Adjusting to life in Spain on Rotary exchange |

Adjusting to life in Spain on Rotary exchange

Rachel Matheson
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Contributed photoRachel Matheson, a Glenwood Springs High School junior on a Rotary International student exchange in San Sebastian, Spain, enjoys the sun on Playa de la Zurriola. The beach is close to the home where she is living, and is considered the best surfing beach in the area.

The most important thing I learned in my first week in San Sebastian, Spain, is that you never leave the house without an umbrella. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson about three rainstorms too late.

It doesn’t snow in the winter like is does in Colorado, but the weather changes just as fast. Within minutes it will go from a beautiful day at the beach watching the surfers to a rainstorm with wind that could blow you away.

No matter what the weather is, I’ve enjoyed every day on my youth exchange so far.

Life in Spain is very different from life in Glenwood Springs. I live with a family of six (including me) in a flat overlooking the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

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It is a dream come true to be living here with a wonderful family and part of a culture where a nap at 3 p.m. is normal. However, I know that it is going to be a lot of work.

Imagine standing with 10 of your friends: Think about how quickly you talk and how many different people are talking at the same time. Now put all those words into a language you don’t know and continue to stand; it’s not easy.

I can already feel myself improving and I’m lucky to have such a patient family with my broken Spanglish.

San Sebastian has a very different schedule than America. I ride a bike to and from school, which is typically from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

After school we have lunch, which is very important family time. We all sit together in the kitchen and enjoy each other’s company, followed by fruit or yogurt for dessert. At every meal we have a fresh loaf of bread, so we must walk to the market before lunch and dinner. Because we have such a late lunch, dinner is not until 9:30 or 10 p.m.

On weekends it’s not uncommon for young people to go out after dinner and not return home until early the next morning. It helps to have a siesta after lunch to give everyone enough energy to make it through the long days.

I think the biggest difference in school is that in Spain there are no school sports. It’s weird not to stay after school for sports practice, have locker rooms and football fields, or attend games on Friday nights.

Unlike Glenwood Springs, where students are allowed to pick their classes based on what level they are in that subject, we are assigned all our classes based on the last grade we completed.

The public school I attend is only for 11th and 12th graders. Everyone is put into a class of about 25 kids and stays with that class all day while the teachers change every hour and bring the new subject to the students.

I’ve only been here a couple weeks, but I’m amazed at how much I have learned. I can’t wait to see where I am at the end of the year.

– Rachel Matheson, 16, is spending her junior year on a Rotary Youth Exchange trip to San Sebastian, Spain, sponsored by the Sunrise Rotary and Club Rotario. Her column, “Rotary Traveler,” will appear monthly.

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