Rachel Exelbirt

Spain

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School
Sponsor District: 6970
Sponsor Club: Gainesville
Host District: 2202
Host Club: Caldes de Montbui Cungles de B

 

My Bio


Hola! My name is Rachel Exelbirt; I am currently a sophomore at P.K. Yonge in Gainesville, Florida. I cannot wait to spend my junior year of highschool in Spain! I am so excited to become fluent in Spanish and immerse myself in a new culture. I am an outgoing person and am always looking for an adventure. I am also looking forward to making many friends from around the world and creating many memories. I will be leaving behind my family and friends but I will grown and learn so much. When I have free time I enjoy exploring Gainesville’s nature parks, filming and editing GoPro videos, doing yoga, and going to the beach, lake or springs. I also enjoy going to Crossfit classes with my mom and best friend, Maia. At school, I am very involved in extracurricular activities. I am the Vice President of the March of Dimes Club, a main event leader for Dance Marathon, Key Club, Habitat for Humanity Club, SADD Club (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Political Club. I am passionate about self-improvement, gender equality, politics and making a difference. Going to Spain with Rotary has been my dream since the 7th grade and I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to widen my world view. A big thank you to Rotary, my family and everyone who has supported me. Adiós!


La Barceloneta

La Barceloneta

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Representing the US with some of my best friends!!

Representing the US with some of my best friends!!

La Boqueria

La Boqueria

Views from the airplane

Views from the airplane

Un batut de xocolata i un gofre amb llet condensada

Un batut de xocolata i un gofre amb llet condensada

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella

My oldie :)

My oldie :)

Long boarding in Castelldefels!

Long boarding in Castelldefels!

District 2202

District 2202

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Camp Nou

Camp Nou

My mom's friends and I

My mom's friends and I

Bus rides with my bff!

Bus rides with my bff!

Bunkers del Carmel

Bunkers del Carmel

Mountain biking with my host aunts, uncles and cousins!

Mountain biking with my host aunts, uncles and cousins!

Logroño

Logroño

Host family!

Host family!

Sunset in Cambrils

Sunset in Cambrils

Tarragona

Tarragona

Snowboarding with my host brother

Snowboarding with my host brother

Me and Los tres reyes..

Me and Los tres reyes..

Paula did exchange in Winter Park last year

Paula did exchange in Winter Park last year

Parque Warner

Parque Warner

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Boating in Parque Retiro

Boating in Parque Retiro

Circulo de Las Bellas Artes

Circulo de Las Bellas Artes

Palacio Royal

Palacio Royal

Catalonia, Russia, Belgium and USA all in one picture!

Catalonia, Russia, Belgium and USA all in one picture!

Plaza Espana; Sevilla

Plaza Espana; Sevilla

San Sebastian

San Sebastian

Western Wall

Western Wall

Food at the Druze restaurant

Food at the Druze restaurant

Typical Israeli food

Typical Israeli food

Santurzi; the town my grandfather is from

Santurzi; the town my grandfather is from

Granada

Granada

Journals: Rachel – Spain 2016-17

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

    Read more about Rachel and all her blogs

    First off, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have had all the opportunities that I have to travel and live the experiences that I am living. I wouldn’t have all this if it wasn’t for my parents and Rotary. My trip to Israel was truly life changing, I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My great aunt has been a tour guide for 25+ years, so, as you can imagine, she knows the territory and history quite well. I visited the Western Wall, The Jordan River (where Jesus was baptised), Tel Aviv, The Holy Sepulchre, the Yad Vashem museum, The Dead Sea, etc. I especially enjoyed it the trip because I visited things that I might not have visited if I went alone or with friends. The thing that left the biggest mark on me was visiting a Druze village. I saw where a Christian, Muslim and Druze families were neighbors, what an example of peace! In this village there was only one Jew still living there.. When we arrived to the village we were going to eat dinner at a restaurant but it was closed, a Druze woman invited us to eat at her restaurant. The woman’s husband gave us a tour of their town and told us all the history of the Druzes people while his wife cooked. The food was incredible, I’ll attach a picture below. My time in Israel is very special to me; I became in touch with my religion on another level and spent time with my grandparents and my great aunt and uncle. I believe that if I went to Israel with the perspective of just an American it would have been very different.. What I mean by this is, I went with a multicultural perspective. Before doing exchange I would have never realized that the types of foods the people in Israel eat for certain meals, the times they eat, what times most people go to buy groceries is all part of their culture. 

