This post was written by Hannah Boland one of our campus reporters attending SYA China. Hannah is a junior from Culver Academies in Indiana. She hopes to provide readers with a bit of flavor of what the SYA experience is like and to share her experiences, mistakes, and triumphs. Read Hannah's blog post about her first few months at SYA China in Beijing.
大家好! (Hi everybody!)
This past week was the end of the first quarter, so my classmates and I have already been here for a whopping total of two months. It is incredibly difficult for me to grasp that my SYA experience is already a quarter of the way gone, and I’m honestly still trying to figure out where the time has gone. Obviously, quite a lot has taken place in my time here already, so I think that I’ll try to catch you with a brief overview of my first two months in China.
Firstly, I must emphasize the overwhelming amount of shock of the first few days here. The traffic, our homes, the language, the jumbled confusion, and facing the new reality of what my life would be like for the next year all dropped onto my shoulders like some immense weight that I couldn’t possibly hold, and all I could think was: “What have I done? I am way in over my head.”
These kinds of thoughts are pretty natural in the beginning, as I am sure many of my classmates would attest to. But, talking to my friend Kelley about this, he said, “This whole thing is so far off from what I had pictured, but it would have been cliché if it had been what I thought it would be.” The original jolt of it all does wear off, and eventually the showers, food, and public transportation all become second nature.
Secondly, I just want to touch on some of the things I’ve been up to these past months here besides adjusting slowly, but surely. I’m currently taking two to three Chinese classes a day, Chinese history, AP Environmental Science (APES), Honors Pre-calculus, and English. What I love most about Chinese classes is that we don’t do much written work during class time, but instead we just practice the new grammar and words by having open conversation with our classmates and teachers for the entirety of the class period. When I have one-on-one classes with a teacher, we get to just talk about anything we want for an hour, completely in Chinese, and it is great to work solely on our conversational skills with these wonderful instructors.
My classmates and I have already gotten to go to some pretty cool places, including a Confucian temple, a Buddhist Temple, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. The Great Wall may have been my favorite, because, being a hiker at heart, it was so great to get out of the city and into the fresh air of the mountains.
I really love my Chinese host family, and they have been so welcoming of me into their home. My sister Yahan is 13 years old, and she is a hardworking student and dancer on her dancing team. She is an avid fan of Taylor Swift, and we have a lot of fun hanging out, doing homework together, and listening to music. My father (爸爸) is an engineer, so he is often away on business trips during weekdays. My mother (妈妈) is as protective and concerned about my health as my actual mother. When I come home from school early, she likes to teach me about cooking Chinese food, or just chat in general. She and I especially have a really close relationship.
This whole experience so far, has really been a blast, and I look forward to relaying the good and the bad as they come!
Gaby Small is one of our campus reporters attending SYA Spain in Zaragoza. Gaby is a current junior, coming to SYA Spain from the Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts and is trying to soak up as much culture as she can while at SYA Spain.
In a plaza with my Mediterranean art class, I was seated on a bench adorned with the lion of Zaragoza. The autumn air nipped my bare arms as I stared at my smudged sketchbook. The graphite from my pencil seemed to spread independently, with a mind of it’s own. Scattering across the paper, it depicted the palm tree looming in front of me. Planted in the grass of the courtyard, its textured trunk stood tall and proud. The palm fronds shifted and swayed with the breeze; a gentle sound, created only for those who were listening. My instrument of choice was slim, yet dense. The yellow wax coat was worn from my tight grip. My busy pencil marked my paper; dark as the night sky during a new moon or, light as the soft gray of mixing cement. Each shade was attentively crafted by the pressure my fingers articulated. But despite the illustration’s strong presence, it was impermanent, easily eliminated by the soft pink eraser. The swift, soft flapping of wings tempted my attention. My eyes glazed over the details of my artwork and gazed off into the sky. My lashes fluttered with a sudden gust of wind. The leaves around me danced in the air. Riding the draft, they teased me as I sat weighted by the world. The ever present pigeons swirled and soared in a pattern entirely their own. A full spectrum of gray was represented with the delicate birds. They playfully migrated from one spot to another, salvaging crumbs from the city streets of Zaragoza. The clean roads had little to offer them, lacking the usual urban litter. As if responding to their hungry chirps, an aged woman ambled towards us. She stopped and dug her hand deep into her bag, gathering handfuls of seeds to feed her gray, feathered friends. The feed sprayed into the air, raining down on the ground like a sudden sun shower. The pigeons were swarming and for an instant resembled a flurry of snowflakes in a winter tempest. The winged creatures whirled in an unrestricted manner.
