Two years ago, Go Inspired started a program in Bethel, Connecticut. The goal was to begin an exchange program between Spain and Bethel, CT teenagers. The first year, there were 24 Spanish students from Castellon and Madrid, Spain enjoying the summer in Connecticut living with Bethel host families.
In the summer of 2015, one of the Bethel host brothers traveled to Benicasim, Spain to stay 3 weeks with the Spanish student he hosted. We had a chance to talk to Alex about his experience abroad.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Alex Staib, I am from Bethel, Connecticut in the United States. I am currently 16 years old and I enjoy playing sports and traveling.
Why did you go to Spain this summer (and for how long)?
I went to Spain this summer to see my exchange brother, Edu. I went for three weeks during the months July and August.
Describe the place you went to.
I went to a beach town called Benicassim. It was very nice, as the beach was walking distance and easily accessible. Also the atmosphere in the town was very relaxed and easy going.
How was your experience overall?
The three weeks I spent in Spain were the best weeks of my life. I had such an amazing time and I can not even begin to describe how much fun my stay was.
What were some of the cultural shocks/surprises you experienced?
Some cultural shocks that I experienced was that everything was in walking distance. This was a big surprise to me because in America if you don’t live in a city then you need to drive everywhere. Also another big shock to me was how easy going the parents were. In Spain we got to go to parties and go back home the next morning. In America we have nothing like this because we have to be home by 12 or 1 in the morning. However, the biggest cultural shock to me was how nice the Spanish people were. The Spanish people were so nice and there was no rush to go any were which really amazed me. For example, when I was going back home I had to take a bus to get to the airplane and on the bus an American said “I think the bus is full. Let’s go.” This showed me how much of a rush the American people are in.
How would you describe the teenagers from Spain?
The teenagers from Spain were amazingly nice and very intrigued into what the American life was like. I got a lot of questions regarding my life in America. Also, I made over 30 friends that I truly miss and can not wait to see again.
What are the teenagers’ lives like in Spain in the summer compared to the US?
The teenagers lives are very active in Spain. I say this because you see your friends every day and hangout with them every day. This can be going to the beach, grabbing dinner, swimming, or just hanging out. The Spanish teenagers stay out a lot later than the American teenagers do. In America we do not hang out with our friends every day because we would have to drive there and sometimes they can live very far away.
Did your level of Spanish improve? Did you learn a lot of new expressions? Could you understand them when they spoke?
Yes, my Spanish improved vastly. I got to listen and comprehend Spanish for three weeks which really helped my auditory skills for Spanish. Also I spoke a lot of Spanish so, I got more comfortable with speaking Spanish. One thing I did not know improved until I went back to school was how much my pronunciation of Spanish words improved. I now speak a lot more fluently than I did before. Yes I learned a lot of new Spanish sayings and some that aren’t appropriate. At first I couldn’t understand them a lot of the times, but as my stay continued I understood the Spanish a lot more.
Why do you think it is important to travel?
I think traveling opens up so many opportunities for you and you get so many experiences and life lessons out of traveling. For example because I traveled to Spain this summer I now have like my own Spanish family which I would never have had before. You get so many experiences and stories out of traveling as well, you get to experience the culture, food, people. You also get life lessons like how to better yourself and you also learn what you are capable of. I think everyone should travel and I know now after this trip I want to travel the world and not be a normal 9-5 job in America, because that’s just so normal.
What were some of the activities you did while there?
Some activities I did in Spain were going to the beach, swimming, walking, hanging out, playing tennis, playing soccer, playing beach games, and partying.
What food did you enjoy?
The food in Spain was amazing like so much better than the food in America. Everything I ate tasted so rich, fresh, healthy. I loved eggs with potatoes, and ham.
Anything you didn’t enjoy about your experience?
I have to be completely honest, there was nothing I didn’t enjoy. I wish I knew Spanish better, but besides that and my ear infection everything was perfect. Even with my ear infection, and not being able to sleep for two weeks I loved everything.
Do you have any plans to study abroad in the future?
Yes, I will study abroad in Spain in the future. I loved everything about Spain and who knows maybe one day I will be living there. This trip opened up my eyes to how much I love traveling and I found what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Does this change your perspective on the US/Spain?
My perspective was greatly changed. I now am a changed person due to my trip. I now have a more positive outlook on things in life. I also believe Edu coming to Bethel and me going to the Spain was just meant to happen.
Did you have any embarrassing moments related to the culture?
I would have to say no, but I probably asked a few silly questions during my time there.
Would you recommend this experience to other teenagers? Why or why not?
I would recommend this experience to other teenagers in a heartbeat. I feel that not only should you host a foreign exchange student, but you should also go their country as well. I say this because you will learn so much about yourself and what your limits are. I conquered a lot of my fears during this trip and now I am a better person for it.
Thanks, Alex for being so candid about your experience. We wish you luck in the future and we are thrilled that you got to go to Spain and learn about the Spanish culture first-hand!