Months 4/5

These past two months have been a whirlwind of activities and an emotional roller-coaster. I did a lot of traveling to Santander and I also took a weekend trip to Bilbao. In December, I only had about 2 weeks of school because we had a week-long break at the beginning of the month, and then we had two weeks off for the holidays.

One of the very first things that I did in December was email Rotary MN to schedule my flights back. When we first received our outgoing flight itineraries, there was a note in the email that reminded us to schedule our return flights between December 1st and 31st so that we would have the most options available. After chatting with the other MN girls in Spain, I decided that I would schedule my flights for June 30th, 2018. This date worked well for two of the other girls as well, so when we emailed MN Rotary, we mentioned that we would like to fly home together if possible. A few days later, MN Rotary emailed us back and said that they had scheduled for the three of us to meet up in Amsterdam and fly home together from there. I think that it's going to be very helpful to fly home with other people instead of flying home alone because of all the emotions that we will probably be feeling. I imagine that we will mostly likely be excited to go home and see our family and friends again after being away for 10 months, but I also imagine that we will be sad to leave Spain and the lives that we have built here. After my flights were confirmed, I realized that I will be in Spain for exactly 300 days, which is just crazy to think about. At this point, my exchange is more than half over and I don't know how to feel about it. Part of me wants to stay here forever, but another part of me wants to go back to Minnesota to visit my family and friends. There is a popular quote among exchange students and for me, the answer is the second part of the question. I feel like it is so much harder to build a life in 10 months and then leave it forever, knowing that even if/when you return, it will never be the same.

You build a life for 16 years and leave it for 10 months. You build a life for 10 months and leave it forever. Which is harder?

Ever since I switched to my second host family, I have spent a lot of time in Santander because both my host parents are originally from there. Santander is a very pretty city right on the ocean in the north of Spain. Since it's on the ocean, it's usually a lot warmer there than it is in Pamplona. There were many days where I didn't need to wear a jacket, and just walked around in a sweater and jeans. The first time that I went to Santander was during the week-long break at the beginning of December. My host family told me that if I wanted to, I could invite Valentine to come along. So, I invited Valentine and we spent a week exploring Santander together. It was a very fun week filled with adventures, family lunches, and scouring the city for patches to put on our blazers. Unfortunately, we didn't find any patches that week and I still haven't found one since. We also visited the Palacio de la Magdalena which is an early 20th-century palace in Santander. It is also where the TV show "Gran Hotel" was filmed.

I did a bunch of things in Santander with my host family. including going to see movies, playing cards, eating family meals, opening Tres Reyes gifts, and exchanging different traditions. We went to see the new Star Wars movie and a movie called Wonder. I really liked both the movies and understood everything that was said. One thing that was really odd was hearing the characters in Star Wars talk because they had different voices than I'm used to. It also made me a little homesick because I usually go to see the new Star Wars movie with my dad and my brother over Winter Break, so going to see it without them didn't feel right.

Ask any exchange student and they will tell you that Christmas is one of the lowest points of their exchange because it's a very emotionally challenging time but afterwards, time flies by. It's true, Christmas was definitely hard for me but looking back on it now, it was easier to deal with the homesickness because I was surrounded by my host family and their extended family who made me feel at home and part of the family. I will always be grateful for everything they have done for me. This Christmas was my first Christmas without snow, or bone-chilling temperatures, which was a new experience for me and it made me realize how strongly I associate Christmas with snow and cold weather, neither of which I had in Santander. It did snow in Pamplona during Winter Break, but I was always in Santander, so I haven't really seen any snow so far this year.

New Year's Eve in Spain was very different from anything I've experienced in Minnesota. We started the night off by eating a big family dinner and then afterwards, all the teenagers got ready to go out to the parties. Once they were ready and it was almost midnight, we all sat in front of the TV to watch the countdown and eat the traditional 12 grapes. I successfully ate all 12 grapes but I might have cheated a little because we had seedless grapes, but then my host family and I took it a step further and peeled the grapes which would make it easier to eat them during the countdown. Peeling the grapes was hard work but I'm glad we did because it really did make them easier to eat. Just for fun, I took a video while eating the grapes, which you can watch below.

I don't remember exactly which night it was, but one of the nights that I was in Santander with my host family, I taught them a few card games that I usually play with my family and friends in Minnesota. We played Nut, Spoons and War. It was very fun to teach them the different games and then play them together. Although Nut can be complicated to explain, even in English, I think by the end of the night, my host family had gotten the hang of it and was enjoying it, even though my younger host brother didn't win a single round.

Another thing that I did with my host family during Winter Break was take a day trip to a city called Oviedo, which is the capital of Asturias. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts, the Cathedral, and the University as well. I really liked the Museum of Fine Arts because I got to see a Picasso painting and a Dali painting in the same room. It was fun to explore another city and see more of Spain.

The end of December and the beginning of January was a time of goodbye's as the Southern Hemisphere students ended their exchanges. It was definitely hard to say goodbye to everyone, but plans have been and will be made meet up and see each other again in the future. However, it was also a time of welcoming the new Southern Hemisphere students as they begin their exchange. Pamplona said goodbye to Antonio, but then welcomed Tazman the next day. With the arrival of the new students, the September "newbies" transitioned to being the "oldies".

Three Kings Day is a huge celebration in Spain that is celebrated on the 5th and 6th of January. The evening of January 5th, families line the streets to get a glimpse of the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, which is a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings and is usually an elaborate parade with floats, camels, dancers, sheep, etc. After the parade, kids leave out their shoes so that the Reyes Magos will put their presents next to their shoes. Another important (and tasty) part of the Tres Reyes celebrations is the Roscón de Reyes, which is a delicious round cake with candied fruit on top and whipped cream in the middle. It is also common to hide chocolate coins or little plastic figurines inside the cake as well.

All the students in District 2202 had a district meeting/weekend in Vic during the last weekend of January. We visited a factory that makes handmade sausages, saw how they are made, and then got to try some. For lunch on Saturday, we enjoyed an excellent calçotada, which is a traditional meal in Catalonia. Calçotada consists of grilling calçots (a special type of onion) over a hot fire, wrapped up in newspaper, served on terra cotta tiles and eaten, after peeling with bare hands, by dipping them one by one in romesco sauce. Afterwards, we had some meat to finish off the meal. We also had an exclusive visit to the City Hall of Vic, where we allowed to see some rooms that are typically closed to the public. Later that day, we also went on a walking tour of Vic and learned about some of it's rich history.

These past two months have been amazing and I can't wait to see what the next five months have in store for me!