Gregory "Greg" Collins
2010-11 Outbound to Spain

Hometown: Fleming Island, Florida
School: Fleming Island High School
Sponsor: Fleming Island Rotary Club, District 6970, Florida
Host: Benahavis-Costa del Sol Rotary Club, District 2203, Spain

Greg's Bio

I’m so excited to be writing this bio because this means it’s official -- I’m going to Spain! Since I found out this dream come true, it’s been one Wikipedia search after another to learn everything I can about anything Spanish. Jeez, Wikipedia is super addictive! I just can’t help myself because I’ve found Spain to be incredibly diverse with an overwhelming sense of fun and festivity. I CAN NOT WAIT to get started on my journey! I am so grateful for this tremendous opportunity that Rotary has given me. I plan to take advantage of every minute of it; be it running and screaming down the cobblestone streets of Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls, or merely sitting here, today, dreaming about it.

I live in the quiet suburbs of Jacksonville in a place called Fleming Island, tennis courts and pool access included. I have a mom, dad, and sister. I usually spend my time living the Florida lifestyle with lots of beach trips, sports (in the water and out of it), and no White Christmases. My father is an airline pilot so we travel a lot, but only for short trips (2 to 5 days tops), making it impossible to fully immerse myself in the culture of the foreign city and country. We stay just long enough to speed over to the city’s famous art museums and important buildings and then take off for someplace else. Of all the countries to explore I have always been the most interested in Spain and Spanish culture, and now I have the time and opportunity to fulfill that dream. With my enthusiasm and confidence I am sure I can make this dream into a workable, livable reality.

Spain has an immense amount of influence on the world and even my home state here in Florida. To see the Spanish influence on Florida you needn’t look any farther than its name. Florida actually means “land of flowers” in Spanish. They were the first explorers and conquerors of the Indian masses, taking over large parts of the Americas which (gasp!) included Florida. The many Cubans, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans who populate the state are Spanish in origin and language. Spain is the seed which all Latin American culture has sprouted from. As much as I love Latin culture, I love its mother culture even more.

Learning to speak Spanish fluently will also help me help my community. When I get back I plan to work as a translator for The Way free clinic in Green Cove. It is a great charity organization which fills basic medical needs for lower income families including many Hispanics. They need translators to make sure they clearly understand their symptoms and give them the proper medical help.

Rotary, thank you so much for choosing me to work as an ambassador of the US in Spain. I can’t believe I have to wait a whole eight months to get started on my journey.



Greg's Journals

August 19

Y´know I think foreign exchange is kind of like skydiving. You can either start flailing and shriek´, ´´NO NO NO IM GONNA DIEEE!´´.... or you can really go for it and have the time of your life. Here I was, on a plane from Brussels to Malaga attempting to communicate with a guy that spoke neither english nor spanish and I suddenly realize..... I´m in the air.

 I LOVE YOU MOMMY!! Because my mom is probably my most avid reader, I just wanted to tell her that. Well Brussels airport was an adventure. From the urinals that are shaped like those ultra-modern egg-shaped chairs and all of extremely beautiful shops to how they liked to spontaneously change my gate to the other side of airport they liked to make things exciting. I frantically ran to the other side of the airport while Justin Bieber played over the loudspeakers.

I got to Malaga in one piece on August 14th and met my family. They´re all really great people and I´m really excited. Tatiana is 16 just like me but she´s leaving for Minnesota August 20th (sad face). La Feria del Malaga is going on now so I get to hang out with Tatiana and her friends and dance the night ,and part of the day, away. I owe you one Tati! We get home at like 6 o´clock in the morning which is just perfect for me because I´m still on US time. After so many hours every day of dancing I´ve learned how to dance! Now I know what your thinking....´´ Greg, you know how to dance now? with that plus your devilish good looks you must get all the girls!´´ The thing is actually I learned how to ¨´´dance´´, not ´´dance well´´. As any self-respecting Spaniard will tell you, there is a difference. haha