A ray of the orange Spanish sun caught my curious gaze and I lifted my face to feel it’s warm touch. The air now was a bit kinder to my exposed skin. Morning light splintered through the palm fronds and bounced into my pupils. The illuminated the palm tree casted shadows in new directions. Mesmerized, I contemplated the natural beauty. Looking at my paper with a new set of eyes, I avidly resumed drawing. Shading in sections to give volume, the gray tree on the page began to resemble its living muse. The trees busy back round came into focus, the sharp angles of the architecture and blur of pedestrians. Each small addition became just as valuable as the subject itself. I began to see what was in front of me as a whole, rounded picture. Perceiving every detail, I replaced what I had formerly assumed to be, with what actually was. A mirror of the lessons I had learned this first month in España.
This post was written by Briana Hoek, one of our campus reporters attending SYA France. Briana is a senior from West Milford High School in New Jersey.
My host mother is already an indispensable part of my life here. We understand each other’s sense of humor and she has been giving me the constant corrections and nudges I need to improve my French. When I come back from school, I feel as though I am coming home. I know the rhythm of the house and where the plates are and when my host cat gets fed and which way to turn the lock to open the front door. They may seem like small details, but it’s the small details that help you adjust, that make you feel like you’re at home, that create a more vivid experience. One of my favorite parts about France is dinner time, which takes at least an hour and more often than not involves conversations about politics, cultural differences or school. But the times when I sit on the couch with my host mother, cupping a mug of tea, talking about every possible topic and them some help us to understand each other better. She also thought it was amusing that I raked the leaves in her yard, like I do in the United States, without asking if it was necessary, as if I was in my own house.The first seven weeks in France have brought with them all the challenges we expected, new ones we could have never seen coming and so many new adventures. The arrival was a blur of fatigue, jetlag and cultural shock, but once we got settled into our rhythm, adapted to our new families and started school, the pieces of our life in France have begun to fall, like the leaves covering the sidewalks, into a distinguishable shape.
Right now we are about to finish our Toussaint break, and with that school will pick up and the pace will increase once again out of the half slumbering tempo we’ve been in for the past week. School here is hard, there is no denying that, but it is extremely rewarding. I certainly have less homework every night, but what work I do have requires that I concentrate on it because even reading a paragraph can take half an hour or more. However when you finally understand what that paragraph is talking about, and can find the nuances in the French text written two hundred years ago, you feel a true sense of accomplishment. The classes too are interesting, discussing relevant topics that push your language abilities as you try to explain the details in a Renaissance painting, or debate about Voltaire’s Candide.
Creating a backdrop to our studies here and in a way, another classroom, is the city of Rennes itself. It is a mixture of old and new, with the historical district and its narrow, winding streets to the big shopping centers where you can find almost everything you could need. It is still a novelty for me, I come from a more rural town, that I can get on a bus that stops almost next to my house, be at the city center in 12 minutes (I timed it) and go to a café with my friends. But at the same time, I feel like a local, using my bus and metro card, knowing which door enter through and to say bonjour to the bus driver. And slowly we are beginning to feel more like locals, who are part of the everyday life of Rennes. After all, we have passed the point of “vacation” and can know honestly say that we are living in France.
This post comes from Kailey Kirkwood, a junior from Phillip's Academy Andover in Massachusetts. Read about her impressions on the culture, her classes, and host family after her first month attending SYA France in Rennes!
A month and a half ago I anxiously boarded a plane to Charles de Gaulle with 67 other American students. And after that month, I must ask myself what has changed? What has my life become in this foreign country with my famille d’accueil, my fellow classmates, my classes (all in French), and ultimately my adaptation to a new language and new culture? To be honest, it never hit me that I was living in France until about 3 weeks ago. But, as we all must at some point, I have begun truly accept the indefinable realization that I, for a year of my life, no longer reside in a duality of San Anselmo, California and Andover, Massachusetts, but rather in Rennes, France. Upon that recognition I observe the past month.
