How far we've come...


May 29, 2014 - This past weekend was the final orientation of the 2013-2014 year program... WHERE DID THE TIME GO?!

As expected, this final orientation was even better than the arrival and mid-year ones. All of the exchange kids are finally completely comfortable around one another and our true personalities were shown in full force this time, which was fantastic!

Me with some of the other exchange students wearing our official AFS Catalunya t-shirts.

Coming full circle

As soon as we got there, we were MOBBED by about 50 “Sendings” (the Spanish students going abroad with AFS this coming year). They had clearly been waiting for us, and the reason, we found out, was because we were going to be serving as kind of study abroad advisors for them.

I was assigned six Spaniards going to the US and told we had two hours in which to answer their questions and get them up to speed on US culture.

My group was actually the bomb and we made some quality progress in those two hours. They kept firing off questions like, "What do you eat for breakfast?" and, "Are the school buses actually yellow?"

One of the coolest things was that a girl in my group, who is the current host sister of one of the exchange students here, is going to be living with an AFS host family just outside of Boston, MA - only a couple hours away from me! Woot woot!

After this dazzling activity, the “Hostings” (as we current exchange students were called) met separately to plan the passing-of-the-torch ceremony we were expected to give for the Sendings. This is the same type of ceremony that was performed for us way back at the beginning of our exchange experience, and the fact that we have now come full circle really blows my mind. It’s also crazy to think about how automatically connected we are to this group of random Spanish kids, who are part of the country that became our home. It seems only right that our respective countries will now become their homes.

The US exchange students taking on El Camino de Santiago.

But back to our master plan. After a quick dinner, we changed into togas (a.k.a. bedsheets) and painted our faces. Then we headed into a room lit by candles and danced around like animals until the Sendings came in and the serious stuff began.

Unfortunately, the details of what went on in that room are top secret, only to be revealed to those about to embark on this amazing AFS journey…

Ready to take the "Sendings" through their rite of passage.

But I CAN tell you about the ritual that took place immediately after, when the Sendings left and us Hostings alone to reflect on our study abroad experience. It was emotional, to say the least.

Getting emotional

To begin, we blew out half of the candles in the room. We were then told to think about all the significant things – both positive and negative – that had happened to us over the past 9 months in Spain. Each person was asked to share their thoughts and either light a candle for a positive experience or blow one out for a negative.

At first everyone was a bit hesitant to share, but then more and more people came forward and opened up about their time. It was the first time I truly realized my time here is coming to an end, and I became overwhelmed with sadness thinking about how I would soon have to say goodbye to some of the coolest, most incredible people I have ever had the privileged of knowing.

Exchange students are all like that, you know. We are all from incredibly different backgrounds, but come together for ten months to experience some of the hardest and most rewarding situations of our entire lives. The bonds we have formed are unlike any that I have ever experienced.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I am so incredibly lucky to have made the friends I have on this journey!

Photo highlights

The Color Run in Barcelona!
Me with my dance class in Spain, celebrating our instructor's birthday.
Hitting the slopes of "La Molina" with host family members and friends.

-Emily