15th- 2 weeks in Spain
After 18 very long hours of traveling, I arrived in Pamplona, Spain on
September 1st, and was greeted by my wonderful host family. It was hard
saying goodbye to my family and friends but I was excited to start my
Many exchange students say how quickly the time passes by, for me itís
the complete opposite. Itís not that Iím not having fun, or not enjoying my
stay; I love Spain. I love the people, the food, the life style, the shops,
the views, I love everything, itís just that my brain seems to calculate
Ďdaysí much differently. If I go out, that counts as one day, eating lunch
counts as another day, and watching the news counts as another day as well,
My host family is always saying how I donít eat enough and that my
parents in Florida will be mad because I will be too skinny, but the truth
is I eat more here than I would in Florida but that doesnít seem to matter.
I brought American food with me to give to my host family and my host
grandmother is fascinated by it, especially the goldfish and slim jims which
she says are so rich. I told my mom to mail me goldfish and slim jims and my
host grandmother is so excited, I didnít realize that crummy American food
could make someone so happy, but then again my face lights up anytime I see
a baguette which isnít exciting for anyone else in Spain.
When I speak Spanish I sound like a 4 year old who also knows a bizarre
form of sign language. Usually I just speak in the present tense and use my
hands by pointing to my left to represent the past and to the right to
represent the future. Whenever I donít know a word I try to act it out which
usually doesnít work, and then whoever I am talking to just tells me to say
it in English. Then if they donít know the word in English they apologize
because they donít know much English which is even more embarrassing because
I know they speak more English than I do Spanish. I should be the one
apologizing because Iím in their country and I donít know their language!
The first day of school was full of surprises. I expected that my
teachers would sound like Charlie Brownís, and they did. All I heard was
ďWah wahh waaa wahh waaĒ. But I didnít think that they would not realize
that I was an exchange student, I didnít think that they would assume my
Spanish was nearly perfect, or that they would assume that I could listen
and take notes, and I wasnít expect my teachers to be confused if my name
was Abbie, Abigail, or Elizabeth (my middle name). I also didnít expect to
freak out over not knowing how to flush the toilet, to see kids lined up by
the schoolís door smoking, or to call my teachers by their first names. The
only weird questions I gotten at school have been ďDo you really have
cooking classes in the U.S.?Ē and ďDo Americans really eat hamburgers every
day for breakfast?Ē and ďHave you been to L.A.? Why not?Ē
Here is a list of things I have noticed in Spain:
-You cannot be considered a Spanish teenage girl if you do not own a pair
of ballet flats, the only problem is that they are the most uncomfortable
shoes and multiple band aids must be worn on your heels at all times.
-Bread is served with every meal and the bread is wonderful. It could be
considered dessert, itís that good.
-Going to the grocery store almost every day is not uncommon because you buy
food for what you will eat that day.
-The milk doesnít have to be refrigerated until itís opened. I still donít
understand how this works.
-To say okay in Spanish you say ďvaleĒ but not just once, usually people say
it 3-4 times so that you can clearly understand that they understand.
-The paper is longer here, literally a piece of paper has like an extra
-You can walk to anywhere you need to go, which is awesome.
-Cars appear out of nowhere and drive in the middle of plazas, and on roads
that donít look like roads at all, but walkers have the right of way.
-We donít eat dinner until about 9-9:30 and lunch is usually at 2:30-3.
Muchas gracias to Rotary and to all of the people who helped me prepare
for this amazing opportunity, especially to my family in Florida who I love
and miss very much!
Olite with my host mom and host sister
With my host mom at a Running of the Bulls monument
Monday, November 07, 2011
November 7th, more than 2 months into my exchange
°Hola! I canít believe Iíve been in EspaŮa for 2 months already; time is
really starting to fly by!
Iíll start out by staying that I started a beginnerís Flamenco dance
class for an hour and a half each week! My class is pretty small; there are
2 other teenage girls and about 5-6 middle-aged women. The class is very
relaxed and itís a lot of fun, Iím really glad I joined because it was a way
for me to continue dancing and I look forward to going each week. Iím also
very proud that I have been able to master most of the dance steps, whereas
most of the other women are still getting their left and right mixed up,
even though they speak the language that the class is being taught in!