Wrapped tight in our cocoons, waiting to be born into the vast unknown world of France, the Americans clung at first to familiarities. However, soon we came to a realization that being a little out of our comfort zones was in fact the point of this entire experience. We came to recognize, that our lively, loud, occasionally obnoxious American selves would need to learn to gently formulate words and let them dance off of our acquiring tongues. Then, over time we found ourselves desperately reaching towards the French ways and wanting to emulate all that they did. We transformed from our position as tourists to more aware expatriates.
My journey in France so far has been never pausing and my favorite moments cannot fit on simply one page. I still have moments where I look up from my Art History Textbook and loudly exclaim “Oh my God! I’m in France!” as I read about le Château du Chambord. And when I became a regular at the boulangerie near the school I realized that my diet primarily consisted of bread, butter, and ham. (I also realized that I absolutely hated ham, but that apparently ham was an expectation in being French.) I learned that recognition is important in French culture and that nearly everything deserves bisous and coucous (kisses and hellos). I learned that you say hello differently depending on the person and that the French are probably the most stylish group of people I have ever seen. Heels and a leather jacket entered my school day attire and a backpack was quickly replaced with a tote. Soon I found myself speaking French in the hallways or while eating lunch.
On weekends I’ll go into le centre ville and get dinner and crêpes with friends and attempt to meet the local French teenagers. Movies about Anne de Bretagne or Nos Étoiles Contraires (The Fault in Our Stars) have become regular events. I can recall my first weekend with my host family at the beach when my host sister and I talked about boats and sea creatures and squeamishly ran from crabs. Or can remark on the long dinners with my family as our heads roll back in laughter when my host sister tries to pronounce English words she has learned in school and make everyone guess what they mean. I can note the abundance of crêpes and macaroons and croissants that cannot be healthy for me, but can make any day better. I will forever remember my first day of literature class when the teacher pulled out a book and told us to smell the pages and describe that smell in French. From that moment on I fell in love with her, and undoubtedly announced to the entire SYA campus that I wanted to be her best friend. I 100% meant it. Or as a class of struggling French students laughed to the end of earth when JP, the art history teacher, announced that: “I am an angel of lightness and you are all ghosts of sadness.” But definitely for me the thing that I love most about SYA is the friendships and dependency I have in these people. A dependency that allows a group of students to create a pancake breakfast on the first trip of the year, wonder aimlessly home after all the busses for some unknown reason stop running, walk through what I perceived to be a hurricane on the way to Mont Saint Michel, and ultimately come to school each morning with a smile on our faces as we shout bonjour to each person we see.
So, while I love the school, and the town, and my family, the thing I have learned to love most about France is that in just one month I am already so close to this group of once strangers. I cannot wait for the remainder of the year and for all the wonderful adventures I will experience with these incredible people by my side.
À tout à l’heure,
This post was written by one of our campus reporters, Emma Robertson, who is attending SYA France. Emma is a junior from the Thacher School in California. Read her blog post about her first month in Rennes!
I have never had a month as compacted with amazing moments, inspiring people, and beautiful scenery as my first month in Rennes. From the first moment I began my SYA adventure, I dragged my suitcases across the then unfamiliar cobblestone alley and saw a girl—somehow my age—waiting in gorgeous boots with a luxurious faux fur coat draped over her body as if she were peeled from a page in Vogue magazine. A few seconds after, she became my new sister, and we’ve been joined at the hip since. This was also when I had my first lesson: fashion in Rennes is about taking risks and being utterly yourself. Without a doubt, a favorite thing of mine is waking up every morning and being able to be adventurous or wacky or chic or all three. Later, I would learn my sister’s coat had cost 10€ and was from a local thrift store. Half the beauty of Rennes is the people walking down the street and their fashion creations.
