Friday, August 17, 2012

just eighteen days

I have just a little over two weeks left in Lancaster, with all of my friends and family. This distant dream didn't seem possible until now; everything is starting to sink in and feel surreal. I am leaving this wonderful place I call home in just eighteen days.
I have been making the very most out of my last few weeks here, and this is what I've been up to!

AFS family- most of the Speedwell Scholarship winners   






































 A few weekends ago, I attended a Speedwell Scholarship luncheon. All 30 scholarship winners were invited to a picnic at a local park in downtown Lititz. It was so nice to see all of my good friends again, because some of them depart for their year abroad in the upcoming days! And I wish them all the very best of luck!

A million thanks to Mike & Jenny Messner
At the Speedwell Scholarship luncheon, I also got the opportunity to meet the couple who made my dreams become a reality, by giving me a full scholarship to study abroad. Words cannot properly express how thankful and appreciative I am to have received this once in a life time opportunity. All I can say is thank you for the generous scholarship you have given me to study abroad, because without it, I wouldn't be able to fulfill my dream. Thank you, yet again.

Party Time

 The weekend following the Speedwell Scholarship Luncheon, I had my going away party. Many of my family and friends stopped by to say the cliche goodbye and best of luck next year.


A big thank you to my family for not only making my dream possible, but for supporting me through this whole process. You are here for me now more than ever, and this is the time that I need you the most! Thank you for making my going away party possible, it couldn't have been more perfect!

I am so fortunate to know many of the people studying abroad with me. Because AFS Susquehanna Valley is a large chapter, I know at least 6 other students going to Spain with me. It's the best feeling in the entire world knowing I don't have to say goodbye to two of my best friends- Alli and Cameron. I will see you in New York City, in just eighteen days!


Another special thank you to my grandma! Thank you so much for being so supportive of both me and my decision to study abroad, especially throughout the last couple of weeks. I appreciate the multiple times we went shopping for luggage, host family gifts, last minute essentials and even the few times we "practice packed". You have been such a great help, and I really don't know what I would do without you!

   
Thank You Grandma, for all that you have done; I love my poster!  

Today, I received three luggage tags in the mail! Anytime I get a new update from AFS, whether it be by mail, Facebook, or even email, I get excited! Receiving luggage tags is yet another reminder that my departure date is near. Last week, I got my passport back to me by mail, with my visa affixed in it! The months of hard work finally paid off, and I can finally stop stressing about all the necessary paperwork and documents.
While I have a little more than two weeks here, time is truly flying by. I have been busy working five to six days per week, saving up as much money as I can for Spain. Also, next Friday, August 24, is my 17th birthday! Although I do somewhat wish that I could spend and celebrate my birthday over seas for a change. School starts here at Lampeter-Strasburg on Monday, August 27th.  I think I am going into school the first week for just a day to say a final goodbye to all of my favorite teachers and friends, which I am really excited about! I am even more excited that I don't start school at IES Pinar de la Rubia, in Spain, until September 10th. More big news is that I decided to take up dancing lessons in Spain, which I am going to sign up for when I arrive!
In just eighteen days, I will be on my way to overnight orientation in NYC, nineteen days until my flight to Switzerland, twenty days until I arrive in Madrid, and only twenty one days until I met my host family!

"sin prisas, pero sin pausa" 
"not hurrying, but not pausing"
Spain, I will be there soon enough, just eighteen days.


Monday, July 30, 2012

so much to do, so little time

I feel like it's been awhile since I last blogged, but it's really only been a couple weeks. The official countdown until September 5th -the day I have to be in New York- is just 36 days. I leave in a little over one month, but there's still so much to complete here at home.

