I thought I was prepared.
• I had my long awaited Blazer, complete with a few scattered pins, a shiny new name badge, and those fancy cards we all received at the second orientation in June.
• I had my camera in an easy access pocket (for me, not pickpockets), in my carry-on bag, ready when I needed it.
• I had spent countless hours reading up on the journals of past exchange students to Spain, to discover any and all secrets of the country I would soon call my temporary home. Greetings, Manners, and customs alike.
• I knew just about everything I could about my host family, with the help of emails, Facebook, and the ever so popular Skype.
• I had prepared an Adios Fiesta with the help of my friends and family, for a final send off.
• I had read and re-read "An Exchange Student's Survival Guide", and tried to mentally prepare myself for any and all situations ahead.
But even with the phenomenal guidance and assistance from Rotex, Outbound orientations, Google Translate, and Al Kalter, nothing can fully prepare you for what is sure to be the most intense, spectacular, trying year of your life, thus far.
• Sure I had my camera at the ready, but not even Kodak can capture the beauty that is a Mediterranean sunrise, viewed during a walk with your host mom.
• I had known that goodbyes would be hard and Kleenex would most definitely be making an appearance, but wasn't warned to bring the extra four or five travel packs for the "Climate Change Cold" I happened to experience just three days before school started.
• I had "researched" for lack of a better, less creepy word, my host family, but emails can't tell you about the warm fuzzy feeling you suddenly find in your "corazon" when your host mom calls you "cariño" or loved one, before your go to bed on your third night of your new life. Skype doesn't introduce you to the giddiness that shoots through you when your host brother introduces you as his "American Sister".
• And though I had practically memorized passages of "An Exchange Student's Survival Guide", simple words on paper can't ready you enough for the emotions experienced after your first day of school in a country previously unknown.
-Giddy, because there is a group of people who find you fascinating and foreign, and take you in within 5 minutes of the first bell ringing.
-Anxious, to Skype with your biological family (a term you have given to them, for you now have two) and tell them all about it.
-Frustrated beyond anything, because you don't have enough words in your new vocabulary to try and explain to your host family that English Oral Class is probably your favorite, but not for the reasons they assume. It wasn't because it's English, and you finally completely understand something for the first time in two long, trying weeks, but because there were 25 other lovely students who were right next to you, in your exact situation. Struggling to comprehend and understand a literal different language, in order to move forward. 25 other amigos who gladly offered their assistance with Spanish, if you could help with pronunciation in English.
-And so so so tired, for many different reasons, but this is the kind of tired one can get and be so extremely excited because of all those reasons, knowing that something incredible will come as an end result.
There will be hard days, and there will be harder nights, when the only thing you crave is a hug from your mom and dad, and sisters of course. I haven't forgotten you Holly and Jenna! When the only thing you feel like doing with your friends is showing them that you can, in fact, do something with the brain power of a normal 17 year old, and take a drive to Chick-Fil-A. But one month in and I'm convinced that the brighter days will out-number the dark. The days full of smiles so big they hurt, and laughter so jovial you can't believe you haven't known these people all of your life.
So, I am finally prepared. Bring on the times, good and bad, because without both we wouldn't experience what is sure to be the most thrilling, challenging and rewarding year of our lives.
The days full of smiles so big they hurt, and laughter so jovial you can't believe you haven't known these people all of your life.
January 22, 2012
Long time, no write, right?
I distinctly recall thinking to myself as I read the journals of last year's out bounds, that perhaps I wouldn't be overwriting, but certainly I would be an exchange student that sent in their required journal every three months. As there has been a four month gap in between my first journal and this one, it's obvious that that is a whole lot of an easier said than done. Most cases end up being that there is so much going on during the year abroad, that no one has time to sit down and write all about it. Sometimes even the thought of sitting down to scribe a well written, thought out email for those expectantly waiting back home can be frightening. I'll tell you all honestly, thinking about getting settled in to write a grammatically correct, spell check proved journal scared me a bit. But exchange is all about discovering new things about another people, learning about another culture, and about discovering, learning and growing the most about yourself, so here it goes.
Spain is literally not at all what I expected, and in that statement brings us to my dad's favorite quote. "Don't make expectations". Seemed like a load of wisdom and philosophy when said to me back home, but had I followed that excellent advice, I don't think I would have been quite as shocked as I was when I discovered that the Spaniard population doesn't eat rice and beans every day, don't go running with the bulls each weekend, and that the popular dance of Flamenco is not danced by every man, woman, and abuela here in Spain. They don't shout ¡Ole! after every phrase stated (that was specifically for YOU, my dear Maya) , soccer is not loved by each and every Spaniard (though nearly all of them), and I've actually eaten less spicy food here in five months than in six years in Florida.
These past five months certainly not have been vacation months, and I do believe I've worked harder at learning this beautiful language than anything else I've ever been taught in my life. Now that we've almost reached the end of January, and I have no idea what you need to be able to do to be considered "conversationally fluent", or all out fluent, but I can tell you that I understand 99.9% of everything that is said to me, everything that I read, and most recently, my proudest accomplishment is being able to randomly listen in to conversations and understand the rapid Spanish that flows from their "bocas". I have given multiple hour long presentations on the most random of topics, written multiple paged essays with less and less errors each time, and have little problem reading out loud in front of the class, the Rotary club, or my very own host family at the Christmas Dinner. It honestly makes me laugh at how nonsensical I must have sound ed back in Florida when I said I didn't want to try to speak with a Spanish accent, because I thought I would sound ridiculous. After nearly twenty weeks of studying, listening, reading, writing, DREAMING, and most of all speaking in Castilian, I still love the surprised and pleased look on people's faces when I start to speak to them in their language. I suppose it helped that the only people I speak in English with, are my parents, sisters, and friends from Florida through Skype. I was very determined in the beginning not to speak with anyone in English as to practice more right off the bat with Spanish, and have surprised myself with how well I've stuck to that! Of course, everyone wants help with their English homework, pronunciation etc, which I gladly give as they're so patient with me and give help to me all the time in Spanish. Though after so much time of not writing so much in English, I definitely don't feel as confident as I did before I left for my year abroad!