By the third week, I realized croissants had become an essential part of my diet. My almost-daily croissant or café at the boulangerie near the now homey and wonderful, cobblestoned 5 allée Ste. Marie was a staple for me that I now struggle to imagine living without. During the evenings, I quickly learned what it’s like to live with a personal chef; my host mother’s cooking repertoire was seemingly endless. Whether it’s the freshly made quiche or perhaps the fanciest cake I’ve ever witnessed coming out of a non-professional oven, dinners cease to impress my boarding school cafeteria trained taste buds. Though the food was great, my family that surrounded the dinner table each night was an essential reason why my first month was so successful; my host family created such a comfortable and welcoming environment for me to dive headfirst into the intimidating language immersion process. My host father provided me a much-need recap of a couple verb tenses, and my host sister explained to me all the slang and local language during our first night on the town. In addition, she equipped me with a lengthy playlist of all the popular French music, and we spent half of dinners rolling our eyes to each other at my host father’s cheesy jokes.
After a month, I was confidently settled into my new lifestyle. Coming down the stairs to my bedroom after a volleyball practice or night on the town, I smell the lavender wafting from the laundry room—located next to my bedroom—, and the scent already feels like home. I no longer need a map, as the sparkling city of Rennes becomes more and more like my neighborhood each day.
Jennifer Seabolt is one of our campus reporters currently attending SYA Spain. She is a junior who came to us from the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. She enjoys singing, dancing, yoga, and exploring Spain. Read her blog post about her first month in Spain.
One month ago, September 5, 2014, I arrived at the Madrid airport at 6:30 in the morning. One month later, in Zaragoza, I find myself waking up at 6:30 to meet my friends to go the Vaquillas, a part of the Pilar fiestas here.
While talking to my friends today in a café dining on tortilla de patata, churros con chocolate, and café con leche, I realized that this felt normal. This felt like my life. How I've managed to make myself feel comfortable in something completely different than my norm in one month is crazy. One month in, and I feel fantastic. Another realization I had today: this has felt like a lot less than one month. Knowing that I'm here for nine months in total, one month kind of seemed like something minute, but I now realize that it's not. I've had one of the best months of my life, and if it had a shorter length, I definitely wouldn't feel the same way. Did that make any sense? When you speak Spanish all day the English kind of tends to slip.... Anyways, I wanted to make a list of accomplishments that have happened in the past month of my life:
1. Saw a musical (Les Mis) completely in Spanish - and I understood the majority of it.
2. I can semi-successfully carry out a conversation with my host family 2 minutes after rolling out of bed. Anyone who knows me knows that I barely speak English when I wake up.
3. Got an A+ on my DELE and Cine quizzes (YES go Spanish).
4. Gave a presentation completely in Spanish (spoke more Spanish in those 10 minutes than I ever did at home in class... oops).
5. Joined and paid for a gym, and I understood the majority of what I was being told while paying.
6. Took a taxi, successfully said where I wanted to be dropped off, shamelessly said I don't fully speak Spanish when he asked me a question, and was commended on how well I spoke/my accent after telling him I didn't speak it fully.
7. Have spent the majority of my money on food (not even sorry).
8. Met/made Spanish friends.
9. Spent an entire weekend solely speaking Spanish (this was so hard, and my brain was dead after 12 of 48 hours).
10. I’ve watched multiple movies and actually fully understood it. I also caught some jokes.
11. I’m taking an art class, and I’ve surprised myself. For someone who normally doesn’t like the painting/sculpture kind of art, I'm really enjoying this class.
12. I’m taking cooking classes, and made tortilla de patata!
13. Have translated between my parents and host brothers when we FaceTimed quite easily.
While I know there are so many more accomplishments, most of them are things that aren't very prominent, partially because everything I do here is somewhat of an accomplishment. Waking up on my own, making my way to school Monday mornings (those are rough), ordering a croissant/café during descanso, etc. One month in and everyday something new is accomplished. I've been to beautiful places here in Spain on field trips, made amazing new friends, have found foods that I better be able to recreate in 8 months when I get home, dealt with rough days, and have made the most out of everyday that I've had here. One month down, eight more to go!
Last spring, First Lady Michelle Obama toured SYA China at Beijing Normal University High School #2 while on her visit to the country. SYA students had the privilege of sharing their study abroad experiences with Mrs. Obama as part of her efforts to support more American students studying overseas.
