It even further gives me pride and joy to meet new people on the bus, or to be mistaken for a Spaniard. Those are great moments. Priceless moments.

It's a little bit tough to recall certain events to tell from the past few months, as there have been numerous. And now that life here is absolutely normal and natural, the days and months passing are quicker and more routine. Scheduling my flight home is the last thing I want to do, with a summer in Spain ahead of me. But life is composed of seasons, not only those that have to do with the sun's relationship with our home earth, but also seasons of life: of different friendships, learning experiences, of love, joy, that's living. And this season I am in is, for lack of an English adjective, impresionante. Lo mejor año de mi vida. A season of growth, love, and admiration.

Okay, so I'm going to try and recall some interesting events ... and chill out with the flowery talk of peace and love, though I go on for days like that.

I took part in a gigantic fiesta called Carnaval two weeks ago, something most of the Spanish really do up right. Every single person was dressed in any sort of extravagant costume, some men dressed as women Flamenco dancers, some mid-Western Cowgirls, a handful of blue Avatars--you name it I saw it. My friend Anna and I were "mariposas", or butterflies. All night long we had people shouting "¡mariposa, mariposa!"..a great time indeed. Carnaval is a few days of festivities but the main night was Saturday before last. It's a celebration of sorts right before Catholic Lent begins, a time to get everyone together for big concerts and dancing in the streets and simply enjoying the massive fiesta. Although we were still in the winter, people crowded even the beach to get their party on.

This past week, the beach has been absolutely beautiful. It's certainly not hot enough to go take a dip in the sea, but the sun is heavenly. I've got a feeling I'll return to Florida with a better tan than most, and that's saying a lot being from the Sunshine State. Sunsets here are also dream-like and breathtaking.

And this morning, my mind stumbled across something, an epiphany of sorts. I got here in September of 2009, and began to count the days, trying to find an end to something that seemed so endless. Attempting to put a structure to something alien and unknown. And now that we're nearly in March of 2010, I see my days here counting down. So it hit me, what nonsense this counting is, when all that really matters is living in the moment, in the now. What is planning for the future or looking back into the past when all action comes about in the present, the always alive, never dormant reality of the moment. So I continue, living for today.