 La Feria Del Malaga is a weeklong holiday. We need more weeklong holidays in the US por favor. This holiday is made up of two parts... During the day there are festivities in the center of town. There are live performances, bull fights every day, and lots to see and do. However, that is not La Feria Del Malaga. La Feria Del Malaga is the one at night at the edge of the city. Half of the fleet of buses in the city are running to La Feria and the other half are running back to the homes. La Feria is all lights and huzzahs. It obviously has an ENORMOUS fair-like section which is definitely the biggest fair I´ve ever seen with its got four small rollar coasters and countless rides and attractions. The side we went to mostly though was even more interesting... They had set up makeshift clubs in the middle of nowhere complete with bouncers and dance floors! And I´m not just saying one or two. There are rows upon rows of these things. Each have their own unique style. The only difference between these and regular clubs is these don't actually have ceilings.... or stable walls. ´

 So I have to admit even though I feel like a girl saying, it was really hard for me to decide what clothes to bring. I´m sorry but I just couldn't leave without my t-shirts. wouldn't have been right. I believe in ´´No T-shirt left behind´´ so I ended up bringing like my entire closet of them. Funny thing is, people don´t wear t-shirts outside of their homes here. No matter how classy and high-end my tuxedo t-shirt is, it just doesn´t make the cut here in Spain. One time when me and Tatiana were going out I tried to wear a very nice Ralph Lauren T-shirt. She said (in translation) ´´Get dressed´´ and I said (also translated),´´ I am dressed´´. She started freaking out like I just shot somebody and before I knew it, I was in a button down.

 Now its 5:12 in the morning here and Tatiana (plus another Spaniard going to Minnesota and the family) are heading to the airport. I was ready to go with them but either the car was too small or I was too big. Either way its time to go back to sleep. Here´s Greg signing out.

...  Here´s Greg signing on. In the last two hours I went for a run and ate a bocadillo (glorified version of a sandwich). I thought of some extra memories to tell you all about and even though I´m delusionally tired I´m writing them down. Only for you Rotary!

My next topic is an extremely serious one. I´ve come to find that Malaga is being controlled from behind the scenes by a group with potential mafia connections. Only at night can you see whos truly in power. That´s right. Cats. If your out at night in Malaga you have a right to be afraid. Not of robbers..... of rabies. Everywhere you go there are packs of these little sirens ready to strike. There are the super cute lil´ kitten ones and the semi-scary miniature pumas. All look like they just want someone to pick them up and start petting them... that is until you get in their paw zone. Then they scratch the hell out of your hand until you need serious medical attention. Do all European cities have kitty problems? Because there is definitely too many homeless cats here. If you want a new cat or two (or a dozen) don´t go to the pet store. Come to Malaga, Spain.

 So yesterday was Tatiana´s last day in Malaga, so I decided to make her a Florida style Key Lime Pie! Turns out they don´t have pie crusts in Spain (or half of the ingredients in the recipe) so everything had to be done from scratch. Pilar showed me how to make the pie crust and I figured out how to make Key Lime Pie with only half of the ingredients. We threw some extra stuff in there hoping that they would make good substitutes, and guess what? they did! Only problem was the crust was really buttery like a croissant. Butter and Lime isn´t actually the best combo so instead of eating it as a pie, we had key lime pudding. delish.

August 28

Hello America. (Or small group of friends and family. whatever.)

I´m here to explain in excruciating detail the second leg of my adventure in Spain. Because of the rave reviews (mostly from my Mom and Grandma) I have decided to write so much that upon reading it you will stand up and suddenly understand exactly how to flamenco dance... PS please don´t ask me how to flamenco dance. I have no idea.  

I didn´t know this but to dance the Flamenco you need one of those little Japanese fans. The women here not only use them when they´re flamenco dancing (which they do surprisingly seldom) but also when they do anything else. These fans have a lot of holes all over them so I´m pretty sure you don´t get much airflow from waving them around. Maybe they´re just for waving. Which is cool too.

Pictures just don't do Ronda justice......

