Recap: My First Week of High School in Spain
I have never left a week of my life feeling more uncertain on how I should feel. This past week alone, I've learnt so much more than I could have ever imagined possible. I was able to document so much of what I observed in the classroom, yet I wanted to go back home. Before coming to Spain, I used to spend hours researching the experiences of other exchange students. The material I found online documenting how foreign exchange students in high school feel after their first week was very limited, but I realize now that no amount of reading could have ever prepared me for my experience. Being in a new place and depending on others to help you greatly opens your heart; now, I find myself mentally noting almost every act of kindness performed towards me, no matter how small it may be. I am so incredibly grateful for my new classmates, new school, and everyone who has welcomed me here. With that being said, here is a very detailed recap of my first week in Primero de Bachillerato.
Some of my classmates and I took a selfie during 'el recreo'. These are the people I usually hang out with and we love wandering around during break.
Entering Monday, I was rather in a gloomy state of mind. Friday, my first day of school, had not set a good precedent for what I thought would be the worst first week of school ever. Leaving school on Friday, I felt so incredibly lost: I felt like an American fly on the wall of my Spanish school, observing everything from an outsider's point of view. Monday started with lengua, the class for Spanish literature. I remember understanding nothing that the teacher explained about El Barroco, a historical period containing important advances in Spanish literature, but rather being fixated on his very strong accent. He tended to swallow his 'd's; for example, when saying the word "mezclado" ("mixed"), he would say "mezclao". Writing these observations in my notebook, I remember some of my classmates asking me after why I was taking such thorough notes; they seemed very interested by the fact that I had a blog and quite a few of them asked me to follow it. Following lengua, I had biología (biology, of course). We worked on a group project for most of the period and before I knew it, we had English. English is my comfort class here, the only class in which I feel like I have some sense of what I'm doing. I remember my teacher asking me to read out the exercises in class, and every time without fail, one of my classmates would comment on my accent (how different and cool they thought it sounded). During el recreo, I accompanied my friends to buy some snacks and met some new people as well; one of my friends, Lucía, whom I met on Monday, speaks very well in English and I felt quite comfortable chatting with her. Following el recreo, my classmates and I had human anatomy. Given I had already met my human anatomy teacher, I felt very comfortable in her class, and the period seemed to fly by. Following human anatomy, I found myself in my mathematics class. I was certainly most nervous to meet the teacher for this class, but my teacher Macarena was very kind towards me. She asked me for my name, and I vividly remember Alberto (one of my classmates) telling me that she was very bad with names (apparently, she spent one entire year calling him Alejandro!). She decided to have me sit next to Javi, a student in our class who is both good at math and speaks quite a bit of English, so I could understand more of what happened in class. The last class of the day for me was chemistry; again I pretty much did nothing, and rather, I observed what was going on around me. The chemistry teacher played music in class, and a few of the boys (Alberto and Pablo) would dance. I came home on Monday feeling more relieved than ever; all throughout the weekend, I had been dreading my return to school, a new place where I felt neither understood nor welcomed but as I reflected on the day, I certainly felt much happier than my preconceptions predicted I would be.
I asked my classmates if I could take a picture of them for my blog. They enthusiastically responded and they were excited to be "featured" here!
I was already in a much better mood Monday evening, and I wanted to go to school on Tuesday! I knew I was miserably lost with the language but I did not feel as out of place as I did on Friday. I started school with mathematics, sitting next to Javi, and for the most part, he taught me some phrases in spanish and we did a few problems. Following math, I had biology, in which we worked on the group project, and we ended up having a lot of free time afterwards. I remember sitting by myself, and several of my classmates came up to me to talk; they taught me some curse words in Spanish and asked me what music I listen to on Spotify. During el recreo, I met the other exchange student at the school, Walter. We both agreed that it felt good to talk in English and take a break from all the Spanish. The rest of the day was normal, and I proceeded to have my human anatomy class, chemistry class, and technology class. I vividly remember a funny moment with my classmates: the boy who sits next to me (Pablo) thought my name was Amaya, and I remember him asking Alberto about me (Amaya) and Alberto being very confused. Upon realizing he said my name wrong, he proceeded to change Amaya to Maya before finally arriving at Vismaya with Alberto's help! In my technology class, I made yet another friend (Lucía) and I left the day feeling very fulfilled.
We love taking weird selfies and here we are showing off the top half of our faces during 'el recreo'.