During her speech at the Stanford Center of Peking University, she said, “In studying abroad, you’re not just changing your own life...you’re changing the lives of everyone you meet.” Read about how our students answered the question, "In what way has Mrs. Obama’s statement described your experience?"
Conrad Young (Hawken School, Ohio)
After the much anticipated meeting between First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Peng Liyuan at our school on the Middle School #2 campus, Mrs. Obama talked to us outside the main academic building door. She took pictures with us, wished us luck while studying Chinese and most prominently said, “Make us proud.” Although a common enough saying, hearing it from Mrs. Obama made me consider the greater implications that studying abroad has to offer, not only for me but also for the larger communities of which I am a part.
I certainly never imagined that in my decision to study abroad through SYA China, I had the responsibility to make “others” proud; I saw it merely as an experience for me to improve my language skills and try something out of the ordinary. But after spending this year in China, I have begun to understand the larger picture: studying abroad not only widens and challenges your identity and global awareness; it also has the power to bring unique perspectives and experiences to any community you are a part of when you return home.
Now I realize that the leap of faith I took to study abroad in high school was just the beginning of a whole year in which I was challenged to look past what I was comfortable with and learn to think independently and open-mindedly. I am confident that as I go on through not only college but also the rest of my life, I will be using what I learned in SYA China in a myriad of ways that are simply inconceivable in the moment.
Madeline Kim (Roland Park Country School, Maryland)
Studying abroad at SYA France has been an absolutely remarkable, life-changing experience. Since coming here, I have felt as if my head was filled to the brim. I can only explain the sensation this way: learning another language and absorbing another culture are serious
mental exercises. I am on a never-ending quest to fill in the holes in my French, to discover concepts inexpressible in English and to stop being a bumbling tourist. SYA has broadened my perspective of the world, and has given me the opportunity to expand that of others around me.
As a foreigner here, I represent my country. My job is not only to observe my surroundings while in France, but also to serve as a link between the two nations. Through my host family, for example, I have learned so much about French customs, food, politics, and so on, but I have also shared some of my own culture, such as the awesomeness of mac and cheese. In the end, though, there are more similarities than differences between French people and Americans. Realizing that we are all more alike than different is an important step toward understanding others and becoming a global citizen.
Kyle Watson (The Williston Northampton School, Massachusetts)
As Mrs. Obama’s words echo in my head, I reflect on my experience through SYA Italy.The change can be found even over a simple cup of coffee. Breakfast back home was a big deal. I would wake up to the smell of pancakes and sizzling bacon beckoning me to the kitchen. My breakfast in Italy consists of un caffè or cappuccino and some freshly baked biscuits,a different but equally enticing beckoning.
On the walk to school, I stop in my favorite coffee bar and order cappuccino and a chocolaty treat. I hear the clink of my mug as it hits its saucer. I look up, make eye contact with the barista and ask, “Come sta lei?” “Bene,” Nadia says with a smile. We talk about Berlusconi and about the unrest in Ukraine. We talk about where we are from: I’m from western Massachusetts, she’s from Ukraine. Nadia expresses her concern for her sister still there. This small exchange is in a language we now share, Italian, and over a simple cup of coffee.
Mrs. Obama is right. I’ve changed. It’s not the breakfast that’s important; it’s the conversation that takes place over a cup of coffee.
Katherine Spry (Lakeside School, Washington)
Over the course of my study with SYA Spain, I have undergone immense personal growth — absorbing a new culture, becoming more proficient at another language, being exposed to different viewpoints — that has changed my perspective on the world forever. It is easy, though, to overlook the impact my time has had, and will continue to have, on the lives of those around me.
This experience has opened up cross-cultural communication via a newly interconnected group of diverse people. I feel as if I have become a bridge that unites my Spanish and American friends, serving as a link that enables the culture, values and ideas I brought with me to pass freely from one side to the other. There’s a great sense of accomplishment every time I have a successful conversation about Spanish and American politics with my host family or explain the nuances of Spanish meals to an American friend.
My year in Spain has been transformative, creating a bicultural self, but it has also changed my host family and my Spanish friends. This new bicultural self has found numerous cross-cultural possibilities that I’ll be able to benefit from long after the year is over.