Yesterday, with many fan-waving women in tow, we made our way to Ronda which is the best pueblo blanco ever. A "pueblo blanco" is a town with all white buildings and they dot the andalucian countryside. Andalucia is a hot region so the people made white buildings with thick walls to insulate the buildings and keep them cool. They´re pretty much man-made caves.  Ronda is the best of the bunch with an unforgettable history and it´s own exacting culture. (I should write travel books). Looking past that it has a history going back to the Phoenicians in 900 BC and the fact that it was the birth place of bullfighting, It also looks like it´s from freakin´ Lord of the Rings. The city is built on a plateau split in two by a massive 30 story gorge with an epic bridge connecting the two. The cathedrals, a bull fighting ring with mystique, horse ride, and fantastic, unreal views. Everything was perfect. Everything minus one. Yep, tourists.

Dang tourists who aren´t me! The population of Ronda doubles in the summer because of the huge amount of day-trippers coming from the surrounding area. At least, unlike in Venice, the people like you. They are extremely happy to take your money.

The food of Spain are actually super different than I expected. Where are my burritos? Where are my jalipiño peppers? The actual food of Ronda of Andalucia and of Spain have a less obnoxious and more finessed nature to them. Less flames and more wine. I´m proud to say that I successfully tried rabo de toro (bull tail) and let me tell ya... it is delicious! It was so juicy that in the instant it glanced my tongue, it turned into a stew. (Maybe that´s because it´s like 100% fat or something) either way, its like chocolate and bacon had a baby in my mouth. I also learned how seriously the Spanish take their jamon (ham). It looks like bacon and when I said that at the restaurant, the family said if I keep talking like that I´m going to have to sit at my own table. They treat ham similar to how we treat good wine. The pigs are taken excellent care of and then they are slaughtered and mixed with salt and spices. This is then stored for several years until it is ready to eat. Unlike bacon, jamon is extremely soft like a pillow and (like the robo de toro) easily breaks down to juicy goodness. I guess the Spanish really like meat that you don´t even need to chew because this is the second one of the day.

For all you Ernest Hemingway fans (if you aren´t one you should be) Ronda is one of his favorite town and he some of his best stories were written about here. Other such notables who used Ronda as a place of inspiration for their works include Alexandre Dumas, David Wilkie, Orson Welles (buried in Ronda), and Rainer Maria Rilke. I would like to recommend you read A Dangerous Summer by Ernest Hemingway which immortalizes one of Ronda´s greatest matadors, shows you the inner struggles experienced by bull-fighters, and will make you cry while doing it. Three for the price of one.

Many of the writers look to the bull ring of Ronda for inspiration. As any true bull fighting enthusiast will tell you, the greatness of the sport is in the way the matadors gracefully dance with their powerful partners. They don´t think it is a sport at all because there is no winning or losing but is more alike to art. The Rondan bull ring is a true marvel and has been there for over 400 years.

Many people (especially in Barcelona) take a totally different view of bull fighting. Strangely, they think bulls actually have feelings like pain and that they don´t like being repeatedly stabbed with swords and spears. The response is that the bull doesn´t actually HAVE to go after the picadors and matadors, but even after getting stabbed they keep coming back for more. Also the bulls have much better lives than say.... steaks. Cows have to live in super close proximity and are killed in 9 months. Bulls get to roam the fields for several years before the fight. Also if they are exceptionally brave or don´t fight at all (whatever extreme you want) they will be allowed to go back to the fields for the rest of their life. So I dunno.... maybe I need to watch a bull fight to know which is right.

Barcelona must´ve seen a bull fight they didn´t like because they´re making bull fights illegal in Catalonia right now. Catalonian politicians are attempting to separate themselves more and more from the larger Spanish community. I´m not exactly sure what they want and I´m pretty sure they don´t know what they want either.

Systematically, all electronic devices are turning against me. When I arrived here my host family gave me a phone. I don´t have a phone anymore. Did I lose it? Did it get stolen? Did it break? No. No. And sort of. Actually my Spanish cell phone has lost it´s soul. It now wants a PIN number and it refuses to work until I get it. Problem is... I have no clue what the PIN number is. Rafael (my host dad) said he had it on a piece of red cardboard under the phone when I arrived. Ok. But we have a cleaning lady here which means that piece of cardboard didn´t have a chance. Yesterday, my camera also decided to stop working for no reason. Next was all the electricity in the house (at a time when its 104 degrees here.) I was ecstatically happy to accompany my second family on a trip to Marbella primarily because their car has air-conditioning.