    My dad came to visit me for 2 weeks and went back to Florida yesterday. We did a road trip through the south of Spain. At first I was a bit nervous that it would be weird seeing my dad after 8 months but it was as if not a second had passed. I had an incredible time on the trip. We went to beautiful beaches and explored cities with loads of history. The south of Spain is a lot different than the northeast of Spain, where I live. I have 7 weeks left in Spain and I am anxious about saying goodbye to the people who have been like family to me for the past months. This weekend I have my Rotary district conference in a city named Santander in the north of Spain. I am so excited to be reunited with all of my exchange friends! On the 30th I have another exchange student coming to stay with me for 9 days and then I am going to stay with them in the Canary Islands for a week. I feel like I am living in a dream everyday, words can’t even describe how grateful I am for my exchange year an d all the incredible people I’ve met. 

    I mentioned in my last post that I was going to visit my family in the Basque country. I had an incredible time, the Basque country is beautiful, and so green! I spent time with my uncle, aunt and second cousin. I visited the town where my grandfather is from and I met one of my grandpa’s sisters. It was unbelievable feeling to see where my grandfather lived for the first 20 years of his life before immigrating to the United States. I really felt connected with my roots. Having Spanish blood is the main reason I hoped Rotary would send me to Spain. I remember at the district 6970 flag revealing night and I got a Spanish flag and I felt overwhelmed with joy. That was over a year and a half ago and I can’t believe this journey is almost over. I look forward to becoming a Rotex and helping the future outbounds. Thank you a million times over to my supporting family and Rotary for making this year possible. 

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

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    I can't believe I am in the last stretch of my exchange... I only have 3 months left. Everyday I get closer to saying goodbye to my best friends and family to go back to my best friends and family. I always go through the struggle of wanting to be in two places at once. I don't think I'll ever be "home" again. On a happier note, I feel that I am dominating Spanish and my Catalan is improving as we say, "poc a poc".

    Another positive of this part of my exchange is that it will be summer any day now and I will finally get to swim in the beautiful Mediterranean sea! I will also get to go to a famous theme park, Port Aventura. 

    I just got back from a 6 day long trip to Madrid. I got the train by myself and I stayed with a girl named Bianca and her amazing host family! I spent time with many of the exchange students in Madrid and on my own made friends with people from all over the world; England, Denmark, India, China, Afghanistan, etc. I saw so many beautiful places and met some of the most incredible people. 

    I learned that traveling is so much more than taking pictures, seeing tourist sights and eating a touristic restaurants. You have to learn about the culture and why the building are made out of the material that they're made of and eat where the locals eat. My personal favorite part about traveling is learning what I like and don't like to do and meeting new people. Being in Europe I have the opportunity to meet people from all over. 

    My grandparents are coming to visit me for 4 days and then we are going to Israel for 10 days! After that trip my host family is taking me to visit my Spanish family in the Basque Country. My dad is coming for 3 weeks in May and we are doing a road trip through the south of Spain. I am so excited for all the adventures that are coming my way!

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

    Read more about Rachel and all her blogs

    Halfway… 5/10 months. I can’t believe it’s already been 5 months that I’ve been on exchange. I couldn’t ask for better friends, family or school. I am truly blessed for this opportunity, thank you so much to Rotary, my family (especially my parents) and everyone who supports me. 

