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Nine months later, GSHS student is a Spanish ‘local’

Rotary Traveler
Rachel Matheson
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Contributed PhotoRachel Matheson now sees tourists on the beaches of San Sebastian, Spain, through the eyes of a local.
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Last fall while writing my first few articles for the Post Independent about my year abroad, I never gave them much thought. I was experiencing countless new customs and ideas, which were all effortless to write about. The differences between America and Spain seemed so clear because my mind lacked exposure to anything but an American lifestyle.

Yet as the year has progressed, the articles have become more difficult to write. The differences between life in the states and life in Spain have blurred together, creating what is now “my life.”

The customs I first found so strange I now find instinctive, the phrases I never could understand now flow off my tongue without prior thinking, and the strange house I first arrived at has become my home.



It is easy to think of the culture, the history, the language and the customs in a foreign country because everything appears so different. Yet when thinking of your own country, it is harder to pinpoint the culture you have, the languages you speak, and the customs you participate in. Everyone seems so unique, so how could we possibly group an entire country’s population into the same category?

By being an exchange student for a year, I’ve gone through several highs and lows. When I said I was going to live in Spain for a year, it sounded so exotic to most people.



Some may think of my trip as a vacation, a year of freedom to explore. But I have learned that being an exchange student is far more than that. The excitement and vacation effect only lasts so long before your real life picks up again. You adapt and realize that you have more than just your American upbringing to live by.

As I finished my final week of school before summer break, I realized that this year was far from anything I expected my junior year of high school to be.

Chemistry, physics, biology, psychology and literature were all scheduled as part of my curriculum. But the classes being taught in Spanish was an unexpected twist. Not having school sports, clubs or different classes for every subject now seems perfectly natural in my mind, when at first I was shocked by the lack of them.

At 17, I never imagined having the knowledge or understanding about the world that I have acquired in my time here.

When I first arrived in Spain, I didn’t have a normal routine and didn’t know what to do with myself most of the time. I felt foreign and out of place. Everyone would look and talk about me, and I never could understand their rapid words.

However, now I have become a local. It’s easy for me to maneuver through this city and laugh with my friends at the ridiculous tourists on the beach. I not only know the best places to get a coffee or a bite to eat, but I am good friends with the staff who works there.

I was not with my classmates in Glenwood Springs, who I have been with through every other school year, but I made countless friends here. I did not participate in the same sports and clubs I usually do in Colorado, but instead expanded my knowledge and took on all new opportunities. I wasn’t speaking in my native tongue, but I learned their language. I wasn’t in my home of Glenwood Springs, but I made a home in San Sebastian.

The reason that writing my exchange articles has become increasingly more difficult is not because I have run out of things to say, or have stopped learning so much or trying so many new things. It is simply because I feel as though I’m expected to write about living in a “foreign country” when in fact, Spain is no longer foreign to me.

Rachel Matheson, 17, 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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