From September 13, 2008 until June 28, 2009 I was a part of a foreign exchange program called the Aspect Foundation. For the ten-month duration of my junior year of high school, I was welcomed into a family of four from the small pueblo of La Almunia de DoÃ±a Godina (Zaragoza), Spain. While there I attended the local high school, I.E.S. CabaÃ±as as a student of the course 1° Bachillerato, which is the equivalent to the American 11th grade. Although I spent a great deal of time in Spain, my experiences there can be summarized by a series of miniscule and seemingly unimportant details that, like a charms on a charm bracelet, when linked together form a nostalgic work of art that will forever twinkle and chime in the recesses of my mind.
While with my host family, I visited the snowcapped Pyrenees Mountains just 19 kilometers off the French border as well as the south eastern city of Valencia with the riverbed park running the length of the metropolis: a grassy green snake slithering silently in the shadow of what once was a full and flooding river. While in Valencia I learned about the “Fallas,” or huge sculptures (often satirical or cognoscente of current events and fads both relevant to Spain and the outside world) that are made of flammable, yet durable, material and paraded through the city once a year. After transporting these massive pieces of art through the streets, one falla is chosen as the best, and all the rest are burned until they are nothing but ashes.
In Zaragoza itself, I toured the Aljaferia, one of the oldest castles in Spain. Though originally constructed by the Moorish kings, it was later converted to a Christian outpost by catholic monarchs (most notable of whom are Ferdinand and Isabel). The Aljaferia is now used as a functional government building. With the Gils (my host family), I toured two ancient monasteries, and saw numerous Roman ruins and many other venerable historical sites of the province of Aragon.
By welcoming me into their home and hearts, my host family and the friends I made in Spain opened my eyes and mind to places I had never even dreamed existed. They taught me not only a new culture, but a new way to think: a new way to examine the world. While being a foreign exchange student is not for everyone, I strongly recommend the experience to anyone who wishes not only to learn a new language, but also to be part of something greater.
If one is interested in being a foreign exchange student, he or she must go to www.aspectfoundation.org and click on the link “Study Abroad.” There are two different applications to fill out. One can either study short term, which is a period of approximately 4-5 months (one semester abroad), or one can elect to stay for the full academic year, which is about ten months. While both terms have their own benefits and disadvantages, either experience will open doors into a previously unimaginable future as you learn to communicate with your host family and friends. You broaden both your mind and your heart and learn that, while the world is truly larger than anyone led you to believe, we are all connected on a deeper level by the same basic desires of love, health, and happiness.
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