Parents, Send Your Kids to Spain

On June 22nd, 2019, I boarded a flight from Dallas Fort Worth to Santander airport in Cantabria, Spain.

I had never stayed in a foreign country for more than a few days, been away from my family for more than a few weeks, or taken a flight on my own before.  So, although I was excited to live in Spain for a month as part of a cultural exchange program, I was nervous about leaving.  Life in Spain is a major shift from life in the United States, so I was worried that it would be a negative experience.  

It turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.

A glimpse of the Cantabrian mountain range encircling Astillero
The Santander town center
One of Cantabria's beautiful beaches

I still remember my first day in Spain.  After stumbling off the plane, meeting my host mom for the first time as she picked me up at the airport, sleeping for several hours (the time change hit me hard), devouring a scrumptious fish lunch, and attending a local festival, I could barely keep my eyes open.

Adapting to a new environment was difficult, but by my second day, I was able to handle my surroundings better and got to know my host family (my host dad is a genuine blacksmith ― how's that for a dream job!) and explore the area.  My host brother showed me around the town I was staying in, Astillero, and introduced me to his friends.  I was shocked to discover that Spanish bars were much different than American ones: children are allowed and bar food is phenomenal!

By the third day, while everything was still new, Spain felt like more of a home to me.  I played a rotation as goalie in a local soccer match (and did surprisingly well, considering I blocked two shots and allowed none), jumped off a pier with my newfound friends (completely safe if you know where and where not to jump), and learned how to take the train from the suburbs of Astillero to the actual city of Santander (cheap and clean, much better than the D.C. Metro).

And, when orientation rolled around and classes started by day four, I felt confident in my new surroundings.  After taking the city train into the heart of Santander, I met the other eight exchange students and our extremely bubbly program coordinator obsessed with Regma ice cream.

By day five and beyond, each day was completely different from the next.  Whether it was devouring an entire watermelon while sunbathing on the beach, taking nightly salsa dance classes, or visiting the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, I spent my month in Santander having fun experiencing Spanish culture with my friends.  What made my time in Spain truly transformative was the constant learning ― I learned

I even learned how to shoe a horse!

But, I discovered that what's important isn't just what you're learning, but also how you're learning it you take in so much new information in so little time that you're forced to learn without judging.  When you see a social media post, news article, or movie with a different culture than your own, the knee-jerk reaction is to judge.  

By completely immersing yourself in another culture, you force yourself to open your mind to new experiences and enjoy learning without the stigma of judgement.  It's something that I strongly believe everyone can benefit from, regardless of their prior experience with the host culture or language.

And, while costs for similar programs are high, a majority of my fellow exchange students were there on a substantial (if not full) scholarship.

Helping out at the local art museum with an inflatables exhibit
A video I made on my YouTube about the experience
A genuine Spanish bullfight (no gore, bull not shown)

So, parents, send your kids to Spain.

I promise you they won't regret it.


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Photo Credit:  Original Screencapture