Next topic, school. I ended up getting lucky (in this aspect) with my school here. my town in Spain is a very popular tourist town, and nearly half of the tourists end up moving here to live. Because of this, there are forty nine different nationalities in my school here, in just 700 students! I've just recently found out that I honestly am the only American. I have friends from Poland, Colombia, China, Norway, Brasil, Argentina, Germany, Mexico, Finland, etc. The most amount of people come from Sweden, Morocco, England, and Russia. Because of this, I was lucky enough to get real Spanish classes here, as there are so many more people who need them as well. I have nine hours every week, and I really do enjoy them. As for outside of my language classes, I'm with the rest of my class in Second Baccalaureate, the equivalent of Senior Year. It's quite different from what we consider Senior Year in the States. When you have 16 years here, you are able to choose if y ou want to continue your education, or if you want to go into the work force......or do nothing. This means that the students I am with right now really do what education, and to go to college. Second Bach is the most difficult year, and they must study all the time, so it's difficult to hang out with friends often.
Cultura y Comida? Not so much to the first one, ABSOLUTELY YES TO THE SECOND. Coming from Orlando, I'm pretty used to tourism and palm trees and beaches et cetra. As it so happens, Torrevieja is almost exactly like that, without the Disney parks. It is an extremely popular tourist/summer town, which means that from October to May, there is hardly anyone here with not so much to do. There is a lot of British/Swedish influence here as well. More than half of the people that live here aren't actually from Spain, and it is not uncommon to be in the grocery store (MERCADONAAAAA) and here English, German, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Swedish, or Latin American Spanish. The food has that same influence as well, but less. It's actually quite a healthy diet. Being on the Mediterranean Coast, there are many fruits and vegetables, and a lot of seafood. Octopus, Cream of Carrot soup, and stuffed eggplant have actually become some of my favorite meals, believe it or n ot. Of course, there are other customs that originated in Spain, that are still around in Spain. We've just passed out of the holiday season, which holds one of the most popular cultural traditions of this country; Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day. Though reindeer, Old St. Nick and candy canes are celebrated here, the Christmas Holiday is not nearly as popular as Los Reyes. In just about every town or city they hold an enormous parade, called the Cabalgata, welcoming the Three Kings with their gifts to the Holy Child. Interestingly enough, my first host father is actually El Rey Melchor, the most widely known of the Three Kings! Because of this, I was lucky enough to not only celebrate a "Second Christmas", but to actually participate in the parade of my city, which attracted somewhere close to 6,000 people from the Alicante, Torrevieja, and Orihuela zone! Since we're on the coast, the Kings and their magi arrive by boat (mini cruise ship this year!) o nto a read carpet welcome to greet the crowd. Accompanying the three Kings in the great parade, throwing candy out to the children lined up and down the major street in my town. After the Cabalgata, the Kings visited the local hospital and the nursing home of Torrevieja, to pass out gifts to the residents. This year we finished about 11:30 pm, and that's when the fun really started! As my host father is the most well known of the trio, El Rey Melchor and his magi were requested at the houses of friends of my host parents throughout the night to present gifts to the children of the house. Finishing the seven or eight houses around five in the morning, we took a quick siesta, and then woke up again around 11am to open our own gifts from Los Reyes. Somehow, they knew my weakness, and I was lucky enough to recieve my very own jar of nutella from the Three Kings themselves.
¿Qué más? Well, now that we've reached the second half of the exchange year (NO ME DIGAS!) it is said to go by faster. I haven't experienced that feeling yet, but we are only on the 21st day of the year. Rotary unfortunately doesn't really exist here in Spain, so there aren't that many opportunities to travel around the country. Luckily, we are allowed to travel with the schools, so I will be enjoying five days in Florence, Italy in just short of a month with my class! Later in March we will also be taking two days to visit some museums in Madrid, so I'm really looking forward to seeing a bit more of the European world in the next two months. I'll also be changing host families at the end of February, but they live in the same neighborhood as my first host family, so the transporting of my growing collection of........gifts for friends and family back home won't be too difficult.
I suppose we'll finish here with a congratulations to the Outbound Class of 2012-2013, yeah? Felicidades a todos! You all don't know yet what opportunities will come from this year, and I hope it's enjoyed very much. To those going to Spain, suerte! Es un país diferente de todos los demás, pero creo que os vais a disfrutar mucho aquí. Una sugerencia útil para vosotros; ESTUDIAD LAS FORMAS DE LOS VERBOS. El vocabulario os vais a aprender muy rapido, pero las formas de los verbos son muy difíciles, como no las tenemos en ingles, especialmente subjuntivo. Es una putada, pero cuando sepais como se usa, no tendreis problemas. Suerte a todos!
Hasta la próxima---Nicole