I recently participated in a high school organized exchange student program, in which both the host and the participant would participate in the exchange student experience. I was the host for the first term and then I traveled to Valencia, Spain to be the exchange student for the second term. Throughout my exchange student experience I was able to learn many things about Spain, i.e. culture, lifestyle and history, the schooling system, and also about myself. I personally believe it broadened my perspective of life and it challenged me to become more independent and self-reliant.
During my stay I was able to visit some areas in Spain to learn more about the culture and lifestyle. I found that the residents in Spain are very relaxed. They like to take their time, sit down at a cafe, and enjoy life. Unlike the lifestyle in Canada, where there is always a line up in every McDonald’s drive-thru. I really enjoyed this relaxed vibe because it felt like I was in a 3-month spa, just taking my time day by day. Another big difference in culture is that Spain has a very loud and upbeat character. During Fallas (a Valencian celebration), fireworks and crackers were being thrown on the streets 24/7. The city was always busy, filled with screams, laughter, and noise. What surprised me was that I never saw the police concerned with the level of noise. This was so mind-blowing to me because all I could think about was that in Canada you can get a noise complaint ticket by the police for playing music on your speaker in your own backyard… even if the volume is low.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t explore the country every day for 3 months; I had to attend school. The school here in Spain is extremely different than my home town high school. I have never been to a school where they call their teachers by their first name. I have always called my teachers by Mrs., Mr., etc. to show their power of authority. Another difference is that this school in Spain is incredibly small. This Spanish school has about 300 students for almost 16 grades! My high school consists of about 1,200 students for only 4 grades, and it’s the smallest high school in my town. Lastly, probably the biggest difference is the rules. In this school you aren’t allowed to paint your nails, wear makeup, use your phone, chew gum, etc. I have never been to a school where they don’t encourage you to use your phone. In the beginning it was extremely difficult to not rely on my phone, and it still is. But now I am very grateful for the fact that my school allows us to use our technology during class.
While I was here, I spent a lot of time in the city because I lived in the city. I really enjoyed this fact because I could walk out of the apartment and be in the center of the city in a snap of a finger. I saw the main plazas, i.e. Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Plaza de la Virgen, etc. I went to Valencia’s main attractions too. i.e the beach, the science center, etc. Throughout my stay, I took many trips by myself and with my host family. I went to Barcelona twice, once by myself and another with my host family. I was able to see 2 FC Barcelona games! This was definitely a highlight of my trip because I am a huge Messi and Pique fan. I also went to the south of France, where I got to put my Canadian French to use. I really enjoyed these trips because I got to see more of Europe, and widen my view of the world even more.
Not only did I learn about the country, I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was very dependent on others; in the sense that I never had to take responsibility in adult things like paying for my expenses, cooking, etc. Now I think I have become more self-reliant and mature. I can cook, I know how to budget and spend my money wisely, etc. Furthermore, I think I have learned to find trust in myself. Before coming here, I hated being alone; so I was always surrounding myself with my friends and family. As a result of this, I never knew how to be happy alone, because I was never alone. Since I didn’t have my friends or my family to make me happy, I had to find other ways to cope, one of which was to become self-happy. I discovered many new things that I like and developed my tastes in music, fashion, and movies a lot more.
Overall, I am extremely grateful to have participated in the exchange student program. During my stay I have learned about Spain´s culture and lifestyle, the difference between Canada and Spain, the schooling system and cool things about myself. I personally would recommend this experience to others because I had a great time. Although I spent a wonderful time here, I am ready to go home and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.