Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Exchange to Barcelona: A Reflection

So it's been about nine months since I did an exchange to Barcelona. I could go on and on showing pictures about specific events, but I want to be a bit more real about my experience. I have had months to think about my exchange, and trust me I have thought about it frequently.

I've always wanted to do an exchange since I was about 10 years old, when my neighbor did an exchange with a girl from France. There was something about leaving my country for weeks and meeting all new people that sounded intriguing to me. I have never been able to shake the idea of going somewhere by myself. When I entered high school, I was able to skip a year of Spanish and enter a harder level. I struggled a lot that year with learning the language until it started to click. My teacher asked me if I would want to do an exchange to Barcelona for my sophomore year. I wasn't even that good at Spanish, but it hadn't hurt to apply so I thought "why not?". After doing the application and interview, I was so scared I wasn't going to get it because even though I thought I wouldn't get it, I didn't want to face the rejection. On May 8, 2015 (my fifteenth birthday) I received an email that I will be hosting a girl from Spain in the fall, and then the following March I would be going to Spain for three weeks. This email has changed my life because it taught me by taking a risk, many things will happen.

Fast forward to that fall, my exchange sister, Ana came an stayed with me for three weeks. In those three weeks, my friends and I took her around New York City. I've heard so many people who didn't get exchange students who they got along with it, but Ana and I became friends almost instantly. We would hangout in each other's room at night before we went to bed. She is such a fun person and it's like I knew her for years before I even met her. I cried when she left New York, even though I knew I would see her a few months later.

 March is when my life changed. On March 12, 2016 one girl from my grade, four from the year above mine, and I boarded a flight to Barcelona. I'll always remember my first day. The six of us got through security in Barcelona and got our bags. We were all excited but a bit scared, and we sat in a circle with our bags just laughing because we were nervous about the next three weeks. We've came all this way to do an exchange, it felt like a dream. After the six of us separated, my host family took me to their house to drop off my stuff and get changed. I packed so many summer-y clothes thinking that Barcelona would be very hot (I didn't look up the weather). Afterwards, we went to a mountain so I can see all of Barcelona. It was truly beautiful because the city is within mountains by the water. After going back to the house and having a lunch (my host mother was such a good cook), I took a siesta. This might sound so boring but what happens next I will always remember. Ana woke me up and told me that her friends were coming over in five minutes. They were coming in five minutes! I tried to make myself look like I haven't been sleeping for two hours and then grabbed the first book I could think of, which happened to be a Stephen Hawking book.  I was so nervous because what if her friends didn't like me. What if they didn't speak much English and I couldn't communicate with Spanish? There was honestly nothing to be scared of. Her friends were super sweet to me, and I felt so welcomed by them. They showed me Plaza Catalunya (I have posts all about these places up on the blog), and a few other very pretty places. We talked about the three weeks ahead of me, and how they heard so much about me. These Spanish girls and boys have a special place in my memory because even at the school they showed such kindness to me. I was so scared for nothing because everyone was so nice to me, and helped me through all my problems. I spent more time with my new spanish friends than I did with the other americans that came on exchange with me.

Throughout the three weeks, I got to visit beautiful churches such as La Sagrada Familia and Montserrat, visit Costa Brava, go clubbing in a discoteca, watch movies in Spanish (Spirited Away and My Big Fat Greek Wedding), go to school in Barcelona, and just be immersed in a new culture. I am usually very shy around new people, but on my exchange I threw my usual persona out the window and did whatever came at me. I tried new foods like duck intestine sushi, and I went to so many people's houses and had dinner with their families. My friend Cathy and I went shopping on our own to stores, and even found a place where they sold iced coffee (apparently it's not that common in Europe). I was able to take this new place and culture, and become accustomed to it. My exchange was one of the best things to happen to me. For two months after the exchange all I did was talk about the things I did, and think of  the people.

This post is a reflection because my exchange program has influenced me in different ways. When I think of "cool" things I did in my life, this is number one. This trip made me realize how badly I want to be able to speak languages besides English, and visit places all over the world (especially in Europe). I have a better appreciation for other people's cultures and I now realize how hard it is for people who don't know a certain language to move to a new place. Going to Barcelona on exchange was an experience that changed my thinking and I am so thankful that I was able to participate in it.
If you are ever in the position to travel to a new place, I fully recommend taking the opportunity to pursue it.

Here is a picture of my host sister and friend, Ana, and I in Barcelona on my last day of school there. She is one of the best people I know, and I wouldn't have known her if I hadn't participated in an exchange program.

                                                            Christina Madeleine


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