How and Why I Chose Spain
A little overview of the lengthy process before actually living in Spain
I’ve just now come to realize that I’ve never actually written a post as to why I’m even in Spain in the first place or how I got here. This story is definitely one that cannot be expressed here alone nor can it be captured completely using only words, but I thought this would be useful for future students or anyone thinking of doing something like this.
This idea wasn’t ever the product of a running obsession or fad; rather, it stemmed from the fact that I always enjoyed learning Spanish. In the beginning of 8th grade, I found a show in Spanish called Gran Hotel that I started watching religiously; I would also chat with my Spanish teacher about my growing interest in the show. This show was set in Spain — which played a huge part of my decision in coming to Spain — and it was filmed in Santander near a beautiful palace (Palacio de la Magdalena). As I started to take a liking to the actors and the specific production, I started watching more Spanish productions (I’ve watched La Casa de Papel/Money Heist, Vis-A-Vis, Élite, Las Chicas del Cable, El Desorden Que Dejas, Alguien Tiene Que Morir, and more). At the end of the year, I was presented the Spanish department award at graduation — giving a newfound sense of love in the language stemming from the motivation I had received.
In my very first meeting with my high school counselor, I told her I wanted to study abroad in Spain. I was very scared to bring up the idea because I didn’t want to have it shut down, so I simply suggested a month or a few weeks abroad. Imagine my delight when she herself told me she would rather have me spend the entire semester in Spain (which also makes much more sense compared to my initial suggestion). I didn’t bring it again for the rest of the year owing to her confidence that we could make it happen. Then, the pandemic hit. That very counselor also left at the end of the year, leaving me with a blank slate upon which to convince my next counselor of the same idea. Around October in sophomore year, I sent my counselor an email in the midst of the pandemic madness, and she told me would have to check with the Director of Academic Affairs and my principal. They both shot down the idea, owing to the fact that the transfer of credits would be hard and their ultimate goal was to have me graduate with the rest of my class.
I stopped pursuing the idea for a few days before I decided to try again. I prepared a document with all the possible obstacles, how I was going to make up the credit, all the classes I planned to take junior year, and how I would go about doing this program in itself. I used this document in a meeting with my dean and my parents, and she finally agreed to my outrageous idea. This brings my timeline to December 2020 (in sophomore year). Now that I got the idea approved, I just had to figure out the funding aspect of it and actually apply. Starting in January, I dedicated myself to working the whole year in order to save up enough money for the program. I started tutoring many hours a week, even creating my own budget spreadsheet to control my expenses and save enough money.
In March, I applied to the program. This month was filled with interviews, requests for letters of recommendation, transcript approvals, medical approval, and more. March and April were the most hectic of the application process. My 16th birthday was in April and I remember one of my friends giving me the sweetest birthday gift ever: she got my favorite actor from my very first favorite Spanish show Gran Hotel to wish me Happy Birthday on video in Spanish! At the time, it really felt like a foreshadowing of my connection to Spain that was yet to come. I finally got my program approval notice in May, and that was that for the rest of the summer.
It wasn’t until October when my program started informing me of their active search for a host family for me. I had continued to work vigorously to save money up until this point. They told me they were having trouble finding someone who could accommodate my vegetarian diet (since the Spanish diet is heavy on meat and fish). Finally, at the end of November, I got my host family placement. I was over the moon when my mom told me that they had finally sent an email. That very weekend, I sent an email to my host family telling them how excited I was to meet them and stay with them. The visa process could also only begin after I had received my placement, my school documents (letter of acceptance, class schedule, etc.), and host family documents.
With all of these documents, I confidently sent an email to my local consulate (since they were only giving appointments if you sent them an email, owing to the COVID regulations). As the weeks passed, I grew more and more disappointed from the dead silence. As December neared its end, I sent en email to the program explaining my situation and they told me they could shorten the length of my program to make it 2-3 months (for less than 90 days as a student in Spain, you don’t need a visa). I almost lost all hope of coming to Spain when I finally received the email at the end of December giving me an appointment.
I remember the lady at the consulate who checked all my documents. She was from Santander (one of my dream destinations in Spain), and she was rather fascinated by the fact that I chose Badajoz as my study abroad destination giving its seclusive nature; her previous student who had requested a visa was going to Seville, a much bigger city! She proved very helpful, but she did tell me that the visa approval process took around 3-4 weeks, which fell right in line with when I was supposed to leave.
January was a strange month in the sense that my confidence in my semester abroad was constantly fluctuating owing to my lack of certainty on the date of my visa arrival. When I say my visa arrived quite close to my departure date, I literally mean that it arrived days before I left! I also had the chance to speak with my host family in January, asking them questions about Badajoz and getting to know them a bit better.
So why did I choose Spain? I fell in love with the history of the country, the accent, the traditions, and the cities through the limited view I received on screen. That view was magnified a thousand times over when I arrived in Badajoz. I am leaving Badajoz with a heavy but full heart. I hope the connections I have made here will last a lifetime because I am very certain I will be returning to Spain many times. This is not the end of my journey, but the start. And it was the best start I could have ever dreamed of. Posting this on my last day in Badajoz, I am overwhelmed by all the goodbyes, but I am excited to travel within the Iberian Peninsula for a few days.
Badajoz, I’ll be coming back soon :)