I have two tourist books about Spain and both just cannot stand Marbella. One says," Marbella, once a humble fishing village, is an eyesore filled with tacky resorts." Good thing I´m a fan of tacky (I will take a trip to Las Vegas any day of the week). My second family is really cool and we had a great time barbaque-ing on the grill, swimming in the pool and ocean, and playing a very interesting hybrid of tennis and wall ball.

On a note of language frustration the people of Malaga have lost their S´s. Here it´s "Buena Noche" instead of "Buenas Noches. ¿Como eta? instead of ¿Como estas?. This is very confusing to me and i wish they would speak Español instead of Epañol. Thank you.

While traveling around and being with my host family I learn sooo much Spanish. but I want to learn much much more Spanish. Faster. That´s why I´m taking a two week Spanish course at the Insituto Malaca starting this Monday. Wish me luck!

November 25

I've started school and I´m proud to say I have mastered the English language better than anyone at my school! I can say that with confidence because 1) I can count in English higher than 20 and 2) I know all of my colors. What I´m trying to say is no one speaks any English here. Even my English teacher cannot speak English. It's like the blind trying to teach the blind over there. I´m helping them out a lot and I´m sure I'll have a lot more Spanish masters (by the requirements I specified above) in the next week or so.

So, I've been waiting with such anticipation for my first dream in Spanish but It hasn't happened yet. Yesterday however, my whole family overheard my sleep-talking/yelling , ¨AHHHH! MISQUITOS GIGANTES!¨ and sleep-talking/not yelling ,¨uno más cuatro son cinco.¨. (how these connect im not exactly sure.) Alright asleep Greg. I say that's close enough. Check in the box! whooo!

I´m going to make an exemption to my new ¨your not allowed to talk about things that would make people jealous¨ rule for Gibraltar. I´m sorry but that was just too amazing to leave out. They have wild monkeys! That's right Thailand, you are not the only one. The other Pillar of Hercules in Tangier looks close enough to touch and the people there speak a sweet and sour Spanish and English mix which is my new favorite language. Who knew there are actually people who speak Spanglish as a first language? They can start the sentence in English and end it in Spanish. They are like language DJ´s..... Awesome.

PS you know that Tacky Eyesore town named Marbella that I talked about in the last segment? I live there now! I actually really like it here with it here ( I've seen Antonio Banderes)

The Spanish really need to fail in some sports pretty soon because this is getting ridiculous. Top in Fútbol, top in Formula 1, winner of this year's tour de France, winners of motor racing, top of Europe in Basketball, Top in tennis..... I like sports but I can't watch this stuff all day! I don't why but I don't really like being number 1 because then you're supposed to win. It's no fun saying,¨ Yeah, beat those underdogs! Woof woof woof! Wooow who expected the team that was expected to win, to win? INCREDIBLE!¨ Good news is I know my soccer now. No not exactly the playing part but im a great spectator. I know all the teams in Europe. Who's good, who's bad, and who the heck is Zlaten Ibrahimouvic. I'll get to the ¨exactly knowing how to play¨ part of the game later. Right now there's some Champion's league to watch.

I´m always singing. Even when I´m not singing aloud, a song's bouncing around in my head or at the least some kind of commercial jingle. The problem is most of my backtrack of songs are in the English language. To combat this, I have learned a complete arsenal of Spanish songs. Yes, they are mostly Disney and world cup songs..... to be fair they're ALL Disney and world cup songs. Still worth it. They're just so easy to learn now! =)

According to Wikipedia, only 35 percent of Spain's citizens complete college. It has one of the worst educational programs in Europe. After reading this I was thinking, ¨ whooo hoo! eaaaasy A! (or 10. whatever.) So turns out the reason there is such a low success rate is because Bachalauriate is SO HARD. Like seriously everyone here knows how to study. 3 hours a day. every single day. I´m proud of myself if I look it over for 15 min the day of the exam.

