October 13, 2013
Picture this: Living in the unknown; living where you don’t know anything; living where you know no one; living where all you hear is a language that you only studied 2 years of; living where you struggle talking to the native speakers; living where your family is an ocean away... only at the age of 16. Well that’s me. I have made Denia, Spain my new home in a little over a month. I live in a small beach community called Les Rotas, which is minutes away from Denia, a city that lies right on the Mediterranean coast. My house is seconds away from the beach where I enjoy riding my bike along almost every day. I live with just my host mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better first host family. Her only son Yanko is a Rotary Exchange student to Taiwan. Mi mama has no daughters, so I'm privileged to fill in for even this short period of time.
A few days after I arrived in my beautiful new home town, I went to my first Rotary orientation weekend in Madrid where I took my first train ride. We stayed on the very top of a gigantic mountain. To get up this giant mountain that we took a huge charter bus! We must have had a really talented bus driver, because to this day I still have not a clue of how we made it up this mountain with narrow roads and sharp turns. Finally when we get up this mountain I see small blue tents in an open pasture... needless to say there is NOTHING else BUT these small blue tents. Let’s just say it looked much different than our Rotary orientations in Florida. Anyways... we all struggle rolling our suitcases through the dry pasture that looks like it hasn’t received a drop of rain in years. While doing this we have to dodge large piles of cow poo going to our assigned tents. We had to fit 5 to a tent & it was extremely cold on top of this mountain at night so we all became VERY close that night.. Literally. This was honestly the best weekend of my life, I met so many incredible people that I bonded so easily with.
My first day of school was absolutely a mess. First I had to find my name on a list to know which room to go to and what time, I was to report to room 201 at 10:30. I get to room 201 and it’s a room full of only boys and they all just stared at me - wondering why I’m there. I introduce myself to the teacher and she said something really fast and I had not even a clue what she said, but thank God for hand gestures. I walked to the building where the teacher had pointed; they brought in my counselor who speaks perfect English. I explained to her what happened and she took me up to the class to see what the problem was. Well... come to find out I was in mechanics class; much confusion on this class placement! After a forty five minutes wait, they simply needed to change the room number! The next day I was able to finally meet my teacher and classmates. They were all very welcoming with open arms and they helped translate what the teacher was saying. School is a little challenging because some of my classes are taught in Spanish, and others are taught in Valencian. Valencian is language spoken by the community of Valencia, which is a Province in Spain. Being here just a month, I am learning and catching on very fast; good thing.
Here in Spain I am very active. I ride my bike into the city, which is 3 miles from my house, almost every day. While riding my bike I also set a new fashion statement, my host mom insists that I have to wear a helmet and a neon crossing guard vest. I know she is only looking out for me though, driving here isn’t nearly the same as it is in the U.S. I also just started dance at a competitive dance academy, where I do Pointe and regular ballet. In addition to dance, I also swim at the club pool Monday -Thursday, because Friday I dance. Recently I went kayaking on the Mediterranean, yes in the middle of the ocean, with my two exchange friends Joliann who is from Quebec, Canada and April who is from Chicago, Illinois. That was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I have never been kayaking before and I was so scared I was going to flip my kayak and become a sharks lunch, but survived a new experience and am here writing my journal. I have met lots of interesting people and in all honesty, they are the best people I have ever met.
Not even a month into my exchange I was already taking a trip to Munich, Germany for a week with my host mom, to visit some old friends of hers, who she had when she lived there. We drove and it took us a total of 26 hours to get there. The landscape, the trees and just everything was so pretty on our journey to Germany. We made a few stops along the way; our first stop was in Carcassonne, France where we stayed the night and visited a giant castle, with the most beautiful cathedral I have ever seen. We also visited the Museum of the French Revolution, which was filled with amazing history. Our second stop was at a friend of my host mom’s house. She lived on the border of Germany, Austria and France. We visited another castle that was on the very top of a mountain that we hiked up to get to. The view on top of the castle was absolutely worth the hike up the mountain. The view was unexplainable. Peaceful would be an understatement. We finally made it to Munich , Germany where we stayed at another friend of my host mom´s. We went to the center of Munich, which was astounding. I try comparing it to Times Square in New York, but it was better than that. It was better than any city I have ever been too. While in Munich I went to Oktoberfest, which is where Oktoberfest originated from. In two weeks approximately 6 million people where to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, it is known to be one of the biggest fiestas in Europe. Being in Germany is when I realized how grateful and honored I am to be blessed with this wonderful opportunity. I am so excited to see what the next 9 months have in store for me, I remember when this was only a dream and now it’s reality...
January 14, 2014
A lot has happened since I posted my last journal, I have found so much about myself and went through some of the happiest times of the year, not with the same faces I spend those days with every other year. In November, on Thanksgiving day since here in the Spain they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, my Rotary Club had a Thanksgiving dinner for all the exchange students in my city, with my host parents, and all the Rotarians. In fact, it had the normal thanksgiving menu like, turkey, mashed potatoes etc. Although the food was great, I knew something was missing. I felt kind of empty or lost, spending thanksgiving without my family was definitely really hard, but I couldn't have been more blessed to spend it with such amazing people. Then, came the busiest time of the year and also the hardest part of my exchange, December. You probably are wondering how I spent my holidays here in Spain. Well on Christmas Eve or "Noche Buena" , my host family and I had dinner together which was a fish, a whole fish with eyeballs and everything. I watched my host mom prepare this fish and she literally poured 7 bags of salt on it, then put it in the oven. I could feel my blood pressure rising. No I'm only kidding, it was actually good. Also I had shrimp, and my city, Denia, is known for their shrimp. They're also really expensive, usually 80 euros a kilo. Then after dinner we waited until midnight to open our gifts. On, Christmas day, I ate lunch with my family and their friends. Christmas Eve is the more the festive day, more then Christmas day is here. On New Years Eve, I learned something I never heard of before, you have to wear red underwear, to bring good luck in the new year, as well as eating 12 grapes at midnight. On the night of January 5, when the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Parade) takes place in every town and city, with hundreds upon hundreds of people crowding the main roads in order to get a glimpse of the reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings into town. Typically, in Spain, it is not the Baby Jesus, Santa Claus or St. Nicholas who brings gifts on Christmas Day, but rather the Three Kings, whose generosity is put to the test on January 6, the day of the Epiphany. Children, families, and entire cities throughout the country celebrate this Spanish tradition. Although the holidays were really hard for me to spend away from home, I am so happy to be learning so much and living the life you would see in movies.