Getting Acquainted with Spain

Kira Barrett, Layout Editor

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On Saturday Afternoon, March 14th, 33 of us juniors and seniors who take Spanish met at Friends with our luggage to take a bus to the Philly airport. We arrived in Madrid after 6.5 hour flight at around 8 am Spain time, which was 2 in the morning Baltimore time. The first few days we were tourists in Spanish cities. We spent most of our time buying souvenirs and food, visiting museums, and taking tons of pictures. On Day 5, we went to Talavera to stay in a house with our host families. This is when we actually had to speak Spanish and live the Spanish lifestyle. For most of us, it was a shock to the system, but by the end of the homestay we were crying because we didn’t want to leave. Our last day in Madrid was spent reuniting with our friends, comparing experiences, and dreading our return to Baltimore to make up all the work we had missed. We landed in Madrid first. It’s huge, busy and has a very diverse population. It has the big city feel of New York but with a much more old architecture. The main portion of our trip was spent in Talavera, a smaller city about two hours away from Madrid. It was extremely nerve wracking to leave our safe haven of English speakers and go live with a family we had never met before. Most of us had been communicating with our host siblings over email or text, but that was the extent of our relationships. One of the most difficult things about being an exchange student speaking a different language, is that a lot of the time, you have no idea what’s going to happen next. For the first couple of days I blindly followed my host sister around. But after awhile I got the hang of the schedule. The daily schedule in Spain is very different from my schedule at home. Lunch and dinner in Spain were later; I ate lunch at around 3 or 4, and ate dinner at around 10 or 11. School also lets out earlier; we got out at 2:30 every day. Students also had less homework, or at least did less homework. Most nights my host sister either didn’t do any homework, spent about 30 minutes or less working, or copied her homework in school the next day. This was convenient for me because we had alot of free time to go out with friends after school.

In Spain, I had a different living situation than most people on the trip. I only lived with my host sister, Angela, and her mom, Suzy. But Suzy worked until 10:30 pm each night, so I didn’t get to know her very well. Most of the time it was just Angela and I in her apartment hanging out. Angela was 15, and liked to read and write romance novels. She spoke English very well, which was a blessing and a curse, and I spent all of my time with her. Her apartment was close to the center of the city and small, but it was a perfect size for Angela and her mom. We ate dinner and lunch in front of the TV and watched Big Brother, The Voice, Vampire Diaries, and The Walking Dead in Spanish. We shared a room with bunk beds, and the walls were covered with One Direction posters. Most of the Spanish kids I met listened to almost all American music, so I wasn’t surprised to hear she was a huge fan of 1D. The food I ate in Spain was very different from what I was used to eating at home. For example, my family didn’t eat breakfast. At school they had morning break at 12:30, and a lot of kids would go to a convenience store to buy sandwiches. After school at around 3, Angela and I would eat a bigger meal like soup or beans. At around 10:30 each night Angela and I would make our own dinner or heat up leftovers that her grandmother sent. All the food was amazing, but pretty unhealthy. Luckily we ate small portion sizes.

Angela went to a bilingual school called Puerta de Cartas. It was a public school for ages 12-16. I really enjoyed school there because the students and classes were very relaxed, almost to the point where things were chaotic. All of the students were incredibly friendly and wanted to meet me and the other Friends kids there. I had the pleasure of attending school with Cyrus Miceli, Anne Marie Green, and Sam Savidge. We had most of our classes together and became very close. We also hung out as a group with our host siblings after school and over the weekend. The school system in Spain is very different: kids are required to go to school up to 10th grade, and then have to narrow down their interests to choose a specific bachillerato school for 11th and 12th. Students were not expected to achieve as high grades as Friends Students are. If a student simply got a 50% or higher in all of his or her classes, they could expect to have their choice of decent bachillerato schools. This was nice for us because all the students were more relaxed and our host siblings didn’t stress out over school while we were there, even if they were failing classes, which most students were. My favorite part of the trip was spending time with Cyrus, Sam, and Anne Marie, their host siblings, and Angela. Hanging out was very different than I was used to in Baltimore. Instead of driving to different locations and then staying in one place, we spent each night walking. We just took walks all the time with different people’s friends. A short walk to Angela was anything under an hour. Not many people had cars, so my legs got really strong during the trip.

The two hardest days spent in Talavera were the first day and the last day. On the first day I felt scared and alone, and I had trouble understanding what was going on. But the last day was equally terrible, because I was so sad to leave. I felt like I had a second family and second group of friends, and I couldn’t believe I would never see them again. Before the trip, whenever the teachers talked about a second family in Spain I would roll my eyes, because I didn’t think it was possible to become close with people you would only know for 10 days and that spoke a different language. But I fell in love with all of the people I met and the city, and I was able to learn Spanish faster than I ever had before. My only advice is to go with the flow and be open to new experiences. The trip was nothing like I thought it would be, and I definitely had some rough patches. I lost my wallet, I got into a fight with my host sister, and I stepped in dog pee a couple times in my apartment. However, because the rest of the trip was life changing, it was easy to forget these moments and think of the big picture. I learned that to be happy, all you need is to be around good people. Everything else in life is just icing on the cake.


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Getting Acquainted with Spain