I came into the program with a relatively high level of Spanish for a non-native speaker, but I can tell that my Spanish has really improved and I feel much more confident and comfortable when I speak now. Recently, I was able to take a trip to Stockholm, Sweden during a school break and was pleasantly surprised when I ended up making friends with the owner of a coffee shop I visited, who was Cuban. So far, that has been the one experience that really made me reflect on and celebrate how far my Spanish has come! Before coming to Spain, I never would have had the confidence to approach someone and make friends after simply overhearing them speaking Spanish.
I've also really enjoyed the CIEE program excursions and my host family has taken me on a few short trips as well. Some of my favorite things I've done have been trying vegetarian paella in Ronda, going to the beach in Rota for a weekend, buying pastries at a historical bakery and seeing the caves in Aracena, and seeing the views from Zahara de la Sierra. My host abuela is a fantastic cook and has spent a lot of time coming up with new vegetarian recipes for me. She makes homemade veggie burgers and eggplant "meatballs", amazing desserts, and lots of Spanish dishes that are naturally vegetarian, like garbanzos, yellow rice, lentejas, espinacas, and tortilla. My favorite Spanish foods to tell my American family about are the bocadillos I take to school, mollete de aceite y azúcar, and galletas fritas con flan.
One of my favorite memories from this spring is the first time I went to my host family's house in the campo, which was about a week after I arrived in Spain. I had no idea where we were going because nobody specified that we were going to a house in "el campo", only that we were going to "el campo". I sat with my host sister at a table outside to do homework while my host abuela got out an electric orange juicer, picked fresh oranges from the trees around us, and started making orange juice. This blew my mind. I had never seen a machine specifically made for making orange juice, eaten home-grown oranges, or had orange juice that wasn't from a grocery store. She served us each a huge mug of juice while I frantically scribbled every detail in my journal, worried that this was a rare, special-occasion experience that might not happen again (it was not, and I drink fresh orange juice all the time now).
I truly am grateful for the opportunity to spend this spring in Spain! There is no better way I could have spent this time. After the end of the program, I plan to spend a month traveling through 6-7 countries in central Europe before returning to the U.S. and studying abroad again next spring as part of my gap year. For someone who hadn't even left the U.S. before January, I'm doing pretty good!