I have realized that staying active during your exchange helps you in so
many ways, it gives you something to do, you can meet new people, and itís a
great distractor, especially if youíre homesick. In addition to flamenco
classes I will start reading books in English to little kids at a local
bilingual school once a week. For Halloween, another exchange student from
Canada and I also helped out with a Halloween party for an elementary
school, we dressed up like witches and used Halloween words and activities
to play charades and guessing games, the kids really enjoyed it, except for
the preschoolers who were crying and terrified of us because we were wearing
green face paint!
I attend a Catholic High School called Sagrado Corazůn (Sacred Heart)
which I can walk to in about 5 minutes. It is a private school for
preschoolers to grade 12, but there are 2 buildings to divide us, my
building is the 7th graders up to the 12th graders. My classes are pretty
difficult and they range from gym, computer class, religion, science, and
English to Spanish literature, philosophy, Latin, Greek, and World History.
Some of my teachers tell me that they donít care what I do in class, as long
as Iím happy, theyíre happy. Other teachers like my Latin teacher expect me
to understand, answer questions in class, and take the exams. In class I
usually try to translate whatever we are working on and when we have exams
in class I try to translate my Spanish Harry Potter book, which has really
been helping me learn both useful and really bizarre words!
Of all the differences I have noticed in school, the teachers are the most
different from my teachers in the U.S. Teachers here donít check if you did
your homework, they hardly ever collect any work, they donít ever give
quizzes, and teachers expect you to understand everything by yourself,
thereís no extra help before school or anything like that. Of all my
teachers, my gym teacher is the most different. While using a microphone she
screams what our next crazy activity will be, such as playing tag while
holding hands with a partner, doing lunges up a hill next to a busy road, or
taking turns running around a circle hoping over our classmatesí backs
hoping we donít accidentally step on them. I tried explaining to my
classmates that these types of activities would never happen in the U.S. but
itís so normal here they couldnít see why it was so different from what Iím
used to. Many students here study a lot, and if they have tests the next
week they donít go out on the weekends at all. But on the other hand a lot
of the students are happy when they get a 5 (out of 10) which is technically
failing so I donít see why they would be pleased with that.
In October, one of the host families in my town brought me and the 4
other exchange students in my town to visit Zaragoza, Spain where the Fiesta
of Pilar is celebrated. The fiesta is in honor of the patron saint of the
city, the Virgen del Pilar (Virgin Mary of the Pilar). People from all over
the world come to represent their country and bring flowers for a massive
flower monument which by the end of the day had more than 5 million flowers!
So many people wore traditional outfits, there were so many beautiful
churches to visit, and there was also lots of music and dancing! A few weeks
later, the same family also brought us to visit San SebastiŠn, a gorgeous
beach in Northern Spain and Saint Jean de Luz in Southern France.
Iíve realized that no one can be fully prepared for their exchange, itís
just not possible. There is no way to explain what itís like to have so many
emotions at one time. Sometime itís bad feelings when you think ďWhy am I
here? I donít want to be here anymore.Ē (Which happens to everyone- no one
loves being an exchange student 24/7). But at the same time you can have so
many positive emotions, bursts of energy where you think ďI am in another
country! I just spoke in another language! I am so proud of myself! Ē You
also canít be prepared for the feelings towards you host family and new
friends. My one month mark in Spain my host mom told me ďWe love you so much
Abbie, we love you so much!Ē and I just sat there crying while the entire
restaurant had stopped eating and talking to stare at me. Or hearing my host
dad say to me ďyou are my champion daughterĒ because I biked 25 kilometers
with him. Iím already dreading the fact that I will have to leave this
family in early December to move to my next family, and I had no idea that I
would feel this attached to a family, they are no longer a Ďhostí family,
they are my family, no matter what.
