Exchange student shifts from being a guest to being family |

Exchange student shifts from being a guest to being family

Rotary Traveler
Rachel Matheson
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Rachel Matheson, center, poses with her host family, from left, Patricia Gimeno Le Paih (9 years old), Cesar Gimeno, Sophie Le Paih and Ines Gimeno Le Paih (16 years old).

Most siblings have their entire life to bond. They spend every day together playing Barbies, fighting over who gets to sleep with the pink teddy bear, and singing along with movies. As they get older they are still sharing clothes, gossiping about dating or arguing over who gets the basement when friends are over.

I was unprepared and clueless as to what awaited me when I joined my Spanish host family. I knew my year in Spain would be spent living in a family with two kids in the house.

To some extent, I suppose I was expecting to live with my new sisters, ages 9 and 16, just as though they were my siblings I had spent my whole life growing up with. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

When you join a family at 16 you don’t have lemonade stands, first days of school, babysitters, family vacations, or any other priceless memories that make family so important. But I was welcomed with open arms from my first day.

Yet trying to jump in and live within a tight knit family is not an easy task. These past few months I have been watching and learning. I’ve picked up on traditions, what’s expected, what’s tolerated, and what’s appreciated in my new home.

Slowly but surely, I have transformed from a guest in the house to part of the family.

Now that my language is better and the family is used to having me around, I can feel bonds forming. I am an active member in our dinner conversations and am not afraid to jump in when my sisters joke around with each other.

A lot of time is spent with family, so each day I create more memories with them. I seem to have combined activities from all different ages into my exchange here. I learn and share as much with my 9-year-old host sister as I do with my host mom.

We’ve read children books out loud, watched “Peter Pan” countless times, played various board games, complained about who does the dishes, studied geology, and commented on the boys we pass in the street.

I have also shared with them some things they have never experienced before: I’ve taught my youngest host sister how to play piano and knit. We decorated the house for Halloween and had a feast on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately there was no parade or football, but I told them all about it.

We are always teaching, learning or comparing our language, customs and culture.

It’s weird not living in Glenwood Springs. I knew I would miss my school, sports, family, friends and hobbies, yet I never thought about all the things I would absorb from life here.

I am so lucky to be part of this Spanish family. I have been able to meet different friends, experience different customs, and create new hobbies. My new family has also allowed me to fully appreciate my world with my family, friends and community in Glenwood Springs.

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,” appears on the third Tuesday of the month.

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