Are you an SYA Alum? Visit sya.org/change and tell us your story about studying abroad in high school.
Welcome to SYA and congratulations on deciding to embark on this adventure of a lifetime! In order to ensure that you have the best experience possible while completing a year of high school abroad, we have compiled a list of some mobile apps that you may find useful. From providing help with translating words in a different language, to information on the local currency, and even where to find nearby cafés, here are 7 mobile apps that you may want to check out before jetting off to your new home.
1. What’s App has quickly become a very popular social networking app, with over half a million monthly users, making it the most widely used messaging service across the globe. This app will give you the ability to stay in touch with friends and family, no matter what country they are in. What's App allows users to text, send images and videos, and get exact locations of their friends and family through the app's mapping services. What's App also offers the advantage of charging no extra fees for international messenging, allowing messages to be exchanged with people at home easily!
2. Trip Journal allows its users to create a personal travelogue of their travel experiences. The app enables users to share photos and videos, uploaded directly from your own mobile devices, and gives you the ability to add personal captions visible to family and friends. Trip Journal also features a Google Earth integration, where followers of your journal can see the routes you have traveled.
3. Google Translate is a very useful app when you are abroad regardless of your level of fluency. With the ability to translate words and phrases in over 60 languages, as well as allowing you to hear the pronunciation, Google Translate is a wonderful resource in order to immerse yourself fully in the culture around you. The app also offers a feature where users can speak the text instead of typing it to be translated. Now you never have to worry about stumbling over a word you have not yet learned!
4. World Lens, while similar to Google Translate, is handy particularly when trying to understand foreign text on street signs and maps. Using your smart phone’s video camera, World Lens reads the text and any words you may not understand, and then instantly translates them into your language of choice. All that is required for translation to occur is a picture of the sign!
5. Around Me is a very useful app when you arrive in a new city. During your school year abroad, Around Me can help familiarize you with your new surroundings by pinpointing your location on a map and then giving you the option to browse your nearby areas. For instance, the app can tell you where to find the nearest restaurants, movie theatres, bus stations, supermarkets and more, and then route you directly to it. You can even email a friend the directions directly from the app.
6. XE Currency will help you with figuring out how much the American dollar is worth during your school year abroad. You can look up what the local currency is, and it's rate, as well as monitor rates of other foreign currencies. Now you don't have to worry about coming up with the correct amount of money with this easy-to-use app! Simply type in the currency you are looking for, and it converts to the American dollar so you can better understand prices of items in your new country.
7. Skype is a great app for keeping in touch with family and friends back home for free. An alternative to calling home with a telephone card, Skype gives users the ability to video chat and make phone calls to other Skype users over wireless internet. You can also send instant messages to other users, allowing communication over several different options!
We hope you find these apps both enjoyable and useful! Let us know what you think and if you have discovered any other great apps for traveling and studying abroad!
Waverly, originally from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, is on a mission to assimilate into her new home in Viterbo, Italy. As she navigates her way through the narrow streets of the city, she slowly feels more at home. This post comes near the end of her year studying abroad.
So here I am -18 days away from finishing the most important experience of my life (so far, anyway). Looking back, I’m not quite sure what to make of my eight months here. It feels like years, a lifetime, an eternity, and a blink of an eye all at once. Maybe it’s because I’m not the adventurous type, or because I have an eye for art more geared toward macaroni than Michaelangelo, but what made Italy so amazing (the word doesn’t even begin to cover it) for me, was the freedom to grow as a person.
This kind of freedom can only be found in a foreign country with new family and a completely different set of classmates. Why? Because only by shedding who you used to be, can you become who you’re supposed to be. As much as that sounds like it deserves an inspirational backdrop of a beach with an Instagram filter on Facebook, it’s true. You can’t change and evolve by doing the same things with the same people in the same place. Change inspires change, and SYA is the change of a lifetime.
