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!"

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 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 (, 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!