Given my schedule started with English, I knew my morning was going to be easy. Honestly, I love observing my classmates in English; it really changes my cocky American perspective of knowing to speak English when I see my classmates do their best in the subject because I understand how hard it is to be so helpless with a language. I learned the word "fatal" from my classmates, which is quite possibly my most favorite word in the Spanish language right now; it means "very bad", and it's often how I respond to my classmates when they check in on me after a class and ask me how I felt after hearing all that Spanish. During el recreo, I spoke to Sara, the daughter of my English teacher, who has been so kind and willing to talk to me. My classmates found me drawing in my notebook, and they told me I draw very fast (like in the "Draw my Life" videos that they have watched). The rest of the day passed by pretty quickly, and I remember drawing another sketch in philosophy. I greatly underestimated how therapeutic drawing has been for me, and I find myself turning to drawing when I simply don't understand what's going on around me.
These are some of the sketches my classmates and I draw in my journal. On the right is a picture I took of Lucía drawing flowers for me in my journal. On the left is a page of cartoon emotions that I drew while being very lost in philosophy class. I have felt almost EVERY single one of those emotions and more this past week!
My morning started later than usual, as I had a "free block" in the morning while some of my classmates were in our technology class (the technology class is split in half to follow COVID regulations). Most of my classmates were very stressed about their physics test, and I walked into class in the morning to see several groups of students studying and doing practice problems on the board. I felt a bit out of place on Thursday, as I was not taking the test and I was rather alone for most of the day while everyone was studying. In my lengua class of the day, the teacher had asked people to bring quotes to class about kindness from famous Spanish authors. The girl in front of me (Lucía, and yes, there are four Lucías I know!) brought a quote by the author Luis Landero. I remember the teacher asking the class if they knew who Luis Landero was and the whole class erupting into laughter when someone said "mi tío" ("my uncle"; this moment briefly brought me back to the American classroom where jokes like these (especially "your mom" jokes) are prevalent. Soon after, I remember being a silent observer as my classmates took their physics exam; my mind drifted into the comfort of California and I remember feeling very homesick until I was woken up by the bell. I left school feeling more dull than I had the entire week. The last thing I remember before falling asleep is eating lunch with my family.
Here's another picture we took during 'el recreo'. This is the usual hang-out spot, although we normally just wander the streets outside school.
I started off my morning with a seminar on kindness. My friends have been so helpful in translating for me what the teacher says, and before I knew it, it was time to take a math test. I finished the math test rather quickly, although I did know quite a few of the concepts. Macarena, the math teacher, was very sweet and she came up to me to check in on me during the test. When she was I finished, she again came up to me to collect my test, and she told me she was very impressed how many of the problems I had attempted given I had only had three math classes prior to taking the test. She gave me a pat on the head and told me that I seemed like a very intelligent girl. I had felt so helpless for most of the week and hearing her say this really boosted my confidence in the moment. I remember one of my classmates Diego turning around after I turned in my exam and giving me a thumbs up as a question asking how the exam went. Small gestures like these (of which there have been many) have been so touching and I truly remember all of them. Several of my classmates were so relieved following the exam and soon after el recreo, we came back straight into philosophy. My philosophy teacher introduced himself to me today and reassured me that I would not have to take the next exam; I was so relieved, as philosophy has been one of the hardest classes for me to understand, given everything is so abstract. We ended Friday with lengua, and it was my literature teacher's birthday! The class enthusiastically sang him "cumpleaños feliz!", which was so incredibly sweet. I left the classroom having wished him, and I was enthusiastically met by my host sisters outside school.
This is a selfie taken by hers truly, Carmen, as all five of us (me, Laura, Catalina, Carmen, and Alberto) walked back home after school. She was so amused by the fact that her bow was bigger than most of us in the picture and she could not stop giggling! This photo was too cute not to add to the blog :)
Catalina and I walked back home together after school on Friday. She and Carmen ran up to me after school and gave me a hug. We took this on the way back :)
Wow, I've made it through one whole week of school in another country without my parents. This week has taught me more gratitude and perseverance than anything in my life. I've found myself alone in the classroom so many times simply observing others talking, but there have been so many people who have voluntarily come up to me to talk, ask me how I'm doing, and invite me to hang out. I am still so incredibly disoriented; Spanish culture has been more inviting than I imagined, but I still find myself wanting to quit when thrown into a situation where I don't know how to respond. I am SO thankful for all my classmates who have made the effort to talk to me and who repeatedly insist that I can ask them for anything I need (Alberto, Javi, Lucía (all the Lucías), Laura, Sara, and everyone else). And I'm so grateful for everyone back home who reads my blog and tells me that they feel like they are simultaneously living my experience. Here's to a memorable first week and the most exciting five months of my life :)