Exchange Program leads to lifelong connections

Jack Guardiola

As a freshman, I was hesitant at first about traveling with seniors from other schools. But my exchange trip to Spain far exceeded my expectations.

This January, I decided to take advantage of Malvern’s Global Exchange program and applied to go to Spain.

When I was accepted into the program, it was hard to say how I had felt about actually leaving and going to another country. Sure, I had traveled before and I even have family in Spain, but I was still unsure of my decision.

At 7 PM on January 3, sophomore Buck Walsh and I boarded our plane to leave the United States.

We arrived the next morning, and as soon as I met my host family, all my worries disappeared. I knew right away that I would have a great time in Spain. The parents, Paula and Andres, were kind and welcoming. The kids, Jaime (15) and Gabriel (8), were awesome as well. Later, when I spoke with to the other students on our exchange from St. Augustine Prep and Our Lady of Mercy Academy, they said they had all experienced a similar feeling of welcome from their host families.

The day after my arrival, all the exchange students and hosts got together and went to the city of Segovia. We saw a lot of landmarks, including the Castle Alcazar, which served as inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle.

When I met the other American students, I was a little hesitant to talk to them. They were mostly seniors from other schools, and I thought we would all just do our own thing. After Buck and I started getting to know them, we realized this was not the case. They were all friendly and, like us, excited to be in Spain.

A few days later, it was Three Kings’ Day, a day to celebrate the Three Kings visiting Jesus Christ. According to custom, you leave a shoe outside your room, and the Kings fill it with candies. The family embraced me and let me engage in the celebration with them. We also visited their grandparents and other extended family, and it was nice to feel so involved with the family.

Finally, our first day of school came. The school was mammoth. It is a huge monastery that also served as a school. The monastery was built under the reign of King Philip II. The school day went from 9 AM to 5 PM, but the long hours were made up by having a huge lunch break. It was at least an hour and a half long.

In school, the students were in the soccer unit for Physical Education, and they were all so good at soccer. They could dribble effortlessly, do tricks with the ball, and shoot with precision and power. It’s safe to say their skills blew all of the exchange students away.

When we went to Toledo, we all grouped up at El Escorial to carpool. We all got into two vans to take the trip. During our ride, we played card games like blackjack and spoons. When we finally got there, we went sightseeing and saw many different things. After that, we got to talk around the town. It’s really a great place.

Living only an hour from Madrid meant we got to visit the city several times, which was awesome. We even got to go to a Real Madrid game and tour the stadium. We also visited the Prado museum, the Royal Palace, and a massive park called El Retiro. My favorite thing to do in Madrid was definitely going to the Real Madrid game, but that’s not to say all the other things I saw weren’t great opportunities.

The trip wasn’t all just sightseeing. It was full immersion into life in Spain. For example, we ate lunch at 2 PM and dinner at 9 PM, which is very different from life here. Another big difference between Spain and the United States is that everyone calls each other by their first name. Kids called adults by their first names, and students, teachers. It wasn’t due to a lack of respect; it was just because the culture was different in that way.

In the end, I think going to Spain for three weeks was a great opportunity and really changed me as a person. I have learned to be appreciative of differences in cultures, how to make new friendships with people you’ve never met before, and much more.

I was a little wary of the language barrier, and thought it would be a little problematic, but now I know it wasn’t. Over the course of the trip, my Spanish improved by leaps and bounds.

I’m really shocked about how close the nine exchange students became, regardless of being from different schools and being complete strangers when we met. I know that I have made a lifelong connection with Jaime and his family during my time in Spain.

The Global Exchange program is run by Ms. Teresa Lohse, who is the director of the whole program. The program offers trips to Spain, Australia, and Panama. According to Malvern’s website, Malvern has completed 50 exchanges with 175 total students. Fifty Malvern parents have hosted a foreign student, some of them multiple times.

If you want to broaden yourself as a person, work on your language, and form lifelong connections with other people, the Global Exchange program is for you.

It’s hard fit all of my adventure into one article, so please visit a link to my blog if you are interesting in reading more about my experiences.