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Becoming a Local Spaniard

Being an exchange student in Spain was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. From the moment I took off on a 9-hour plane ride on Iberia Airlines, I knew I was in for an adventure that would change my life. I had gone on family vacations before, but this was so much different than any vacation.
Touching down, I had expectations and preconceived notions of course, but I had really no idea what to expect. It was my first time traveling to a Spanish speaking country in 10 years, and my first time ever in Europe. As soon as my host family picked me up, I'll admit, it was a little bit difficult adjusting. Unless one is fluent in the language, it becomes obvious that speaking Spanish well in a class and communicating solely in the language with native speakers are two very different beasts. It was also difficult at first adjusting to the foreign meals and mealtimes. Finishing dinner a little before midnight would've sounded absolutely crazy to me before this trip, but after a couple weeks it seemed perfectly normal.
After adjusting from the overall shock of such a major change, I learned to enjoy Spanish life exactly as my family did. Eating and sleeping with these people every day allowed me to really get to know each family member as an individual. I was shown places and things that only a local Madrileño would knowthings such as where to eat, shop, and go. They told me where the best bocadillos de calamares were sold and how to cut jamón. These were things I definitely would not have learned if I went to Spain as a tourist.
bocadillos de calamares
Although I lived in a small village about 40 minutes from Madrid, I was given the opportunity to travel to many places in the Madrid region, including: Guadarrama, Alcalá, Toledo and the grand city of Madrid several times. I was given the insider's view on everything and my host parents acted as my personal tour guides, giving me the lowdown on everything and everywhere.
By the end of the three weeks, my host family had become such an integral and constant part of my life that it seemed very strange that I would have to leave them. I had formed bonds with these people, along with their own friends and family, that will never be broken. They had opened their house and lives up to me, and shared an experience with me that will last a lifetime. Now I will excitedly await for my host brother to get the go-ahead to come and stay with me!
-By Danny Hernandez

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