First Two Months

Today marks 2 months since I’ve arrived in Spain. The time has flown by and I am loving it here. I have been very busy which makes it’s hard to find time to write blog posts, but at a minimum, I will post something every month. This time I have put together a video about my first two months in Spain and this blog post about general things such as food, travel, school and day to day life.

Cultural Differences

  • Driving age is 18
  • Drinking age is 18
  • Two kisses (one on each cheek, left to right) greeting
  • Parties don’t usually start before midnight and they usually end around 5 am
  • Oil is used to cook food more than butter
  • Most meat is cooked on the stove, not on a grill
  • Must wear shoes or slippers in houses

I have tried so many new foods in these past two months that I probably would’ve never tried in Minnesota. Some of the foods that I have tried are lentils, chorizo, salmon, white asparagus, tuna, chestnuts, pumpkin-filled ravioli pasta, croquetas, liver, jamon, and garrotes de chocolate. Of all those, the garrotes de chocolate are my favorite because they are an amazing chocolate pastry. I have seen long lines of people outside of the bakery waiting to buy them!

All the Rotary exchange students had an orientation weekend in the middle of September. It was in a compound on the outskirts of Madrid and lasted for three days. This year there are about 130 to 140 Rotary exchange students in Spain from all around the world. It was amazing meeting so many people from so many different countries. Unfortunately, I don’t have very many pictures from orientation because once we arrived, the adults confiscated our phones, which I liked and didn’t like. I liked it because it really forced people to interact with each other and disconnect from the internet for a bit. The part that I didn’t like about it was that many people now didn’t have a camera to take pictures with. I had my actual camera with me, but it wasn’t really easy to haul it around all the time because of all the various activities. Throughout the weekend we played various games and listened to presentations given by Rotex or the adults in charge of the Youth Exchange program in Spain. They talked about the rules, what it means to be an ambassador of our countries, and what to expect during our year in Spain.

During these two months, I have visited San Sebastián, Olite, Madrid, and Bilbao. San Sebastián is a beautiful city on the ocean, with pretty architecture, lots of water activities and famous pintxos. When I visited Olite, I went with my host dad and my host sister. We visited the Palacio Real de Olite, which is a 13th century castle built under Roman rule and completed in 1424. I haven’t explored or seen much of Madrid, except for what I saw during Orientation weekend, but since I visited it, I decided to include it in my list of places that I have been to. Bilbao is almost twice the size of Pamplona population wise, but slightly smaller than Minneapolis. The architecture in Bilbao is fascinating, with various styles ranging from gothic to contemporary and everything inbetween. I saw the Guggenheim museum but was unable to enter because the line was extremely long and would’ve taken hours to get into the museum. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the inside of it someday when I have more time. Every time I visit a new place, I buy a patch for my Rotary blazer and then later sew it on. By the end of my exchange year, my blazer will probably be covered in pins and patches.

School in Pamplona is very different from school in Minnesota. The biggest difference for me is having to wear a uniform. I actually like wearing a uniform because it makes everything so much easier in the mornings, but most of the students don’t like it. Another difference is that cell phones are completely prohibited. If a teacher even sees a cell phone, they confiscate it and the parents of the student have to come to the school to pick it up.
Instead of being graded on a letter scale, the students here are graded on a number scale from 0-10. Zero is the lowest, with 10 being the highest. A grade of five is considered passing. Multiple choice tests are not very common in schools, which means that most tests are essay tests or short answer (paragraph) questions.
The grade levels such as 5th grade, have different names in Spain. See the table for more information. At the end of 1° Bachillerato (11th grade) students usually have a “viaje de estudios”, which is a trip abroad to another country for a week or two. This year my school is going to Italy, but the trip is during the first two weeks of September, so I am not going to be able to go on the trip.
Once students enter the equivalent of 11th grade, they have to choose a study track. There are four tracks in my school: Humanities, Social Sciences, Engineering and Medical Sciences. I am in the Social Sciences track and am taking these nine classes:
  1. Physical Education
  2. Spanish Language and Literature
  3. Philosophy
  4. French
  5. Mathematics Applied to the Social Sciences
  6. Scientific Culture
  7. History of the Contemporary World
  8. Economics
  9. English

In addition to these nine classes, I have a special one-on-one class that focuses on improving my Spanish through reading books, newspaper articles, writing summaries, learning vocabulary and syntax. Unlike most high schools in the United States, my class schedule changes every day and the teachers also change classrooms.

Most of my subjects are taught in my homeroom classroom, but I do change classroom for some subjects. As shown in my schedule, I only have six hours of school every day, except for Tuesdays when I have eight hours. About half of my classes are taught in Spanish, and the other classes are taught in English or French. The classes that are taught in English are Physical Education, Scientific Culture and English. I only have one class that is taught in French, and it’s French class.
At my school students have three minutes between each class to use the bathroom, drink some water and chat with our friends. We have one longer break from 11:15 to 11:45 in which we go outside to the patio to hang out with our friends and eat a “bocadillo” (sandwich). However, this isn’t lunch. We eat lunch around 15:30 at home after school ends.
The lockers in my school in Spain and in my school in Minnesota are very different. Here, we don't use our lockers to store our textbooks, coats or backpacks. Everyone has a locker, but most people don’t use it. Instead, our textbooks and notebooks go inside our desks and we hang up our coats and backpacks on hooks close to the lockers. The lockers are also a different size than the ones in Minnesota. Here, they are smaller, deeper, and inside the classroom.
All the classrooms have a chalkboard and a projector with a pull-down screen and an Apple TV attached to the projector. Every teacher has an iPad that they bring with them from class to class and use it to connect to the projector for the lecture, or they just use the chalkboard.
Since my school here is a Catholic school, some things are done differently than in Minnesota. Some teachers require students to be standing at the beginning of class until the teacher tells the class that they may sit down. At the beginning of the school day, teachers will sometimes have the students stand while they lead the class in a prayer but I only have two teachers who do that. If a student arrives to class late, they are required to wait outside in the hallway until the teacher gives them permission to enter. At that point, the student must stand at the back of the classroom for at least five minutes, or until they are given permission to sit down.

Here is a video that I made about my first two months in Spain. I hope you enjoy it!