The Spanish people are slowly but surely sabutaging my Spanish. Here they speak a dialect called Andaluz which is still considered Spanish..... just really really difficult to understand Spanish with loads of slang. Its Slanglish. As a greeting they say ¨Que paja io?¨ or ¨Que pa pisha?¨. Lets break these down for ya. The regular Spanish phrase is ¨Que pasa (nombre aqui)?¨ What happened to that? Well, the s turned into a j on the first one because the adalusion people really like j´s and ¨io¨ is from ¨tio¨ which means only uncle in Spanish,however in andaluz it means pretty much everything. ¨oye tio!¨ ¨Tioo!¨ ¨ Tioo, no deberías haber comido eso, solo era decoración tio¨. And the other one makes even less sense. Im pretty sure ¨pisha¨ means the same thing as ¨polla¨ but nothing is certain. This is Spain. Plus they really like to cuss here but its in Spanish which for some reason makes it seem totally normal to me.

Y hay algo mas? Well I'm living in San Pedro now, (a barrio of Marbella) and I´m with a really great family (they do not replace my real family but they do a nice job trying). We have Puerto Banus nearby which is a place with a great beach, six 5 star hotels, and pretty much a car show every single day along the water. I´m playing a lot of padle with my host brother at the local club. Padle has all the same rules as tennis except it is played on a smaller court and you can hit it off the walls makes it about twice as fun. Life is good. Hard and complicated but all-around good. Toda esta bien pero nada esta perfecto. I will be hearing from me by next month I promise ;) Don't sweat the small stuff cuz thats not what counts. You gotta keep going to what lifes all about.

March 1

I lied. You did not hear me by the next month. Sorry! I didn´t think that the journals would be so hard to keep track of when I first got here (hence two were written in the first month) but after a bit of time, it was getting much harder to separate my emotions in an easily understandable, logical manner.

Life gets really complicated really fast on exchange. I´m going to have to take AT LEAST a billion years of psychology to understand what I feel sometimes while I´m here separated from my parents and my American friends because it´s a rollar coaster. Seriously, yesterday I was crying about something and the next minute I was laughing until I cried (no, someone did not come cheer me up. yes, I am weird like that now.) I just thought of something that happened that day and it totally destroyed that great depressed feeling I had going on. I really felt good about it after I was done because I hadn't cried since the ¨YOUR ALL ROTARY EXCHANGE STUDENTS!¨ day and the Rotex speech. After the crying and the laugh/crying it was over I looked in the mirror (Don´t tell me you don´t do that. Your face gets all red and splotchy and for some really it wills you to look at it) and felt calm about what I needed to do and how I wanted to finish the rest of my exchange year and live my life.

My family and I went to Ponferrada for two weeks during the Christmas holiday and I had the best trip and new years of my life while still having time to have the worst Christmas Eve. Life is fickle that way. We got there on Christmas Eve and I went to dinner my host parents´ parents and their friends. Now just for that to settle in my host parents are 60 and 55. Their parents and their friends are in their late 80s early 90s. It was a very strange night between getting yelled at for being American and being told how ignorant and stupid Americans are. Then I went to bed. The end. haha it´s not exactly my ideal white Christmas fantasy. The next day was much much smoother. I met the other younger half of the family and they were all extremely hilarious and distinct. There were the ones that were pro-Franco, Monarchists, anarchists, socialists, and communists (my host parents). The pro-Francos wanted me to kiss their portrait of Franco and the anarchists wanted me to burn it. I said I´d give him a handshake but we didn´t know him well enough for first base yet. This joke satisfied almost everyone so I sat there in the middle awkwardly pleased. The food was as rich and diversified as the entertainment

That night I went out with my newly met host cousin and her friends. They were really fun but I´m starting to feel doubt in Spain's wildly inconsistent taste in music. They love techno and house music, but somehow balance that with a love for glam and hair heavy metal. The disco we went didn´t play any songs less heavy or more modern than ¨killing in the name of¨ by Rage Against the Machine. They had the Christmas Day NBA games on so, I watched Orlando Magic beat the Lakers and did victory dances to Moterhead and Metalica for the rest of the night.

