Living la vida Española

Adrián and myself before we went out one night.

By Ethan Walshe

Back in October, a student from Zaragoza, Spain came and stayed in my home here in Westford as part of an exchange program. Between April 6 and 20, I, along with 19 other Westford Academy students and three members of the WA faculty journeyed to Spain to execute the second half of the exchange experience.

For many people, this was their first trip overseas. However, this was certainly not my first time abroad. I have spent many a vacation in Europe, as most of my family lives in Ireland. In fact, I went to Spain for a family vacation last summer with my dad, so it was not unfamiliar territory to me. But there is an enormous difference between vacationing from a hotel and seeing the sites, and experiencing the life as the Spaniards do.

And this is what I consider to be the most rewarding part of my exchange experience: being able to immerse myself not only in the language, but in the culture and daily routines of the Spanish people.

There are obviously many differences between life in Westford and in Zaragoza. Firstly, what I consider to be the biggest difference, is that everyone walks everywhere. I only got into a car twice during my stay: once to get back to my exchange student’s house with my suitcase and once to travel far into the center of the city. Besides those rare instances, I walked to and from school every day, walked to wherever the group was hanging out after class, and walked with the Americans to our afternoon excursions. It was just more practical.

Granted, it was a city, so walking everywhere was more convenient than getting in the car and driving, and maybe Westford makes it impractical given that it is the suburbs and it’s very spread out. But I’ve found it easier to start walking. I live close enough to WA that I can walk in the morning and I have done that every morning since I got back. I even walked to Chipotle the other night just for fun and because I could. I find the walks relaxing and I’m glad that Spain let me embrace this form of travel.

Additionally, the entire Spanish way of life is unlike anything that could be found in Westford. Their school hours run about the same but afterwards is what was so different. My exchange student did not play a sport during the spring, but I know that other students had sports after school, much like in Westford, but not until about four. This is because at two, everyone goes home and eats lunch with their family. This is so much better than our system, where we have to force feed ourselves lunch at 10:30 in the morning. I wanted to adopt this new lunch routine when I came back to the US, but it proved too difficult. I could not be bothered to prepare myself a hot meal when I got home from school. I tried on the first day, bringing a tin foil wrapped sandwich to school for lunch and then making lunch when I got home, but it just was not the same. There is really nothing quite like having Adrián’s mother prepare a hot meal and have it waiting when I got back.

Lastly, the schooling itself was also far removed from what I am used to at home. The students stayed in one classroom and the teachers came to them, with the exception of foreign language classes, which is the complete reverse of Westford Academy’s system. I had trouble sitting in one place for the entire day without moving rooms. It was a bit off-putting. I’m far too used to moving every 51 minutes for this newfound stagnancy to be an easy adjustment.

I learned about midway through my stay that Adrián had been in the same class with the same 20 or so kids for the past eight or so years. That was incredible to me, legitimately  spending years of your life with the same people in the same room every day. I think I would go crazy if I did that forever. It’s just such a foreign concept for me and most other people in WA. We have classes with the same people for most of our school lives, but not the exact same group every minute of every day. It’s not something we’re used to.

Overall my Spanish exchange experience was unforgettable. I learned a lot about myself and about the culture – as well as a lot of Spanish. It was an enriching and amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is so important to experience cultures other than one’s own, to gain some perspective on life outside of our little town. The world is bigger than Westford. Go out and experience it.