So far, my summer has been filled with many unforgettable experiences.The past few weeks, especially, have been some of the most amazing and rewarding weeks I have ever had, for many reasons. Around three weeks ago, early one Tuesday morning around midnight, all of my family drove together to pick up and welcome Silvia, the exchange student we decided to host for three weeks. Out of all of us, I was clearly the most excited, mainly because I benefit from this hosting experience the most. Also, I was allowed to choose the student we hosted, so I was anxious to see how well I did. When the car pulled up with all of the Spanish and French students, I could instantly pick out Silvia from the rest of the group. Soon, she came running up to my family and greeted me first with a big hug and two kisses on the cheek. At this point, I already knew I had chosen the perfect girl. Throughout the following weeks, my opinion didn't change one bit, but instead grew stronger. Silvia has easily become one of my best friends, and I have learned more than just the Spanish language from her.  Together, we created so many inside jokes, laughs, memories, but most of all- pictures.

                                                       "we're not friends, we're sisters!"

                                    video
Thank you so much for this video, Silvia! Thank you for not only being a best friend to me, but also my sister! I love and miss you more than anything.

Also, on an AFS related note, I went to the Spanish Consulate in New York last Tuesday to apply for my student visa. Almost all of the students going to Spain with me had no complications applying for their visas, except for me. My visa appointment was a nightmare.
It all started when my family, Silvia, and I had to leave the house at 4am, to make sure to be in time for my 10:15am appointment. Although there was some traffic, we made it to the Spanish Consulate in good timing. After grabbing some Starbucks coffee, we took the elevator up to the 30th floor. As soon as we walked inside, security officers greeted us by checking our personal belongings, and we proceeded to find the closest employee to ask for further instructions. Not surprisingly, the people spoke only in Spanish, and the entire office was filled with Spanish instructions, poems, and pictures. Seeing my confusion, Silvia grabbed my hand and lead us to yet another employee, where she asked for directions in Spanish. While she was in the middle of translating the instructions back to me, I heard my name clearly called over the speaker. Silvia and the rest of my family, stayed behind, while my mom and I went nervously up to window one. I wasn't expecting to have to talk though a glass window and relay visa papers through a little opening at the bottom of the glass. After a brief introduction, the young girl helping at my appointment, Paola, asked a bunch of curious questions as to why I was at the Spanish Consulate. I soon found that, coincidentally, she lives in Valladolid! Paola flipped through all of the documents I collected over the past months, and finally came to a halt. As she looked up asking me if I had my host school information, I was speechless. AFS was supposed to send me a few 'support' documents, necessary to obtain a Spanish student visa, such as a medical/financial form and more importantly, my host school information. Most others going to Spain had already received their support documents, and I was instructed to still attend my visa appointment, with or without the support documents. There I was, standing in front of glass window one, totally helpless. I tried over and over to explain my situation to all of the staff at the Spanish Consulate; as sincere as they were, my visa still could and would not be processed unless I had proof of a public host school in Spain. As soon as we heard the dreaded news, both my mom and I, were at the point of freaking out. Luckily, Hector, the other helpful employee, and Paola promised that we would work this problem out. It took over an hour, and many phone transfers, to finally get in contact with the AFS visa coordinator. After a long and even more confusing conversation with AFS, I couldn't be happier to find that they actually had my host school information available. It only took another hour for AFS to fax over the completed information to the Spanish consulate. I was finally able to relax when I found out that my visa would indeed be processed. Lets keep in mind that this visa appointment was scheduled for a mere fifteen minutes, expecting no complications. So after two grueling hours, teary eyes, and a bunch of finger crossing, my visa was FINALLY accepted. Now, I'm just waiting to get my passport, affixed with the visa, returned by mail to me. Hopefully I get it in the expected three-four week time frame..my fingers are still crossed!