    I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn 2 different languages on my exchange. Living in a bilingual society has been the most interesting part of my exchange. A lot of the exchange students in Catalonia find that Catalan being the prominent language is a major handicap to learning Spanish but I have embraced it. I came on my exchange understanding Spanish but I had never spoken it before exchange, I was always too embarrassed of messing up. I have learned that learning a language, you're going to mess up, it’s normal. I was conversational with Spanish my first month here and I never found Catalan a major problem other than in social settings. Normally, everyone here speaks Catalan with each other, but, to me they know to speak Spanish. After 5 months I finally understand most things in Catalan and it has made my exchange so much better. Like I mentioned in my last post, every week, I have 2 hours of individual Catalan classes, it’s helping me improve a lot . I still have some improving to do on my Spanish so I have started Spanish classes to fix my grammatical mistakes. My goal by the end of my exchange is for my Spanish to be perfect and to be conversational in Catalan. 

    To any future outbound who is reading this, I guarantee exchange will be one of the best decisions of your life but you always have to remember that you're representing your state and country. You have the chance everyday to shape the way people from the US are viewed, it's a big responsibility.

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

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    It’s been almost 2 months since I’ve last updated you all! Since my last update I changed host families and schools. Everything is going great! I love my new host family as if they were my own. In my new school, I am getting 2 hours of individual Catalan classes a week. I am also giving presentations in English classes for middle school aged kids. I have 1-2 presentations a day, I really enjoy doing them. I still attend most regular classes but there are some hours that I have Catalan class or a presentation. I have made lots of new friends but there is no one I am particularly close with. I am also working with a group of 6th graders who are in a theatre group. They are preparing a play in English so I help them with pronunciation and some acting because I used to do theatre. 

    My new host family is truly incredible. I am really close with everyone in my family, especially my mom. The majority of our family; grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc live within 15 minutes of our house and we see them often! Especially during the holiday season. They are all such amazing, positive people. My host mom and I just started doing CrossFit together 3 days a week and we are eating healthier. Lately, I have really enjoyed cooking. I have made salads, pasta, stir fry, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate mousse and smoothies for my family. I have started playing indoor beach volleyball 2 days a week. Over winter break, my family took me on a 4 day trip to Andorra. Andorra is a landlocked microstate that borders Spain and France. They are famous for skiing and not having high taxes. Shopping was a lot cheaper there! I had the opportunity to try snowboarding for the first time and it was a fantastic time! I am so fortunate to have that experience. 

    Last weekend we had an optional weekend trip just for our Rotary district in a city called Logroño. We toured various cathedrals and a wine Bodega. It was a group of about 20 inbounds and we had a blast.

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

    Read more about Rachel and all her blogs

    Hey guysss! Since I have last journaled a lot has changed. My Rotary district had an orientation with all the inbounds in the district and it was a blast! We visited La Sagrada Familia, Camp Nou and Parc Guell. We also did a walking tour of Barcelona, the tour guide was amazing, I had a really good time. When my mom was in her early 20´s she was traveling Europe and met a group of Erasmus students from Spain, Italy and Germany and they traveled together. Every couple of years, they all (minus my mom) have a reunion in a different city. This year they happened to be meeting up in Barcelona! My mom got me in touch with her friends and we made plans to meet. and my mom told me. I had the opportunity to show them some of my favorite places in the city. It was a really cool experience to meet my moms friend´s from 20+ years ago. Some big news, I am changing host families. I have a particular situation and I am moving 110 km away from where I live right now. I am changing schools and provinces. Right now I live in Barcelona and I will be moving to Tarragona. I will be living a 5 minute drive from the beach and I can´t wait! 

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

    Read more about Rachel and all her blogs

    Hello all! I want to start out by saying everything is still going really well. I have now been here for almost 6 weeks.. It's crazy how time flies. Since last time, I went to a Barça handball game, mastered public transportation, went to La Mercè and celebrated La Festa Major de Caldes De Montbui (my town). Barça played Germany in handball and it was such an intense game, we won, 26-25. I am in love with handball now, I wish it was a popular sport in the US. I have been to the city by myself a few times now. Google maps and Spotify premium are my best friends here.. I feel like I am really getting a feel for public transportation, it's weird for me because in the US we go everywhere by car. I went to a very famous festival called La Mercé. They had free concerts, food vendors, live shows, etc. I saw a concert and a dance performance. In Cataluña, we have “Festa Major’s” for most of the bi gger towns. It's a 4-5 day long event put on by the town hall. It's filled with different dance performances, correfocs, castells and many more traditional catalan events. Correfocs are a group of people who dress like devils and light fireworks, sounds quite scary but it is actually very beautiful. Castells are a group of people who make human towers. The last event of FM Caldes was a fire run. People laid down a string that shot off fireworks of sorts, the string was fairly long and ended at the top of the only church in our town. Kids ran next to the string while the fire ¨chased¨them. It is fairly difficult to describe but it was a sight to see.. After that there was an amazing firework show. This weekend I'm going hiking on a mountain with my family and the weekend that follows, Mara who's on exchange in France (from Florida) is coming to Barcelona and we're meeting up!