The other day in one of my classes we got information about a trip our
grade would be taking to Paris. I was so excited that I was going to have
this opportunity to see Paris and spend time with my classmates. My teacher
came over to talk to me and I said ďWeíre going to Paris! When?Ē but she
said ďYes, Abbie! Weíre going to Paris! ButÖ youíre not. The trip isnít
until next year and youíll be back in Florida.Ē This answer sunk my heart
because it was the first I really realized that my time here in Spain is
limited. One day I will not live here anymore, and I wonít be an exchange
student any more. And one day I will be sitting in Florida while my
classmates are on their field trip to Paris, and I wonít be with them, and
there is nothing I can do about it. That means that I canít take anything
for granted, whether itís being able to walk around a beautiful city, eat
delicious bread, or especially spending time with my new friends and family
The other day in class my English teacher asked me how I decided to
become an exchange student, and I really was blown away thinking about how
it had actually happened. It was after hearing a Rotary presentation at my
school. I had never heard of Rotary, or even becoming an exchange student,
but in those 45 minutes my life was changed. I canít help but think what if
I was sick and missed that day of school? I would have missed the meeting, I
never would have applied and I would never have come to Spain or met the
amazing people I have. I would never have had the chance to learn Spanish as
well, my family would never have hosted Belen from Ecuador, and overall my
life would be very different and very boring. Future outbounds, you will
never ever get this opportunity again in life, so I urge you to apply, be
unique and go through high school a little differently, it will be the
hardest year of your life, but it will be a year of discovering yourself,
another culture, and a chance to build lifelong friendships and stories to
tell for the rest of your life.
So thank you to Paula Roderick for coming to my school that day, it was
the first of many days that you have impacted my life, and Iím so glad that
I have you for all your help and support! Thank you to Rotary Florida, and
Rotary Spain, I donít know how I can ever thank you for all you have done
for me and for simply giving me this opportunity!
Exchange Students from Pamplona
Fiesta of Pilar
Festival in Pamplona's streets
January 15, 4 Ĺ months in Spain
°Hola! I canít believe itís already January and that in about 2 weeks I will
be half way through my exchange! Although I hate to think about my time
being limited here, it helps to have a deadline because once July rolls
around I will be out of time to become fluent, make meaningful friendships,
and live like a Spaniard. There are some days I panic that I will never
become fluent, or that I will my classmates wonít care when I leave, or that
Iíll never understand this culture, but there are other days where I can see
how far I have come since my first days in Spain. I can now communicate what
I want to say, I am starting to really understand Spanish grammar, and I can
understand almost everything when people speak to me. My classmates are
patient with me, they want to hear what I have to say, I know that if I ever
had a problem I could ask for help and they would drop everything and help
me. As far as culture in Spain, I am truly living as any Sp anish teenager
does, and just knowing that I easily lead an American or Spanish lifestyle
makes me so happy.
Everyone is always asking me if Spain is different from Florida and how
so. So here are a couple of examples:
1. The grocery store:
- At the grocery store you can walk to the soda aisle and grab 1 can of coke
for 50 cents. You just take as many as you want out of the pack. It may not
seem like a big deal, but you canít do that in the U.S.
- To unlock a cart you have to put in 1 euro, but you get the money back
once you lock it to another cart. Apparently this stops people from stealing
the carts because if they donít return the cart they wonít get their money
- Things like Barbie dolls and gum are in security boxes in some grocery
- As I will always be amazed by our activities in gym class, Iíll fill you
in on what weíve been doing. Our last units involved juggling (with balls we
made out of rice and balloons), merengue dancing, twirling ribbons, and now
we are starting batons (but with 3 sticks instead of 1).
- Also the liberty that is given to students at school is very different
from what Iím used to. The other day, my entire grade (which is about 90
people) went to the movie theatre, to watch a movie our school had picked
out. In the public school system in the U.S. going to the movies would mean
buses and permission slips but here, our teachers said, ďWeíll meet you at
the theatre across town in 30 minutes.Ē So we all walked while eating our
lunch, itís neat that they trust us to actually walk instead of skipping or
the fact that we could even get there by walking.
- Spaniards eat 5 times a day: 1) Desayuno, breakfast which is usually
something sweet and light (never eggs, pancakes, or bacon). 2) Almuerzo,
which is a snack before lunch. I have my almuerzo every day at school, and
people usually have a small sandwich. 3) Comida, lunch which is the biggest
meal of the day. I usually have lunch between 2:30-3:30. 4) Merendar, a
snack after lunch around 6 which almost always includes bread and chocolate
(this is my favorite). 5) Cena, dinner which is a lighter meal and starts
between 9-10 (and sometimes even later in different parts in Spain).
