Living in a different country teaches you a lot about their language, traditions, and history. I, being an American, learned how to speak Spanish in more of a Mexican way than a traditional Spanish way. This caused some bumps in conversation, but it definitely helped me improve my speaking skills and learn different words for the same thing. Unlike here, Spanish families tend to eat every meal together if possible. In my family, we often ate at least lunch and dinner together; back in Colorado, if it’s not a weekend or holiday, my family mainly eats just dinner together. Spain has been a country for much longer than my own country, so naturally they have a lot more historical sites and landmarks. They have many gothic cathedrals and castles that have been around longer than anything in the US; I learned a lot about the architects and artists that created these places when we visited them.
This trip was a huge privilege. I’ve always wanted to travel but knew I wouldn’t have the money for it, and this program was an amazing opportunity to travel without the extensive cost. My younger host sister, Blanca was one of the highlights of the trip. She’s a very sassy seven year old who is suspicious of everyone for the first few days after she meets them; I received many glare-like looks from her in the beginning. By the end, she was drawing blue butterflies with makeup on my face so that we could be matching, and I experienced what it was like to have a little sister for the first time. I also gained a second family in my home in Burgos; my host mom, Ruth, kept telling me that I should come back with her daughter, Reyes, when she returns from Colorado. During the trip, I made some amazing friends; Reyes and I are very close now, considering that we’ve only known each other since the end of June, and I became close with some of her friends in Spain too. I can’t thank AILI enough for this amazing opportunity.
We visited so many beautiful landmarks, including the Palacio Real in Madrid. I got to see the cathedral in Burgos, which was massive and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. While I was staying in Burgos, they had their festivals for the city; this included a parade, a bullfight, a flower tribute to the virgin Mary, and giant, life like puppets called “gigantillos” dancing together in the center of the city. I had the opportunity to experience how another culture celebrates and it was so much different but a ton of fun. I was amazed that my camera had enough space for all the pictures I took of everything.
When I was preparing for this trip, a lot of things make me nervous. I’m the kind of person who likes to know exactly what will happen when I’m going somewhere, and some things were a little scary to me. A note to future AILI recipients: airports are not as scary as you’d think; there are signs everywhere and plenty of nice employees to help you out. But, if you know that you’re going to have a long layover, be prepared with books and other activities to keep yourself occupied without spending all of your money in the airport.
When you’re living with your family in whichever country you’re selected for, be prepared for some bumps in language, even if you’ve studied it for multiple years. I went to Spain and have studied Spanish for four years; but what I’ve discovered is that I learned the Spanish words that Mexican people use, and while much of the language is very similar, Spanish people have different words for certain things than Mexicans do. For example, I had a small cold when I was living in Burgos, and my family kept asking me if I had a cold, but I didn’t understand; I had learned the word “resfriado” for cold, and they used the word “catarro.” I talked around the word and eventually figured out what it meant, but it was confusing for a while. Another difficult thing was understanding people with different accents. In the south of Spain, where we stayed for a week, most people don’t clearly pronounce “s” in words; by the end of the week I could understand for the most part, but not entirely. The phrase “Can you please repeat that more slowly?” was my best friend for the entire trip, but especially when we stayed in the south.
The last thing I would recommend is that if you know yourself as someone who’s perceptive to catching colds or you have allergies, bring allergy medicine, cold medicine, and/or cough drops just in case you need them. I have a horrible immune system and caught a cold while I was staying in Spain, and although my family helped by giving me Vick’s vaporub and some cough drops, I would have been better off with some medicine to help as well.
Exchange is a learning process. It teaches you about the history and culture of your country, but also how to get around misunderstandings and make connections with people who don’t speak your language. It was a bit intimidating for me personally, but in the end, it was all worth it because I’ve gone on a trip that was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that is something I wouldn’t give up for the world.