Avery's Adventures on a Semester Program in Spain

Avery's Adventures on a Semester Program in Spain

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Six months ago, I signed up with ANDEO to do a semester abroad in Spain, not really believing it was actually going to happen.   Now with three days until my departure for Madrid, the reality of this decision is starting to hit.   As part of this experience, I have agreed to to a blog, to document and describe some of the high and low points of my journey.  So, where to begin……...

My name is Avery Beath and I am a 17 year old HS junior currently attending South Eugene HS in Eugene, Oregon.  I have two older siblings both of whom spent time in Latin America when they reached my age, so I have seen them go through the same kind of preparation for their trips.  We’ve also been lucky enough to have hosted two foreign exchange students from Chile in our own home, so I’ve been able to see how challenging and rewarding this kind of trip can be.

Getting a Visa
As far as the practical things to get ready for the trip, here’s some of things I’ve needed to do.   First step was getting all the papers and documents and the recommendations from three teachers very dear to me.

Secondly, I had to book an appointment at the Spanish Counsulate one month in advance and drive from Eugene to San Francisco, California with my mom. This was a little tricky because we had one chance to get my long term student visa and if somehow it didn’t work out, we would have to drive back to Oregon and book another appointment a month from then (image infront of the Spanish Consulate). 

Well, luckily, it worked out and, after being assured that the visa would come through, the next step  was getting my airplane tickets and getting all my credits for school together. This worked in my favor because I’m going abroad for the second semester of my junior year and I’ll have time to fit all the rest of my graduation requirements in my senior year,  when I get back. 

So, this week comes the final steps:  beginning to say goodbye to friends and family, getting my lists together, gathering my gear and packing.  I leave from Eugene this Sunday at 6am and arrive one day later at 8:15am in Madrid!   

Right now I have a huge mix of feelings--fear, enthusiasm, sadness, happiness, but mostly I am very excited to get this opportunity and  I’m hoping to make the best out of it.

Saying Goodby

My first solo airplane ride, my first time out of the country--my mind was racing. It was the last night before my departure and I was still frantically packing. I couldn't decide what to bring and what to leave. All the exchange students I'd talked to about traveling had told me it was big mistake to over-pack and if you did end up underpacking, you could always just get what you needed once you arrive. I ended up packing a good amount of clothing, personal items and small gifts for my host family but still left enough room in my luggage to bring some gifts back with me at the end of my time. My next step was say final goodbyes to my family and friends and try to get some sleep for my long travels the next day. 

The trip

My flights were all pretty smooth. I went from Eugene, Oregon (my home town) to Salt Lake City, and then on to Atlanta where I began the longest leg, the trans-Atlantic flight into Spain. One of my concerns when traveling alone was being able to navigate through the airports. I just didn't have much experience traveling and I was a little worried. This turned out to be simpler than I could of ever imagined. There were many signs directing me where to go and if somehow I did manage to get myself lost, I could always just ask one of the many people working in the airports. Arriving in Madrid, I was met at the airport by a representative of Andeo who held up one of those little signs with my name on it.  He welcomed me, helped me retrieve my luggage and drove me to my host family's home.

Then came the part I was most nervous about: meeting my new host family who I'd be spending the next 6 months with.  

My new family

When considering meeting my host family for the first time I didn't know what to expect. In the few moments before I actually did meet them I was really nervous and excited at the same time. My mind kept getting carried away with thoughts like: "What if it's a bad fit?"and “What if they aren't caring people?" But in actuality, the program always does much screening and checking before hand, making sure that students are hosted in a loving family that is ready for a "new son". In my case, I was greeted by a  very kind host mother and father that were both as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. A little later on I met my new energetic host brother who's 14 and sister who is 11. 

First day at school

After a brief conversation with the principal, I was led into a small classroom that on one side was covered in tall windows, colorful posters hung on the other walls.