As July turns into August, my emotions shift drastically as well. I have gone through a complete wave of emotions, from being doubtful of this dream a year ago, to being thrilled hearing of my acceptance and host family placement, to being nervous more than anything now, with only a month to go. I have so much to finish here before I depart in September. Although there is a lot of unfinished business, it's mostly little things such as my senior project and pictures, packing a whole year into a suitcase, and more importantly- saying a temporary goodbye to family and friends. Saying goodbye is definitely going to be the hardest part of leaving this place I call home. This coming Saturday I am attending a Speedwell Scholarship Luncheon, with all the other local AFS students, where I get the amazing opportunity to meet my full scholarship donor! It also will be a time to see and say goodbye to my friends leaving for their upcoming year abroad in countries throughout the world. I am more than excited to meet the donor and see all of my friends again, because we're all pretty close knit and get along very well. I would say all of us together are one crazy group, but that is definitely an understatement. Also, I have a going away/birthday party coming up in less than two weeks where I have to say goodbye to most of my friends and family for the last time. Goodbyes are hard and they always will be; there really isn't any 'good' in goodbye, as I have found out the hard way. I already had to endure my hardest goodbye, by far, not with a friend or family member though, but someone I hold just as dear- someone who is and will be closer to me than anyone here at home, and someone who is going through the same situation I am. Although, I don't know how, when, or where, this isn't a permanent goodbye. It just can't be; that's a promise.

With only a little over a month left to go, I have so much to do, with so little time. With only 36 days left, Spain can wait for me because, although right now my mind is in Spain, my heart is content right here. 



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What is exchange? -Fabian Wildgrube

"Exchange is change. Rapid, brutal, beautiful, hurtful, colourful, amazing, unexpected, overwhelming and most of all constant change. Change in lifestyle, country, language, friends, parents, houses, school, simply everything.

Exchange is realizing that everything they told you beforehand is wrong, but also right in a way.

Exchange is going from thinking you know who you are, to having no idea who you are anymore to being someone new. But not entirely new. You are still the person you were before but you jumped into that ice cold lake. You know how it feels like to be on your own. Away from home, with no one you really know. And you find out that you can actually do it.

Exchange is learning to trust. Trust people, who, at first, are only names on a piece of paper, trust that they want the best for you, that they care. Trust, that you have the strength to endure a year on your own, endure a year of being apart from everything that mattered to you before. Trust that you will have friends. Trust that everything’s going to be alright. And it is seeing this trust being justified.

Exchange is thinking. All the time. About everything. Thinking about those strange costumes, the strange food, the strange language. About why you’re here and not back home. About how it’s going to be like once you come back home. How that girl is going to react when you see her again. About who’s hanging out where this weekend. At first who’s inviting you at all. And in the end where you’re supposed to go, when you’re invited to ten different things. About how everybody at home is doing. About how stupid this whole time-zone thing is. Not only because of home, but also because the tv ads for shows keep confusing you.
Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong. About how stupid or rude you just were to someone without meaning to be. About the point of all this. About the sense of life. About who you want to be, what you want to do. And about when that English essay is due, even though you’re marks don’t count. About whether you should go home after school, or hang out at someone’s place until midnight. Someone you didn’t even know a few months ago. And about what the hell that guy just said.

Exchange is people. Those incredibly strange people, who look at you like you’re an alien. Those people who are too afraid to talk to you. And those people who actually talk to you. Those people who know your name, even though you have never met them. Those people, who tell you who to stay away from. Those people who talk about you behind your back, those people who make fun of your country. All those people, who aren’t worth your giving a damn. Those people you ignore.
And those people who invite you to their homes. Who keep you sane. Who become your friends.

Exchange is music. New music, weird music, cool music, music you will remember all your life as the soundtrack of your exchange. Music that will make you cry because all those lyrics express exactly how you feel, so far away. Music that will make you feel like you could take on the whole world. And it is music you make. With the most amazing musicians you’ve ever met. And it is site reading a thousand pages just to be part of the school band.

Exchange is uncomfortable. It’s feeling out of place, like a fifth wheel. It’s talking to people you don’t like. It’s trying to be nice all the time. It’s bugs.. and bears. It’s cold, freezing cold. It’s homesickness, it’s awkward silence and its feeling guilty because you didn’t talk to someone at home. Or feeling guilty because you missed something because you were talking on Skype.

Exchange is great. It’s feeling the connection between you and your host parents grow. It’s hearing your little host brother asking where his big brother is. It’s knowing in which cupboard the peanut butter is. It’s meeting people from all over the world. It’s having a place to stay in almost every country of the world. It’s getting new families. One of them being a huge group of the most awesome teenagers in the world.
It’s cooking food from your home country and not messing up. It’s seeing beautiful landscapes that you never knew existed.