  • Rachel, outbound to Spain

    Read more about Rachel and all her blogs

    Today marks two weeks that I have been living in the beautiful town of Caldes de Montbui. To give you an idea of where Caldes is, I am a 30 minute bus ride from the city area of Barcelona. In the short two weeks since I’ve arrived, I have visited the city twice, been to the beach, gone to my inbound orientation in Madrid and gone through a week of school. I have this internal feeling that I have been sent to the most perfect place for me, I feel so blessed to be here on exchange. 

    So far I haven’t experienced a lot of culture shock. Some differences between Florida and Spain are the school system, greeting customs, the eating schedule and how we get from place to place. In Spain, the teachers move from class to class and you stay with the same people the whole day. My school starts at 8:00 h and ends at 14:30 h, the classes are change from day to day and they are an hour each. I am enrolled in the year primer bachillerato and I am taking the science “route”. All the kids in my classes take school very seriously and all of their notes are perfect. It is a nice feeling to be surrounded by people who take their education so seriously, a bit of a change for me if I’m honest. Here there is no dress code, people come to school in crop tops and there are no problems. In my school the students call their teachers by their first names but they have the utmost respect for their teachers. When you greet someone here even if you don’t know th em you give each other two kisses, one on each cheek. This isn’t very “shocking” to me because I have grown up in a hispanic family and I lived in Miami for 7 years of my life where that is a common greeting. Personally, I prefer the greeting here because it shows how open the culture and people are. I eat breakfast whenever I wake up and that consists of an espresso and fruit or cereal. At school we eat a sandwich (un bocadillo) at our 11:00-11:30 h break, when I get home at 14:45 h I eat my “real” lunch and then I eat dinner at around 21:00 h. I am used to eating a late dinner because in the US my family eats around 20:30 h. Walking and public transportation are the most common forms of transportation here, I love it, I have lost about 6 pounds mainly due to walking. 

    There were four things I really hoped to get on my exchange; an older sister, to live near or in a big city, to be close to the beach and to get an amazing family. I got everything I hoped for. I have the coolest family and older sister, I am 30 minutes from the beach and the city of Barcelona. There was only one thing I hoped that I didn’t get for my exchange and that was to be sent to Catalunya.. In the region of Catalunya, they speak Catalan which is very different than Spanish. Now I see it as a blessing that I have been sent here, I love Catalunya. Before coming to Spain I could understand a lot of Spanish but I had never actually conversed in the language. Everyone in my immediate family in the US is fluent in Spanish but we don’t speak Spanish at home. Typically when I visit my father’s parents in Miami they speak to me in Spanish but I reply in English. When I arrived by the second day I could have full conversations in Spanish and understand 95% of everythi ng that is said in Spanish, I think that it was a bit instinctual. Most people here converse in Catalan but everyone knows Spanish. My friends and family usually speak in Spanish around me so I understand. In school I take 4 classes; English, Spanish, physics and physical education. My physics teacher teaches the class in Spanish just for me and the other 3 are self explanatory. If someone speaks to me in Catalan I just tell them that I don’t understand and that I speak Spanish. There is a distinct difference between Spanish and Catalan. I am really excited to learn Catalan because it’s a challenge. 


    So far everything is going great. I am keeping really busy. I have an amazing family, friends and I love where I live. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible for me, including Rotary and my family.. Besos de Catalunya :*

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