Student perspective: Spanish exchange

Guest Blogger: Una L.

As one of our 2019 Featured Student Bloggers, Una L. shares her tips for students preparing for their own exchange abroad. 

Last April, I embarked on a twelve-day school exchange trip to Spain in which I immersed myself in the language while living with a wonderful host family, met incredible people, and got to travel around Andalusia and visit Madrid!

Preparing for your own school exchange? Here are some helpful tips and tricks to make the most out of your exchange experience.

Mi casa es su casa

My host family was incredibly considerate about trying to accommodate my American eating schedule, but I assured them that I was ready to adjust to Spanish meal times. When they ate, I ate, and I ate whatever they ate.

Some of our best conversations about music, the World Cup, and Córdoba’s upcoming festival occurred around the dining room table and these meals were what I looked forward to every day.

Lunch and dinner presented opportunities to sample fried eggplant drizzled in sweet molasses sauce, delicious salads and traditional tapas unique to Córdoba.  Discussing favorite foods was an easy way to get to know each family member better.

eggplant-cordoba-spain

Pitch In!

From the very beginning of the trip, I volunteered to help wash dishes and do the chores that I saw my host partner or her brother do. I made sure to keep my space clean, so my host family would know I respected their home. Helping out around the house was a simple way  to show my appreciation for them welcoming me into their family.

Make `Amigos´

1. Get Close With All of the Students in Your Exchange

Before I arrived in Spain, all the exchange students and hosts made a huge Whatsapp chat group, so we could get to know each other better. Then, during the exchanges (both in the United States and Spain), we coordinated plans through the group chat. By messaging each other and sharing our social media names, I connected with my exchange partner and her friends through our shared love of music and dance. Being part of a large messenger group allowed both groups of students to made inside jokes and send photos of what we were doing each day.

2. Get to Know Your Host

Before my exchange partner, Mariana, arrived in the United states, we talked over Whatsapp and learned a lot about each other, so that when we met in person, we already felt like friends. Our closeness only grew when I then visited her in Spain.

As a friend, I felt comfortable talking to Mariana about how I was feeling on the trip. One night, when I was struggling with allergies, we decided to stay in and invite her friends over so that I could rest a bit and let my allergies clear up for the next day. Ironically, this ended up being one of my favorite experiences as we spent a hilarious night together eating snacks and singing along to Spanish music videos.

3. Ask for Cultural Clarifications and Have Fun!

Since I established a close connection with my host, I was able to ask for clarifications when locals would use expressions that I did not understand. When Spanish students in our group chat would send messages that said “aro”, Mariana explained it was just an abbreviation of writing “claro” used by students in Cordoba.

I also picked up on word and phrases like “genial” (meaning cool) from Mariana and her friends and tried to use them in my vocabulary as well. And I always tried to keep a sense of humor—even when I stumbled over words or made a slight grammar error when speaking, I would keep smiling and joking around and didn’t let my mistakes keep me from building connections with others and making friends.

La Cultura e El Arte

1. Explore!

In Spain, I took every opportunity to really get a feel for Spanish culture and the cities we visited. Each day presented an opportunity to see something new and form a connection with a specific place, so by keeping an open mind, I saw so many amazing sights. I loved seeing medieval cities like Toledo that had cobblestone streets and high castle walls that were so different from the buildings near my house. Visiting the Prado museum and letting Pablo Picasso’s incredible masterpiece, Guernica, wash over me presented a unique opportunity to incorporate both historical narrative and compelling visual art into my view of Spain and its beautiful and complicated past. Even riding the subway in Madrid was an exciting experience as it allowed me to watch a different culture engage in their afternoon commute.

2. Say YES to New Experiences

After seeing the Royal Opera House in Madrid, I asked my teacher if I could use our evening free time to see an opera they were putting on that night. She said yes, so a group of my classmates and I bought cheap tickets and were able to take part in a cultural event central to Madrid’s history (the royal box was visible from my seat!). Although the King and Queen weren’t present, it was truly a night to remember.

After that night, I tried to experience as much of the culture as possible: I bought lunch from farmer’s markets and tried to use any new information I learned about Spanish culture to interact authentically with all of the people my classmates and I met on our trip.

Travelling to Spain gave me a new sense of confidence in myself as both a speaker of the language and as a community member, and when I left my heart and mind were full of excitement for the future of my study and I was already looking forward to returning to the friends I left behind.

¡Adiós!

Una

Make `Amigos´

1. Get Close With All of the Students in Your Exchange

Before I arrived in Spain, all the exchange students and hosts made a huge Whatsapp chat group, so we could get to know each other better. Then, during the exchanges (both in the United States and Spain), we coordinated plans through the group chat. By messaging each other and sharing our social media names, I connected with my exchange partner and her friends through our shared love of music and dance. Being part of a large messenger group allowed both groups of students to made inside jokes and send photos of what we were doing each day.

2. Get to Know Your Host

Before my exchange partner, Mariana, arrived in the United states, we talked over Whatsapp and learned a lot about each other, so that when we met in person, we already felt like friends.Our closeness only grew when I then visited her in Spain.

As a friend, I felt comfortable talking to Mariana about how I was feeling on the trip. One night, when I was struggling with allergies, we decided to stay in and invite her friends over so that I could rest a bit and let my allergies clear up for the next day. Ironically, this ended up being one of my favorite experiences as we spent a hilarious night together eating snacks and singing along to Spanish music videos.

3. Ask for Cultural Clarifications and Have Fun!

Since I established a close connection with my host, I was able to ask for clarifications when locals would use expressions that I did not understand. When Spanish students in our group chat would send messages that said “aro”, Mariana explained it was just an abbreviation of writing “claro” used by students in Cordoba.

I also picked up on word and phrases like “genial” (meaning cool) from Mariana and her friends and tried to use them in my vocabulary as well. And I always tried to keep a sense of humor—even when I stumbled over words or made a slight grammar error when speaking, I would keep smiling and joking around and didn’t let my mistakes keep me from building connections with others and making friends.

La Cultura e El Arte

1. Explore!

In Spain, I took every opportunity to really get a feel for Spanish culture and the cities we visited. Each day presented an opportunity to see something new and form a connection with a specific place, so by keeping an open mind, I saw so many amazing sights. I loved seeing medieval cities like Toledo that had cobblestone streets and high castle walls that were so different from the buildings near my house. Visiting the Prado museum and letting Pablo Picasso’s incredible masterpiece ,Guernica, , wash over me presented a unique opportunity to incorporate both historical narrative and compelling visual art into my view of Spain and its beautiful and complicated past. Even riding the subway in Madrid was an exciting experience as it allowed me to watch a different culture engage in their afternoon commute.

2. Say YES to New Experiences

After seeing the Royal Opera House in Madrid, I asked my teacher if I could use our evening free time to see an opera they were putting on that night. She said yes, so a group of my classmates and I bought cheap tickets and were able to take part in a cultural event central to Madrid’s history (the royal box was visible from my seat!). Althoughalthough the King and Queen weren’t present, it was truly a night to remember.

After that night, I tried to experience as much of the culture as possible: I bought lunch from farmer’s markets and tried to use any new information I learned about Spanish culture to interact authentically with all of the people my classmates and I met on our trip.

Travelling to Spain gave me a new sense of confidence in myself as both a speaker of the language and as a community member, and when I left my heart and mind were full of excitement for the future of my study and I was already looking forward to returning to the friends I left behind.

¡Adiós!

Una