Exchange is exchange students. The most amazing people in the whole wide world. Those people from everywhere who know exactly how you feel and those people who become your absolute best friends even though you only see most of them 3 or 4 times during your year. The people, who take almost an hour to say their final goodbyes to each other. Those people with the jackets full of pins. All over the world.

Exchange is falling in love. With this amazing, wild, beautiful country. And with your home country.

Exchange is frustrating. Things you can’t do, things you don’t understand. Things you say, that mean the exact opposite of what you meant to say. Or even worse…

Exchange is understanding.

Exchange is unbelievable.

Exchange is not a year in your life. It’s a life in one year.

Exchange is nothing like you expected it to be, and everything you wanted it to be.

Exchange is the best year of your life so far. Without a doubt. And it’s also the worst. Without a doubt.

Exchange is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you. It is something no one back at home will ever truly understand.

Exchange is growing up, realizing that everybody is the same, no matter where they’re from. That there is great people and douche bags everywhere. And that it only depends on you how good or bad your day is going to be. Or the whole year.
And it is realizing that you can be on your own, that you are an independent person. Finally. And it’s trying to explain that to your parents.

Exchange is dancing in the rain for no reason, crying without a reason, laughing at the same time. It’s a turmoil of every emotion possible.

Exchange is everything. And exchange is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it."

Friday, July 06, 2012

Two Months

In exactly two months from now, I will be on a plane headed for Europe. In just sixty days, I will be leaving behind everything I've grown familiar to. It still hasn't quite hit me yet that I will be moving away for a year, and it probably won't until I arrive in Valladolid. I have just sixty days to spend with my friends and family- those who mean the most. So far, my summer has been filled with lasting memories!

Tonight is my last night of my week long family vacation in Portland, Maine. It has been so great spending time with all eighteen of my family members; it will be one of the last times I see them all. Spending just a week away from Lancaster, makes me realize how much I will miss this place I call home.
                                                                   Portland, Maine
                                                         My favorite cousin, Cassie!

Tomorrow, I have to endure the long ten hour car ride home from Maine; then on Sunday, I have a long, full day at work. On Monday night, our exchange student arrives! My family decided to host a Spanish girl named Silvia for three weeks from July 9th-27th. I have been in close contact with Silvia and she is just as excited as I am! It will be a great opportunity for both her and my family, and I know it will be an overall positive experience.

I still have a couple major things to complete before I depart for Spain. I scheduled my consulate appointment in New York for July 24th, at 10:15am, which is on Silvia's birthday! (Happy Birthday Silvia!) As all other AFSers know, the visa process is very complex and many documents are required. I am crossing my fingers that I will have everything necessary to receive my student visa! Along with receiving my visa, I also need to complete my senior project, which shouldn't be too difficult.
This coming Saturday, July14th, all the Susquehanna Valley AFSers are invited to a team building/canopy zip lining tour, and then a cookout afterwards! I am more than excited to see all of my exchange friends again, because the next and last time I will see them is at the Speedwell Scholarship Luncheon on August 4th. Meeting up with other exchange students is always guaranteed fun! 

Also, thanks to Amy (http://amymargaret.blogspot.com/), there is a map of all the 2012-2013 host family placements. So, if you are curious where all of the AFS Spain students are placed, here you go!


View AFS Spain Placements in a larger map

Here I come Spain- just sixty days!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

3,626

3,626, is the distance in miles, that separates Strasburg, Pennsylvania from Arroyo de la Encomienda, Spain. I cannot even begin to comprehend the distance between my two homes. I still am in shock, not just by the distance between my homes, but also the fact that I am leaving the states in just over 80 days. It hasn't quite hit me yet that all of this is actually happening, and so soon. Everything still feels surreal from simply being accepted to study abroad months ago, to having little details such as host family and placement, travel itinerary, and the complicated visa process.

