Greenheart Travel loves to hear from our travelers. Recently, Vismaya returned from a High School Abroad semester in Spain and volunteered to share her experiences with us.
Vismaya, who lives in California, decided to study a semester in Spain because she wanted to learn more Spanish and immerse herself in the culture. She arrived in Badajoz, met her host family, and started school the very next day—still jet lagged. Her little host sisters, Catalina and Carmen, were very excited to welcome their big sister into town, and they captured a couple of polaroid shots right before school started. Through the day, Vismaya recorded her observations and feelings about being the new exchange student in her local high school–the culture shock, the nerves, the tiredness, the language challenges, and the excitement and newness of it all.
Yesterday was my first day of school here in Spain, and the experience as a whole was both nerve-wrecking and wholesome all at once. My day started rather early, as I could barely sleep due to the jet lag — I’m living 9 hours away from home! One of my kind neighbors showed up exactly at 8 a.m. to walk me to school. School days in Spain are typically shorter; for the Bachillerato years (11th and 12th grade in the US), school starts at 8:20 a.m. and goes till 2:20 p.m. (only 6 hours).
At school, I met the director, and he took me to my class to meet my tutor. A tutor in Spain is a class counselor who helps handle student problems, gives advice, and fosters class bonding. My tutor happened to be my English teacher, Juan, who also proved to be a very helpful translator for me around the school. After a brief campus tour, he took me to class to meet my classmates.
Oddly enough, I didn’t feel shy entering the classroom, but I certainly was intimidated. My English teacher told me to introduce myself to the class, and fortunately, I was able to do so in English because it was their English period. I remember I didn’t say much but the class applauded loudly when I finished; they were all fascinated by my American accent. The teacher then asked each of them to introduce themselves to me in very slow Spanish; he stressed the severity of the accent in Extremadura (people speak very fast and often swallow the letters at the end of the word). The students went around the classroom one-by-one introducing themselves, although we only got halfway through the class by the time the bell rang. Class ended with Juan telling the class to take care of me, to which the class enthusiastically responded. I remember being pleasantly surprised by the bond of the classmates in the Spanish classroom and feeling safe when I heard Juan say, “Teneis que cuidarla, ¿vale?” (“You have to take care of her, okay?”). As soon as English ended, the class crowded around my desk trying to ask me questions and introduce themselves. Most of them simply observed me, as the language barrier was rather evident. They managed to communicate with me in simple English and even asked for my phone number to add me to a group chat for things related to school.
In the Spanish bachillerato program, students have three classes in the morning following by a recreo. The recreo is like the recess period of school. Bachillerato students are allowed to venture outside campus and my friends decided to take me out to a candy store. They asked me questions during the break, like the music I listened to, and we discovered that we had a lot in common–listening to many of the same artists. Walking back to school took more time than expected, as so many people tried to speak to me in English. We barely made it back by the time the bell rang.
Philosophy followed el recreo and that was when I experienced my first wave of culture shock. Until philosophy, everyone tried to speak to me slowly and say things in English. I remember feeling so lost as they reviewed the assignments. They read so fast! I vividly remember a moment when one of my classmates read out her correct answers and the whole class applauded her. Being caught up in translating the last of her words in my head (her rate of speech was too fast for me), I forgot to applaud and the teacher gestured me to clap anyway to show my support; I remember some of my classmates laughing and sympathizing because they saw I did not understand anything but I applauded anyway.
The initial excitement of the day had passed and I was feeling more confused and jet lagged for my last two classes. The biology teacher introduced himself, telling me that he was just as embarrassed to speak in English as I was to speak in Spanish. Biology was a group project and a couple of my classmates invited me into their group. The final class was Spanish literature, and again, I found myself feeling lost. The class was reading Don Quijote in its original form and they were learning the historical context and studying the complexity of the characters. I was extremely sleepy, but the next thing I knew, the bell rang.
I left school that first day not knowing how to feel. People had been so friendly yet, I felt so lost in my new world. The intensity of subjects combined with the heavy accent in Extremadura made comprehension more difficult. I was nervous to go back to class! But I knew this stage would pass—and it did! Everyone was so much more helpful than I could have ever imagined, and I will always be grateful.
Thank you Vismaya for sharing your story! You can find Vismaya’s blog here. Check back soon for another of her stories about her time in Spain.
Learn more about this Greenheart Travel High School Abroad in Spain program.
Greenheart Travel has many High School Abroad programs and Gap Year opportunities all over the world. Follow the links to inquire about your favorites!
2 thoughts on "The First Day in High School Abroad – by Vismaya in Spain"
Our daughter is traveling to Spain in August with your org . We will like as much information on her daily routine and host family.
How exciting for her! If your daughter is interested in writing a blog for us like Vismaya has done, we’d love to hear about her daily routine too! Let us know! Thanks!