A Father and Son's Journey Through Foreign Exchange Study

Special to Elk Grove News | July 29, 2015 | It seems like a lifetime ago. In the late 80s I was a young student leaving Ecuador head...

Special to Elk Grove News | July 29, 2015 |

It seems like a lifetime ago. In the late 80s I was a young student leaving Ecuador headed to Kent, Ohio, for what would be an experience like no other. An experience that would certainly stay with me for a lifetime. Following the lead of my older brother, I left behind friends and family to become an AFS exchange student. Now it would be my son's turn.

A year ago, the Elk Grove News was reporting that Adrián was one of the Elk Grove students that had received a scholarship to help him become an AFS student. The summer of 2014 he left on his way to spend his junior year in high school in Spain. A year later, Adrián is back in Elk Grove. The following is a brief glimpse about what his experience studying abroad was like.

Both he and I feel it is worth sharing, because families in Elk Grove also have the opportunity to see their kids become an exchange student or to be a part as a family of this wonderful learning experience. Hopeful students are eagerly waiting to hear back from AFS that they have found a family to host them.

Help create a "Lifelong Opportunity." Visit AFS's website for more information about becoming a Host Family or an AFS exchange student.

-- Pablo Espinoza 


My Year of Foreign Study

By Adrián Espinoza

Exciting, fun, emotional, and life changing are the words I would use to describe my recent year as an AFS exchange student in Spain. While in Spain I lived in two places, the first half I lived in a northern town called Zarautz near San Sebastian. The second half, I was in Massamagrell, a suburb of Valencia about three miles from the beach. Studying abroad has helped me learn about new cultures, connect with people, and learn even more about myself. 

Spain has many cultures being such a small country. It would surprise many Americans that there could be so many distinct cultures in a country about the size of the state of Texas. Luckily I was able to experience and learn first hand about two of those cultures, the Basque and the Valenciana cultures. Zarautz and San Sebastian are in the province of Guipuzcoa in the Basque area. Massamagrell and Valencia are in the province of Valencia in the south of Spain by the Mediterranean coast. Being an AFS exchange student not only gave me the opportunity to learn about Spain and its people but it also allowed me to meet other kids my age from all over the world. I was far away from home and was meeting new people everywhere I went. While I learned a lot from almost everyone I met, even some difficult lessons; some of the most important people were my little host brother Manel who taught me so much about myself just by being so similar to me; and of course my best friend and first love, Valeria.
Its surprising to see how many cultures there can be in one small country. Many people who live in United States would consider Spain a small country. Even though Spain is just a bit smaller than Texas, it doesn't mean it can’t have its own unique cultures. In fact Spain not only has one but many distinct cultures like the Basque, Valenciana, and Catalan just to mention a few. The Basque is one of the most different cultures in Spain. They have a lot of traditions, like the day of “San Fermin”, when people dress in traditional Basque clothes and celebrate the history of the culture and your town with friends and go around town. Another big part of the Basque culture is the language, which is considered by some people to be one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world. It was interesting to learn also, that not unlike many other countries, people in the Basque region picked on people from the south of Spain, which is ironically where I would go next on my AFS experience. 

The second half of my exchange was in Valencia. Valencia, like the Basque region also has their own language, but this language is easier to understand than Basque, it is called Valenciano. It is sort of a mixture of Catalan and Spanish. In school I would have classes in both Spanish and Valenciano. This made things a whole lot harder for me, luckily I was able to understand about one third, enough to formulate ideas about the conversation. But once I got to Valencia, I was able to connect much easier with the culture than I did in Zarautz. Those in Valencia were very open to new people and new experiences. I was able to learn many things like cooking traditional dishes and even learning the language of that area (not including the base language Spanish which I learned throughout). I even made strong relationships that will last a lifetime with friends and my girlfriend, with whom I had most of my best experiences.

Connecting with people was the best and one of the easiest things to do, while also being at times the most difficult. I was in school for about three days before I met, a classmate who invited me to hang out with his friends. That was the day that I met some of the people who cared the most about me, including two great friends and my current girlfriend, Valeria(my first love). Those people have been there for me even when I came back to the USA. They asked how everything is going, when will I come back and they continue to check in on me. Then of course, it’s my first love. I haven't gone one day without being thankful for meeting her. Valeria showed me more things in Valencia and strived herself to take me places I’ve never been before. When people saw me doing anything fun or somewhere interesting I would usually be with Valeria. It’s incredible to find someone that cares so much about who you really are in the other side of the world in a place I had never been.

If I wasn't with Valeria I was with my host family; my host Mom Ines and my host Dad, Paco . I still remember to this day exactly how my first day in Valencia with my family went. I met the two parents, one in a rush to go to paddle (sport similar to tennis) and a child shocked to see me as he walked in quietly (only time he came in the house quietly) and stood to the side to say hello. Little did I know that this 10-year old boy named Manel, would become someone I now consider a true brother, in addition to my two other brothers in California. Manel showed me  more about myself than I would be able to teach him about anything else. He was so similar to me growing up that it was like seeing myself in action. 

One of my best memories was when my host family invited Valeria and I out for dinner for my birthday. Everything was like a normal dinner, then they all began to sing happy birthday while bringing me out a small cake. I began to cry and told them how it seemed amazing to me that people I didn't know just two months earlier could show me so much kindness and love. I have some of the best memories with Paco, Ines and Manel and I am glad to call them my family in Spain. I have met people who will be a part of me for the rest of my life and that I truly love like my host family, girlfriend and, my best friend.

At first I thought this experience would make me realize other perspectives and cultures. Now I am proud to say that it has brought me much more than that. Even though at times it was extremely hard and I felt like giving up; I feel that becoming an AFS exchange student was one of the best decisions of my life. I not only learned what I stated above but I have learned much more than one could ask. I am thankful to my Dad who shared his own experiences as a past AFS student and made me think about this being an opportunity for me. I would like to dedicate this article to my parents for not only talking me into it, for believing in me and allowing me to be whole year away from them and of course for spending the money so I could experience this AFS adventure, the best experience of my life so far and an unforgettable one.

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Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

Master Espinoza, It is always good to hear from the youth in our community who are doing their part to bridge cultures.

Your essay is particularly timely. We all need to remember that strong relations between countries are first established between people first. It is called diplomacy. We as a country might not hold the ideals of a particular country close to our hearts, but it is the relations we have on a person to person basis that matter.

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