Hola! I have officially been in Spain for two months, though it feels as though I’ve been here for only a week. Spain has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to share all of my news with you guys in this journal.
Here I am living in the beautiful city of Tres Cantos, just a 20-minute train ride to the center of Madrid. Tres Cantos is a relatively recent planned city. It is the most recently added municipality to Madrid. My family is truly wonderful. In my family, I have three host siblings as well as my two great host parents. The oldest sibling is my host sister, Lara. She is in my grade and she helps me so much here in Spain. My other host sister is Nadia. Nadia is one of the funniest and silliest people I know and can always bring up my mood. I also have a host brother named Diego. Diego has become my trainer and has taught me all of the best music to listen too. My host parents are both great too. My host dad works at Huawei and is always trying to convert me from Apple. It makes for some fun conversations. My host mom is passionate about education and works in the Madrid Parliament. They are both also amazing cooks. There are three main meals in Spanish culture with the largest being lunch. For breakfast, I usually eat a small meal of some cereal and maybe a muffin. Lunch is the largest meal for Spaniards. After school, I come home and eat lunch with my host sister. Some of the more common lunches I have are pasta with meat or tomato sauce, chicken and peas, and even an occasional hamburger. On the weekends the lunches are much more elaborate dishes, including the famous Valencian Paella. For dinner, we usually have a meat-based meal along with fried potatoes, rice, and a salad.
My exchange truly started the moment that I left Atlanta. My flights were perfect but a little bit hectic. I had two flights to get to Madrid. My first flight was Atlanta to Philadelphia and the second was Philadelphia to Atlanta. However, my first flight was delayed for an hour making my connection between flights was just 20 minutes. Because of this immediately after my flight landed I started running on my flight to Spain. I barely made it and the door to the airplane closed just five minutes after I made it on the plane. My flight itself was wonderful. The travel agency got me a flight in premium economy, which usually doesn't mean much but because it was an international flight it made a world of difference. I arrived in Madrid on Saturday, September 7th at 7:30 AM and so I had a full day ahead of me. I was exhausted from my long flight but also so excited that I was finally in Spain. After meeting my host family at the airport, I immediately got a taste of Spain with some breakfast churros with chocolate. I then went to Madrid for the day with my host sister and her friends where I was shown around some famous areas before we all saw a movie together. The school didn’t start until Wednesday and so for the next few days, I was mainly just getting accustomed to Spain. I was introduced to my sister’s group of friends, I enjoyed some delicious Spanish cuisine and I signed up for a gym membership. I have not had many problems on exchange but I did have some confusion with my school early on. When I was signing up for my visa and my other papers to come to Spain the school that I was going to go to was the same as my host sister. When I arrived it turned out that they were still not one hundred percent sure what school I would go to. A couple of days later I was told that I would be going to a school called Manrique. However, there was a problem with that because I was enrolling so late. I would only be able to be in the social sciences section when this year the credits I needed were for the sciences. So I talked to my host mom who works in education and she helped to get me transferred to the school right down the road where I would be able to take my science classes. On Thursday I finally started school and immediately loved it. It is quite a bit harder than school in the United States (mostly because of the language barrier), but it was such an exciting challenge. The first day I met everyone but I didn’t really make a friend until the second. A kid in my class, Alberto, offered to help me with translating teachers and he became one of my closest friends immediately. I also found out that another Rotary exchange student was in my English class along with a Rotex. This foundation has allowed me to get an easy start to school.
The second week was where I started enrolling in activities and truly participating in school. My host sister, Laura, is a member of her school’s Lego Robotics team which went to nationals last year so I joined too. It was a really good group of people and now they have become good friends. I also joined a climbing class on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was the second week where I realized just how much work would be and honestly as an exchange student, I'm gonna tell you to try and avoid having your credits count while you’re abroad, at least in Spain where school is focused on strongly. The week went by uneventfully but that weekend I went to a two-day festival that was thrown by the city. It was amazing fun and the most surprising part was when I realized that I could recognize a lot of the people at the festival. That week I also made a workout plan which has been one of my favorite parts about exchange. Physical exercise can be such a good thing during exchange. Studies have shown that exercise can make you happier and the gym is a great place to get out the stress which you will no doubt have during exchange. Also, the gym is a commitment that can really help you to focus on it more during exchange and keep some normality in your life.
