Two years ago, at a family dinner, I was extremely interested and excited as my father spoke about AFS (American Field Service), an American-founded organization established during World War I, which brings together teens and young adults from all over the world, introducing them to new lifestyles, customs, etc. I felt compelled to travel after having survived a life-threatening craniotomy and the removal of a brain tumor at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. I felt the time to travel was now, and especially because life in Glendale, California seemed so very ordinary. I needed some fresh air.
In September of 2008, I said my goodbyes and was on my way to experience the chance of a lifetime. The thought of immersing myself into an unknown language, living with complete strangers, meeting new people and welcoming new ideas for an entire year, seemed surreal. My host home was in Argentona, a small village in the region of Catalonia. Only twenty miles north of Barcelona, the whole city was my playground. The amazing mass transit system took me anywhere my heart desired in very little time. Living in the Glendale area all my life, mass transit was a new and wonderful concept!
Meeting my host family felt extraordinary. I had been waiting months to meet and establish a deep relationship with them. I eagerly started school and immediately began making new, and now lifelong, friendships in addition to learning two new languages, Spanish and Catalan. Many job opportunities to teach English to neighbors became available to me. I also took dance lessons with my friend, Clara. Everyday my language skills improved and communicating became very easy at school. Communicating at home however, became problematic after about three months time. The stress of school and work made everyone, including myself, a bit jumpy and quick to judge. My host mother accused me of things that I had not done. Instead of discussing disagreements with me, she would call the agency (AFS) instead, telling them that she and I had already talked, when he hadn’t. I would hear of these problems from my AFS liaison, and not from my host mother. Communication was not clear. After four months time, the breakdown of communication was so broken, that I decided I needed to start over, to find myself a healthier environment.
I asked school friends and teachers, if they knew of anyone who could adopt me for the few more months I would be there. Two weeks went by when my friend, Laia, told me that she had discussed the issue with her parents who were happy invite me into their home. My new family, just blocks away from the old, made all the difference. I immediately loved my new host parents, MercÃ¨ and Roberto, and my siblings Laia and Aleix. It was almost as if I was their natural daughter and sister. We laughed and cried together; Laia and I even fought like real sisters at times. My social life skyrocketed. I was myself, more outgoing, and more of an individual. I became fluent in Spanish and always had something going on, school-related or social. I felt like I was part of the community, instead of just an American outsider. My original vision had been fulfilled: to become one with strangers.
My adventure abroad gave me the gifts of maturity, independence and selflessness. I’ve now seen another side of the world, others’ customs and social views. I’ve learned patience, acceptance, and gratitude for what my precious life has given me and for all of the possibilities the world offers.
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