These little differences seemed so strange at first, but now I donít think
twice about it, it will be weird going back to Florida and having to relearn
common rules and norms of society.
New Host Family
On my 100th day of my exchange I switched host families! It was hard to
leave my first host family, the city I know inside and out, and to change
everything I had finally adjusted to. When I had to say goodbye to my host
mom, it was really hard we said that we wouldn't say goodbye, only see you
later because thatīs the truth, Iīm not leaving yet, I still have 7 more
months to make memories with my first host family even if Iīm not living
with them. My new host family is my host parents and an older host sister
who will be leaving to live in Germany soon. I won't lie, it was really hard
to move, and even after a month it's still hard sometimes. But they are
really nice, and always want to make sure that I understand, am happy, and
that Iíve had enough to eat. Iím glad that I got to change families, this
way I get to see how another family lives in Spain, because just like in the
U.S., all families are different.
I am so grateful to have spent Thanksgiving, or AccŪon de Gracias in
Spanish, with 10 other exchange students with all the usual food, even a
turkey, which actually took a while to find because they arenít very common
in Spain. It didnīt really feel like Thanksgiving though, because it was so
different from the usual traditions I have with my family each year.
Merry Christmas! °Feliz Navidad! For the entire month of December, my
city, Pamplona had lots of Christmas lights and decorations displayed all
around the city. My host family and I had a big dinner, opened presents and
went to mass at midnight for Christmas Eve. Christmas was a normal day with
all the leftovers from the night before. Although Spaniards put up Christmas
trees and talk about Santa, (Papa Noel) the most important day is not
December 25th, but January 6th, the day that the 3 wise men came. Also,
although my family had a Christmas tree, the most important decoration is
the belen, which is Spanish for the nativity. Even the mall near my house a
big belen on display, and I went to a museum that showed nativities from all
over the world.
°Feliz AŮo! Happy New Year! For New Yearís I went to my host familyís
pueblo, which is Spanish for village/ small town. Many Spaniards go to a
pueblo throughout the year and for special holidays where their grandparents
live and other relatives. The pueblo I went to was really pretty with lots
of small, old houses and a huge church that has the biggest population of
storks in all of Spain. We celebrated New Years with lots and lots of food
and at 12 oíclock we watched the ball drop in Madrid, just like in New York.
At 12 oíclock we quickly ate a grape when the clock rang each hour on the
clock, 12 in all.
The 3 Kings Day or dŪa de Reyes Magos as I mentioned earlier, is very
important in Spain. The night before there was a huge parade in Pamplona
where the 3 kings made a special appearance; afterwards all the kids went
home to go to bed so that the 3 kings could deliver their gifts. On the
actual day I had lunch with my first host family and later I returned home
to have rosco which is a typical dessert in Spain for this day. Rosco is a
dessert made of bread and kind of like a big doughnut with candy fruit on
top. Hidden inside each rosco are 2 figures; a little figure of one of the 3
kings and a bean, if you get the bean in your piece of rosco then you have
to pay for next yearís rosco.
Even though I was awed by Spain when I first came, I think I am even more
amazed by simple things than I was before. In my city I am surrounded by
mountains which I just love to sit and stare at. The neat thing about
northern Spain is the diversity of land. You can be diving next to lush
green forests and green mountains and 2 minutes later you are in the middle
of a desert. I also really appreciate the older buildings, castles, and
churches that donít exist in the U.S.
Last weekend with my Rotary club, we got to organize donated clothes to
families in need. Especially now, many Spaniards are unemployed and the
economic crisis has been affecting many families. I havenít seen the effects
of the economic crisis because for the most part, the South of Spain has
been more affected than the North, where I live.
Congrats to the new outbounds, cherish the time before your exchange
because in some ways itís just as important as the exchange itself. This is
your time to dream of what your new life will be like (which will end up
being completely different), to get a head start on learning your language
(donít slack off- you will regret it), and to anxiously wait for your first
email from you host family, your departure date, and to look at your new
town on Google earth for the first of many times.
Mountains of Pamplona
Church in the pueblo
Houses in the pueblo