My third week has been one of my best weeks so far. It was a week where I made really close connections with my friends and I found people to hang out with during breaks as well as after school. That weekend I had an amazing Rotary meeting in the countryside of a city in the south of Spain. This is because the club that I am hosted by is an Electronic Club, therefore the members are located all over Spain and they usually meet just over Skype. Occasionally they meet in person and usually make it into a bit of a vacation. That weekend I took the train an hour and a half to Albacete where I carpooled with some other members to the house that we were all staying at in the countryside. There I met the other exchange student who is hosted by my club and we became fast friends. The house was situated at the top of a mountain and the view was truly beautiful. It was as if I had entered into a movie landscape. That weekend we went on several hikes. The first day we hiked to a castle in a city nearby. It was a great experience, especially for an American considering that we don't have things like castles in the United States( Disney World doesn’t count). Just outside of the castle was a wonderful restaurant where I had a delicious lamb soup. We also bought meat and veggies from the nearby supermarket so that we could have a bbq that night. We actually had a little bit of a problem after lunch because it started raining and we needed the cars to get back to the house but they were an hour’s hike away. However, in the kind spirit of Rotary, two Rotarians immediately volunteered and ran/hiked all the way back to the houses to get the cars. When we finally arrived back at the houses we went out searching for wood to start the fire for the barbecue. We had a delicious Spanish barbecue which ended up being one of the best meals that I’ve had. The next day we woke up, had a nice breakfast, and went on another hike. This one was to the birth of a famous river that runs through the mountains where we were staying. The river water is actually the cleanest natural water in Spain and the small town on the river has a bathhouse that attracts many people from the neighboring cities. The birth of the river came from a beautiful waterfall where we had several photos taken. After seeing the birth of the river it was time for everyone to split up and go back to their respective cities. My train, however, was not scheduled until 7:30 that evening and it was only 2 pm. So the host family of the other exchange student in my club took us to a different small town on the top of a different mountain where we had another delicious three-course lunch. After lunch, we finally headed back to Albacete where I got on my train and headed home to Tres Cantos.
My fourth week in Spain was my week of the Rotary Orientation. The school week was a fairly normal one but the orientation was great. At the orientation, I met give or take 40 other exchange students from around the world as well as some Rotex. The orientation was based in a small town in the mountains where we slept in sleep away camp type lodging. We were all divided up into different bunks but most of our time was spent outside playing football or basketball or team building games. At the orientation, we covered relatively all of the basic rules of exchange as well as some language skills but they left most of the time for bonding activities between the exchange students. Over the weekend I made some true life long friends and I also discovered several people who live close to me in Madrid.
Spain was starting to get more normal and now life is just life. There were some fun moments however including the National Day of Spain. That day I went down to Madrid with some exchange students and Rotex and we watched the parades. It was a really fun day as well as a good time to bond with the other students. I also started to notice the small gym gains that I’ve been working on.
We had another Rotary Orientation this week as well. It was a smaller and optional one but almost every exchange student came to it. For this orientation, we were just working on team building as well as some extra information for exchange students who had arrived late to Spain. One of the main activities that were planned for this weekend was an exchange of foods that are classic to your home country. I made ginger snap cookies that turned out under average but in all, it was a great time. Some of my favorite dishes were a tiramisu made by my Italian friend, a delicious pasta dish from Taiwan, and a good old banana’s foster. It truly was amazing.
Week 8 did not have much to offer but week nine did. Week nine was the week of Halloween which is a surprisingly big deal in Tres Cantos. This is mostly because of the big festival that the city puts on. My host family and I decorated the house with plenty of decorations and everyone was really in the Halloween mood. In all the day was great fun and I got to hang out with a lot of friends from my school. We had a long weekend after Halloween which made things even better. A number of my exchange student friends from other cities came to Madrid and we all hung out a ton together as we found restaurants, took great pictures and did some great shopping.
That is as far as my journey has come so far but before I end this journal I just want to share what an amazing opportunity studying abroad is. Every day there is a moment when I realize that I’m halfway across the world and truly having the time of my life. If you are considering exchange I recommend that you got for it. Every good moment is a great moment and even in the bad moments, you realize just how good a time you are having in all. I truly can’t thank my parents or Rotary enough for this amazing experience.
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