Claire Hepler 
2012-13 Outbound to Spain
Hometown: Jacksonville, FL
School: Bishop John J. Snyder High School
Sponsor: District 6970, FL
Host: District 2201, Thailand
The Rotary Club of Vigo

November 4, 2013 

 My first two months in Spain have been the most amazing, rewarding, and difficult of my life. Vigo is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I am completely in love with mountains and fall weather. 

When I arrived, my host family gave me hugs and kisses in the airport and spoke way too fast. (This is a recurring theme of life in Spain.) I couldn't imagine having better host parents. They are always very friendly and open, they want to help me with the language and school, and they always make sure I have everything I need. My host dad is an amazing cook and loves Formula One racing. My host mom and I love to watch game shows together. We live in a fourth floor apartment (yes, there is an elevator) a short walk away from my school. My host sister and I each have our own rooms.

The people here are always so friendly and welcoming. Meeting strangers isn't weird at all because they are always very nice and genuinely interested in your life. When you meet new people, they are obligated to kiss you once on both cheeks (this works more in my favor when I’m introduced to boys, and less when I go to Rotary meetings). You kiss your parents when you get home, and you greet your friends with two kisses. If you don’t greet your friends with two kisses or a hug, people will think that you are fighting or not speaking to each other. Spanish people are also very short. I am very tall here. Seeing tall people is a little rare. Women are always wearing heels to compensate. Men seem to go bald a lot later in life here. There are very few balding, middle-aged men.

Spanish people speak faster than you can ever imagine. Everyone has to slow down considerably when they speak to me. I watch a lot of TV and movies in Spanish, and with subtitles I can understand everything. In Spain they speak Castillian Spanish, which is different from what they speak in Latin America. They are very proud of their accents here and never want to be compared to Latin Americans. Latin American Spanish is a bit easier to understand because they don’t have the “th” sound for z and c. I go to a language school three nights a week, and my teacher is very nice and very helpful. I feel like I have learned a lot, but I still have a long way to go.

I’m in the part of Spain called Galicia and there is another language here called Gallego. Most of the signs on the street are in Gallego and a few of my classes in school are taught in Gallego. It’s more like Portuguese than Spanish, but still very similar. Gallego isn't like Catalan because no one uses it in their daily life. There is also a separatist movement in Galicia, but it’s not nearly as bad as in Catalonia.

School is incredibly challenging and very boring. Classes start at 8:45 and end at 2:20, so I have much less school here than in Florida. The teachers speak incredibly fast about subjects of which I have little to no vocabulary. I take notes and do homework when I know we have it (it’s not always clear and my classmates don’t always tell me). The teachers are generally very nice to me or don’t acknowledge that I don’t understand what’s going on. My physics/chemistry teacher comes over to my desk every day and explains everything in broken English even though I've told him at least four times that I took chemistry last year. My Spanish Language and Literature teacher has me bring books to school to read during her class and write down the words I don’t know. I have Gallego class in school, but I go to the library instead. We have a 15 and 30 minute break during the school day. Lots of kids at school smoke during the break. If you have a little bit of money you can go to the grocery store in the mall or a bakery or candy shop. My friends at school find it absolutely hilarious to swear in Spanish. I've learned lots of swears very quickly, but I don’t know what most of them mean. There seem to be significantly more curse words in Spanish than in English.

Food is a big deal. One does not simply have sandwiches for lunch. Every meal is with your family and every meal has way too much food. You must eat everything that is on your plate. Always. If you don’t want more, they ask you if you liked it. Here is a typical conversation at a meal: Spanish Person: Patti, do you want more? Me: No, thank you, I’m full. Spanish Person: Here have a little more *puts more food on my plate* 

Sandwiches are snacks and cappuccinos are after dinner drinks. My city, Vigo, is on the Atlantic and has a big port, so we eat a ton of seafood. The seafood is a bit more complex though, because you don’t just get the filet, you get the entire fish, bones and all. It’s taken me quite a bit of practice to master navigating around all the bones in fish. I still watch how everyone else does it first if we are having some new seafood I haven’t tried yet. After meals, my host dad usually makes a cappuccino and I am encouraged to eat yogurt and fruit. My favorite foods so far are jamon iberico (super fancy ham), mazapan (a sweet Spanish dessert that tastes like cookie dough), and hot chocolate that is so thick you have to use a spoon.