The next day we went up into the mountains and on top of a giant dam. you could see of hundreds of miles around because other than the small mountain range there, Castille-Leon is as flat as Florida but without viewing obstacles such as houses or trees or life. It was actually one of the most incredible views that I had ever seen.... until I went on my daytripping tour of northeast Spain. After that the view from the dam seemed like an everyday occurrence like going to school or getting your hair cut (they just never do my hair exactly how I want it so I keep going back. I think they have a pretty good business model)

I´m just amazed how nice the people are here! They are like Canadians or something. If I ask a random person on the street where a good restaurant or tourist site is they don't just tell me. they show me, even when the place is like 6 blocks away. It´s like ¨hey can I take 30 min out of your day so you can bring me on a mini-tour of your town?¨ ¨Why sure random American who speaks Spanish!¨ They are that cool. Things are going well and I´m looking forward to the rest of the ride.

July 6

So finally it´s here! Summer. All the Spanish have been telling me that the Costa del Sol is the place to be during the summer with David Guetta at the discos and the beaches fill up with foreigners in bikinis.

Also finally all my friends in university get back from Salamanca, Madrid, Granada, and Barcelona. I was super excited. I´m pretty sure this was one of the first things they told me. "Heeyy so were you here for summer?" "Uh no." "Wow, man you missed out big." Summer fun is taken very seriously here. I couldn't wait for all the excitement to start. Too bad when they say ¨summer¨ they really mean ¨July and August¨. See, the thing is the majority of the universities in Europe don't let out all of their students until mid- July which for me is like a year without a Santa Claus or 4th of July (read: things not really celebrated in Spain). I

I´m leaving my home here on the 5th of July so times running out for me in la Costa del Sol but I like to think that I´m making space for another person to experience this great country.

July 26

As a truly profound philosopher once noted, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you're gonna get". Life is full of choices and results but sometimes these two do not correlate. Making a decision that seems to lead to happiness or enlightenment sometimes ends up leading somewhere unexpected. You may reach for that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find it to have all the charm of eating straight toothpaste.

 Foreign Exchange is like picking up that nice heart-shaped chocolate, which you are sure is caramel filled, only to find out..... it is not. At first bite you are thinking, "Hey this isn't what I bargained for! I'm a caramel kind of guy" but then you get to the second stage of it's sensation and it's much sweeter than it's initial state. It then wistfully dissolves with a bittersweet aftertaste left like a lump in the back of the throat. It's a much more complex flavor than that mere caramel you had beseeched the chocolate gods for. You then are forced to ponder.... what if I had chosen the caramel-filled one I had so wanted? As said by the great American poet Robert Frost,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

One symptom of reverse culture shock is a newfound struggle with the English language. To my immediate frustration and my friends infinite amusement, common English words that I've spent my whole life speaking now oafishly stumble along like my father after the magic tea cups ride. They vomit out but never in the order nor context that I desire. I can't even figure out a good style of writing to use for this journal. I want to play the role of the deep thinker in here but my own feelings and doubts are damaging the script!

I guess I'm going to have to get used to mixed feelings for a while. Can I seriously be pathetically overjoyed? Or happily depressed? Excited to be home but sad to have left all my friends in Spain ? There is a moment of reflection at the end of any trip but this year in Spain will probably keep me contemplative for years to come. This poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth helps put into perspective the feelings I have for Spain and the hope I feel to come back to it someday...

What is once loved

You will find

Is always yours

From that day.

Take it home

In your mind

and nothing ever

Can take it away.

With pride I can report that I am now a much greater help at the Way Clinic in Green Cove Springs. I volunteer as a translator for the medical staff and check the patients in for treatment. Without this year abroad It wouldn't have been possible to help as much as I am now. Thankfully, with the help of the RYE Florida program I have this opportunity to volunteer at a great organization and be a benefit to our community.