Speaking of my host family...I could not be any more excited to have three siblings! Here at home, I only have one younger brother, and we are very close in age. I always wanted a sister, and I can happily say I will have two soon. Next year will be completely different having a sister the same age, and two drastically younger siblings as well. I am keeping in close contact with my host family, mainly through email. I occasionally chat with my host sister (via Tuenti), who has been very helpful. I also had the opportunity to skype with my host family a couple days ago. At first I was reluctant because I was so nervous, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The only problem was the language barrier between us; although that will surely change when I get to Spain!

Not a minute goes by without thinking what my future year will be like- full of smiles, tears, laughter, embarrassment, bliss, and pure confusion. There will be times where I don't want to go home and also times where I will just want to give up. One thing is certain though- studying abroad is my dream, and I want this more than anything. Next year would have still been a distant dream if it wasn't for the support of my friends and family.

Olivia- I couldn't thank you enough for all the support and encouragement you have given me in my decision to study abroad. I wish you would have had the chance to study in France like you wanted, but I know you will be there soon! I'm so happy that we became close friends this year, and I will never forget our weekly sleepovers! By the way, I absolutely can't wait to see you when our class visits Spain in March!

Mckenna- I still can't believe we're this good of friends, and you know why! I wouldn't change it for anything though. Thank you for all those times where we would speak Spanish and no one would understand us...even those little practicing sessions will help me out. I am so glad you were there with me to witness my freak out when I got my host family, because I wouldn't have anyone better to celebrate the moment with! I will see you in Spain (with your roommate Olivia), don't worry!

Erin- You have been my very best friend since the start of middle school, and that will never ever change. I know you were doubtful of my decision to study abroad at first, but I couldn't thank you enough for constantly sticking by my side. We have been through so much together, and you mean everything to me! Promise me that you will keep me updated and we will definitely skype often when I'm away!

Breakfast Club- Each and every one of you mean so much to me. I consider all of you to be my best friends, and you are the people I will be missing the very most when I'm abroad. I have never had a group of friends where everyone can act so weird together and think it's perfectly normal. We have been through so many ups and downs together throughout our entire high school career, but we always seem to make it and pull through! I can certainly say, there is never a dull moment in our group! I appreciate the support and confidence you all give me, even if it's through sarcasm and side comments. It's pretty amazing to say that we have been going out for breakfast every Friday morning for two years now. I am so blessed to have every one of you in my life, and I don't know what I would do without you!

Alec- As much as it kills me to admit, you are the best brother in the entire world! Of course we argue and disagree occasionally, but most of the time we don't..and I couldn't ask for anything better. Thank you so much for dealing with my Spain talk every single day, but more importantly- thank you for constantly reminding me how proud you are and what a great opportunity all of this is. I wish you the very best of luck during your first year of high school without me, but I know you will do just great. If you ever need help with Spanish homework, I'll only be a skype call away! Also, keep thinking hard about what we always talk about, maybe a year abroad is in your future too! I love you!

Mom & Mark- You are the two most important people in my life, and I couldn't have gone this far without you both. Thank you for realizing my dream is a once in a lifetime opportunity and letting me go for it. You truly do not understand how much that means to me. Thank you both for the full support and guidance you gave throughout the last year. Thank you mom, for the multiple phone calls during the day about random Spanish facts or more ideas for my going away party. Without either of you, I wouldn't be accomplishing my dream, and a simple 'thank you' will never gratify that.

Soon enough I will be at home, 3,626 miles away from home. I will be living my ultimate dream, thanks to everyone who made it possible in the first place! I love you all more than you can ever imagine.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

I have a family!

Yesterday was my last day of school here at Lampeter-Strasburg- my last day of American high school. I don't really know how I feel about that. Because yesterday was the last day of school, I was finishing up my third and fourth period finals and as soon as the bell dismissed us for summer, I checked my phone and I had an email. I exited out of the email and decided to save it for later, while I was reading my new text messages. Then I went to go look at the email and the subject line read "AFS: Your Permanent Host Family Placement with AFS-Spain". As soon as I saw that I started to freak out, I even started crying! My best friend and I decided to run all the way back upstairs to tell our Spanish teachers the great news. After many impatient minutes of waiting for an iPhone to load, I found out that I will be living in a medium-sized village two hours northwest of Madrid, called Arroyo de la Encomienda on the outskirts of Valladolid! My family consists of a mom (Nati), a dad (Antonio), and their three children- Laura (16, so she's nine months younger than me), Javier (10), and Iciar (4). I am very excited to have two sisters and a younger brother!