I took my seat at a small desk, the kind that I used to have in grade school with a little cubby underneath for books and personal items. The teacher came up to me, I stood to greet her and she smiled, said her name, and kissed both of my cheeks. I quickly sat back in my seat and tried to become invisible. Then, to my total embarrassment, each student in tern approached me. The boys introduced themselves and shook my hand, but the girls kissed both of my cheeks as I became as red as a newly cooked lobster.

Looking back

For the first few weeks the transition to my new life was challenging. Making new friends, meeting new teachers, having a new rhythm and learning (and sometimes not understanding) the language and culture, were hard. But now, already one month into my time here, I am starting to feel like I am adjusting well into a rhythm and am learning and seeing new things every day. Right now I am feeling so lucky to get the chance of experiencing this new culture and I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take it because there is nothing like it. 

Two Months In Madrid

Now in my second month of school in Madrid, I still recall a memory from my first week. I was sitting at my unfamiliar desk struggling to stay awake when all of a sudden I felt a yawn coming on. I tried my hardest to contain it, but failed. Right then the teacher stopped speaking and looked at me in a disapproving way. Soon I felt another one coming on, but this time I didn't even try to conceal it. An expression of furious disbelief crossed over my teacher's face as she dropped her pen and walked right up to me. She then began speaking to me very fast in Spanish, and it being my first few days in Spain, I couldn't understand her. Sitting at my desk I nodded my head yes, and replied sí sí (not really understanding what she said). Later I learned from a friend that she was telling me to leave the classroom immediately. Almost two months have passed, and now I would understand that “salir de la clase ahora” means "leave the classroom now".

 Time seems to be flying by. After spending almost 2 months in Spain my Spanish has improved enough for me to get by in everyday life. While I'm usually busy attending school, spending time with my host family, hanging out with friends, playing soccer, and seeing new sights, it feels nice to sit down and write. 

My biggest challenges have been adjusting to an all Spanish curriculum, learning to share a room with someone who is almost four years younger than I am, and adapting to living in a big city. I do miss a few things about my home; my friends, my family, and easily understanding everyone and everything. But I've come here to challenge myself and It feels good for me to get out of my comfort zone at times.
   
Besides attending school, when the opportunity arises I love traveling around Spain, because let's be honest, who doesn't like a good adventure. One of the most beautiful places I've visited has been the city of Barcelona and smaller villages of Catalonia. After being in the big city of Madrid for so long, it was such a treasure to be able to explore mountains, castles, and see green fields that stretched without end. 

Until next time....!

 

A Few Changes

A few things have changed since I've last written, the biggest has been my transition two weeks ago, into my new host family. 

I got put with another lovely, caring family, but now have older siblings, a 17 year old boy and a 20 year old girl. Right away I felt welcomed into this new home and the host sister took me out and introduced me to her friends and helped me practice my Spanish. I am very thankful to be in a new family with kids my own age. With them I've had the chance to visit more cities in and around Madrid, watch a soccer match at Santiago Bernabéu (the Real Madrid stadium) and this summer I am fortunate enough to be traveling with them to visit Paris and Valencia.

By far the the most exhilarating experience I've had with them has been attending the Real Madrid games. It was an incredible experience witnessing close to 90,000 fans jumping up and down shouting their team on, with chants that most people knew in the stadium. It's truly a sight to see.

 Some other exciting activities I've gotten to expierence have been the local festivals. One thats different from any I've been to in the United states is the Pradera. It is in honour of San Isidro ( also known as the patron saint of Madrid). This takes place in May and goes on for three straight days with traditional dancing of the chulapos and goyescos. Thousands of people from all different races, cultures and ages come together to celebrate these special days with music, dancing, traditional plates of food and a huge carnival. 

  Already after only spending 2 weeks with this family I feel right at home. I am amazed how welcoming families are in Spain and am grateful for this. I am looking forward to the times I will share with my new family and can't wait for the memories we will make.