Take 5 is a Greenheart Travel series where we ask alumni 5 quirky questions about their time abroad.
Up to this point, Take 5 has highlighted some of our teen alumni who have completed one of our High School Abroad programs. This week, we are switching it up by putting the spotlight on Cody Wirth, who taught English in a Homestay in Spain this past summer.
The first time I felt like I made a friend was almost immediately after arriving. Ernesto was my student, but he turned out to be such a great friend. He is 15, and I am 20, so we are close enough in age to relate to each other about a lot of things. We did everything together during my one month stay in Spain, such as playing video games, going to the beach, visiting his family in Málaga, going to La Alhambra in Granada, and simply riding our bikes to work in his family’s gym. We still stay in contact via WhatsApp, talking about not only language but also what our lives entail in general. Ernesto is definitely a very good friend and my first friend that I made in Spain!
The best way to get involved is to say yes. “Cody, do you want to do X?” “Cody, do you want to go to Y?” Most, if not all, of the time, these were questions by Emilio and Rosa, Ernesto’s parents, asking if I wanted to be involved with their family in what they were doing. Take these opportunities. Even if something seems boring, difficult, ludicrous, or whatever negative adjective you can think of, still try it.
Remember, we come into foreign countries looking through our American lens. By getting involved and leaving worries and preconceived notions at the door, we can experience life more closely to what it truly is for native citizens of other countries. By saying yes, I did everything from watching the running of the bulls on television with my host family at 8am, to planting avocado and mango trees in my host family’s yard, to rock climbing and hiking on a path that was literally on the edge of a rock face.
There were definitely many miscommunications between myself and others, both speaking English and speaking Spanish. A few dealt with vocabulary, such as how I at first used the word “carro” to say “car” but was quickly corrected that Spaniards say “coche.”
Others though were more…interesting. One in particular was when Ernesto asked me, “Cody, do you want to take a bath?” “Interesting,” I thought, “now why would Ernesto be so concerned about my personal hygienic schedule? How bad do I stink?” Soon, though, he was in his bathing suit jumping in the pool. After debriefing about what had happened, I learned that the verb “bañarse” means to casually swim in Castilian Spanish, but it translates literally to “bathing oneself,” which has a whole different meaning in American English.
Specifically, I do not remember the names of many Spanish songs; however, being in Andalucía, the southern autonomous region in Spain, my family knew a lot about flamenco. We listened to a lot of flamenco at dinner on Spotify and Emilio, my host father, would show me YouTube videos of famous flamenco singers and performers.
My favorite experiences, though, were when Emilio would bring out his guitar to play flamenco. He knew how to pluck the strings perfectly (which was very difficult, much more complicated than just strumming chords) as well as sing along. One time, his brother-in-law, David, played the guitar while Emilio clapped a typical flamenco beat and sang. They had me clap a steady beat along with it to make a full flamenco song. They put me right in the center of the culture, which was amazing.
My advice for anyone going abroad is to do it. You might be thinking, “well, obviously that’s what I’m doing. I am already going.” But I do not just mean go and have your experience; I mean do your experience. Live it to the fullest by saying yes, having realistic goals, relying on others (both locals and friends and family back at home), knowing and expecting that something will be different about you after your experience (growing is good!), staying curious, and above all, having fun. YOU ARE FREAKING GOING TO ANOTHER COUNTRY. Holy. Cow. That is incredible, so live it up to its- and your- highest potential.
Don’t worry about things that will be completely trivial in the future, like being embarrassed and looking different. Those are things that will happen, and you should prepare for them; however, they should not define your trip nor stop you from experiencing everything at its fullest potential.
Also, don’t be shy about what you want to do. I was shy at first about a place I really wanted to see while I was in Spain, but finally, I just asked my family if it would be possible for me to go. Without me getting over this hesitation, I never would have visited Barcelona. Be confident and dream big. You got this.