Looking back, I can hardly recognize who I used to be. I’ve been through countless communication frustrations (No, ‘anno’ does not equal ‘ano’, losing that extra ‘n’ loses you Italian friends), numerous identity crises (turns out that the punk life did not, nor will it ever, choose me), and more setbacks than I care to count (reevaluating American friendships, adjusting what I want to do with my life, really facing who I am, why, and what that means). But as many times as I fell (and that’s a lot – especially in my wannabe-Italian/diva/heels-everyday phase), I got up every time, with a different perspective and a growing consciousness of my place in the world. If that all sounds a little hokey, well forgive me, because that’s exactly what happened, what’s continuing to happen.
I will cherish these next 18 days and I dread their conclusion. But as sad as I am about my time here ending, I’m happy because I won’t be leaving. The girl who I’ll be in 18 days will be leaving, and if the past 8 months are anything to go by, she’ll be completely different – even better, stronger, and more self-confident than I am right now. You can’t tell me that you can find this anywhere else.
This blog post comes from Tanner L., a student studying in Zaragoza, Spain. Originally from California, Tanner is immersing himself in Spain during his high school year abroad. Follow his blog to read more about his adventures, En el Extranjero
If I could read you this in person, you’d note the coffee on my breath. You’d see, around my cheekbones, the soft, circular evidence of my midday routines: a café americano and one tortilla de patata bulging in yellow, triangular comfort, both steaming and consumed everyday between 11 o’clock and 11:30. You’d notice my pauses as I swat off the Spanish prepositions that strike me before the English. But the most important thing, I think, you’d realize is how my posture is a little straighter now; after eight months, going on nine, I’ve pulled through the blanket-heaviness of culture shock, of losing home and gaining home, of owning a new language, a new life, and a new way of holding myself.
And maybe, if I were reading this, you’d see the ways that I’ve learned to lose myself, to disarm and phosphoresce in front of crowd, as I’d learned to do in November, when I taught a classroom of rioting and ruthless Spanish teenagers the nuances of American culture— or in December when I sat down with Saúl, an eight year-old boy who had been deaf until he was two, and I taught him American slang. I’d remember these things as I spoke and my smile would be lunar. This year has taught me to smile, stubbornly and in every circumstance, and eight months ago I couldn’t imagine learning to do something so simple and so powerful; to celebrate the suffering, to welcome, with the wingspan of a rebellious optimism, the cierzo wind, all the words yet to learn, and all the things yet to do.
I’d be nervous reading this to you now, wrapped in an anxiety not too different from the moment my host-father first asked me a question; it was, and it is, the anxiety of translation, of pulling a year of light and big, fast-moving memories through a familiar tongue. You’d notice my lips quiver as I struggle to make you understand just how much this year has made of me, you’d see me how I was in my first car ride through Zaragoza— but you’d see that quiver tighten into something quiet and strong; I’ve experienced something no one else ever has and, no matter where I am or will be, I couldn’t ever imagine melting into a crowd again. And for that, I truly cannot thank you enough. I’ve swing-danced with a thin, black-haired woman in the basement of an Irish pub, I’ve eaten falafel in a morning hailstorm and I rowed on the Ebro river with my host-brother at sunset. I’ve taught the best latte artist in Spain how to conjugate in English. I’ve played chess with an Andalusian caught in a midlife crisis in a hostel dining room, and I’ve smelled the smoke bombs of Spanish protest. And I’m only realizing now how that’s all affected me, how it’s erasing, rewriting, erasing, and writing again the palimpsest of Tanner. I’ve lived another life here, and in my face, you’d see the sublime radiating from this smile, all the awes of a school year abroad yet to be coaxed from myself, still to be understood in their glowing entirety.
At the beginning of this year, I told myself I wanted to find discomfort and wrestle it into something beautiful. Eight months later, I want to tell you that I’ve done that. I’ve learned to see all my pounds as the paella and the dinners I can only have again in memories. This coffee breath is the smell of so many afternoons spent in a café, curled over an americano and the week’s homework. The words I don’t understand have become the steps towards fluency.
I’ve learned, in all the breathlessness of this year, that no matter where I go and no matter the language, I am speaking in a foreign tongue. No one can tell me they understand when I talk about SYA, because from now on, when I speak it will be purely translation, and in that there’s a discomfort and a loneliness, but more importantly, there’s something gorgeous, awesome, and indescribable and wholly mine— something that could only be truly encapsulated with three words:
School. Year. Abroad.
It’s hard to think I only have one month left.