I was 16, a junior in high school, and I was embarking on a completely new adventure, not quite sure what to expect. I left Minnesota; my family, my friends and my school all to be replaced by a new set, in Linares, Spain.
I could not have been more excited as I boarded the plane that would take me to Spain, to a world I knew nothing about. I knew it would be a great experience, I knew it would be fun, and I knew it would be hard; what I didn’t know was just how great, how fun and how hard it was going to be!
My host family, the Mata Ruizs, met me at the train station near our town of Linares in Andalucia, Spain. Twin girls my age as sisters! These two girls, Ana and Rosa, became my world as they helped me slowly learn Spanish and my new country’s culture. Although neither of us could speak the other’s language, we made fantastic headway those first weeks;
¿Qué sonido hace un perro en Inglés?
Woof, Woof – What does a dog say in Spanish?
For my first three months I cried every day from homesickness and the stress of not understanding a word of my surroundings. I was miserable, every day I promised myself that if I just made it to Christmas, I would allow myself to go home.
My host family became my family. I called my host parents Mamá and Papá, and they were. They were so supportive and got me through it. My sisters helped me with my homework, spending hours explaining the meaning of simple phrases. Without them, I may not have made it a whole year.
One day I was sitting in my Philosophy class at school when all of the sudden I realized that I understood EVERY single word that the teacher was saying!! I was no longer trying to translate things from Spanish to English, I just knew what he was saying. It was a turning point in my trip. I had accomplished the most difficult part, and the one goal of my travel abroad experience – I had learned Spanish!
It was like a switch had been flipped! Every day I learned more, I couldn’t get enough of Spanish and the culture. Little things became significant. I belonged in Spain! Sure, I didn’t pass all of my classes, but that didn’t matter, I learned more than any class could ever teach!
I was sad on my last day in Spain, but excited to return to Minnesota. I was ready to “move on” with my life. Crazy thing is, after less than 2 weeks back “home” I was homesick for Spain.
I missed Spanish, I missed my family, I missed my friends and I missed the culture. I now belonged to two places.
It’s been 11 years since I lived in Spain, and every day I miss it as if I had just left. Whenever I hear a Castilian Spanish accent my heart skips a beat!
In my heart of hearts, and as goofy as it sounds, that year abroad made me feel as if I am part Spanish- I was re-born in Spain.