As soon as I found out this great news, I emailed my new host family a short email. It was definitely one of the weirdest feelings I've ever experienced. To my luck, they emailed me back just half an hour later! Although their English isn't the best, the email was so sincere; I can already tell I'm going to fit right in.

Then this morning, I woke up to two emails from my host dad, one with the corrected google map address of their condominium and the other was a pdf file with tons of new information and pictures about them. We have already sent a couple emails back and forth, and now I am awaiting a response!


                                                                         Valladolid

Having a family and placement suddenly makes everything so much more real, but I have to constantly remind myself that my wonderful Spanish family in Valladolid will still be there in 90 days! just 90 more days.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Travel Information!

My mind can't seem to grasp the fact that I'm leaving in just three quick months. I remember this exact time last year; I was filling out my preliminary application and excited to work on my full application throughout the summer. I just can't seem to grasp that I've been counting down from exactly one year ago to today where my new life is just three months away. I only have two days left of school next week, both days focused on final exams. Then that's it..I have the rest of the summer to focus on my job and absolutely wonderful friends and family- because before I know it- they won't be so familiar anymore. This summer is going to be filled with just as many emotions as memories created. 

"late nights, bikinis, short shorts, flip flops, sunglasses, sunshine, loud music, pool parties, no makeup. the list goes on. SUMMER 2012 ♥"

On another note, I received my travel information today!
Late last night, I spent a good two or so hours skyping with a friend going to France in the fall, when I got an email from a local volunteer saying that I could count on specific flight details. I didn't really take the time to put everything together and I didn't really think much of the email at that point. Then later, to my luck, I just so happen to randomly wake up at 2am to a breezy cold room and an email blinking on my phone beside me. Thinking that there was a slight possibility it could be a host family placement, I opened the email as quick as I could..still half asleep. While it wasn't my placement, I did find out some other great news! I got my flight itinerary, which I wasn't even expecting until July! Here's a little insight on the excitement I was experiencing early this morning:



I found out that I have to be at the Hilton New York JFK Hotel anytime between 12pm-4pm on September 5th, 2012. That means I have to say good-bye to my family and friends that day, and to make things worse, that day happens to be my mother's birthday. Then, I have my gateway orientation that night and leave September 6th from JFK airport at 8:55pm and arrive in Zurich, Switzerland at 10:45am on September 7th. I have around a two hour layover in Zurich and at 12:25pm I fly to Madrid and arrive at 2:45pm!

I also was informed of our luggage requirements- we're allowed one checked bag up to 44 pounds with specific measurements too, along with one carry on weighing 22 pounds. It's crazy to think that I have to pack ten months into just 44 pounds..it seems close to impossible!

I've been trying to convince my parents to host an exchange student while I'm gone, whether it be as a temporary welcome family (for 6-12 weeks) or for an entire year. My mom seems to be fully on board with the idea, but it is a two way street. I feel that if my family provided another student with the same opportunity I was given, it would be the least we could do to "pay" back my scholarship. Also, it would be a great experience for my fourteen year old little brother. If my family hosted while I was gone, my brother especially, would overall be positively affected and would have someone to share his first year of high school with! I am strongly passionate about the whole idea, and crossing my fingers and hoping that my parents will agree!  (mom, if you're reading this- pretty please!?) 

Also, there hasn't been any news recently about my host family or placement. It seems that a lot of people have been getting placed recently though, and I really have a feeling I'm going to be soon! It's so hard waiting for the perfect family when everyone else seems to have their match already. As impatient as I am, I know for a fact that I'm going to get a great family and it will all be worth the wait in the end. I have to try my best to stay positive!

That's everything for now, but hopefully more major updates to follow!