My first flight from SFO to MIA was fairly easy; people spoke English, there was food, it was only five hours, and there was nobody in the seat next to me. I got off the flight in Miami airport and attempted to walk to my gate. Little did I know that didn’t know how to read the posted signs and I got lost. Soon, the airport staff were calling my name over the loudspeaker for my flight to Buenos Aires. I was the second to last person on the plane. Nobody on that flight spoke English and it made me realize just how bad my Spanish was.
Eight-and-a-half hours later, I arrived in Buenos Aires. It was 8:00 in the morning and pouring outside. I had stressed about doing my Customs Declaration form because it was in Spanish, but luckily the people at security were just trying to get paid, so I slid right through. Baggage claim took me 30 minutes and got to the point where I worried that my bag got left in Miami, which would have been a disaster. Fast forward to me getting lost again. I walk out the double doors into the crowds of people holding signs with names on them. My exchange student, Dante, his mom, and his dad were right at the front waiting for me. They attempted to introduce themselves, but I understood one in ten words and so I just stared at them blankly. Imagine their disappointment when they realized that the kid who was staying in their house for a month didn’t understand anything. Luckily, Dante speaks English, so we could talk as we walked to their car. As we got into the car, I recall thinking to myself, “Wow, their accents are harder than my Spanish teacher said…”
My first day of school was the hardest it has ever been for me to communicate with people. Their accents are extremely difficult for a non-native speaker. It doesn’t help that Dante had the flu on my first day, so I was alone after his mom dropped me off. But everybody was nice and inclusive, and they were fine with talking to me in English. They were super chill and after a couple of hours I felt like I had been going there for years. I have improved on my Spanish quite a bit. All the other students force me to converse without English, and it has taught me more than any classroom could. I have made tons of meaningful relationships and I’m looking forward to the rest of my exchange.
Colegio Norbridge is very different from Athenian, despite the similarity in size. My class is tiny, 25 other kids in the entire grade. Although there is a uniform, it is not very strict and there are two “casual” days where you can wear whatever you want. Our school day goes from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm. There are two 20-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with an hour for lunch. Despite being in school for this long, I feel like few of the kids that have been going there since they were very young learn very much on a day-to-day basis. Not only do the teachers not try very hard to teach their subject, they threaten to leave the classroom and go home at least once per period. Unlike Athenian, all the students stay in one classroom all day and the teachers go to them. I find it hard to concentrate on just about anything by 4:00 pm in the afternoon, and I’m sure many of the other students agree with me on that. I am currently in the 4th year, equivalent to 10th grade, or sophomore year in the U.S. Every Friday is our “gym” day. The entire morning is filled with athletic events. First we warm up. Then if it’s raining or wet outside, we play basketball, and if it’s dry, we play rugby or soccer. Everything is gender-divided. Boys and girls line up separately, eat lunch separately, and have gym separately. Despite all of these differences, I did not find it that difficult to adjust to their everyday life.
My host family is amazing. They are so nice and include me in their family dinner conversations, to the extent that I understand. Dante and his family live in a gated community about 20 minutes away from the school by car. He has an older sister that goes to the university in the capital and a pug named Cooper. Dante and his sister, Agustina, speak decent English, but their parents know very little. When I don’t understand a word or phrase, Dante or Agustina jump in and help me out, which has improved my vocabulary a ton. One of the hardest things was adjusting to their eating schedule. They eat four meals per day; breakfast, lunch, something called merienda, and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are around the same time as in the United States, but merienda is around 5-6 and is a quick snack with tea. Dinner is around 9-10 at night, and is always delicious.
Another very difficult thing is the accents. Understanding somebody speaking Spanish normally is hard on its own, now let’s add an accent that makes “ll” sound like “j.” It changes everything. “Silla” turns into “sija,” “yo” into “jo.” At first it was impossible, but I think I am getting the hang of it, slowly.
Overall, my exchange has been amazing. I am stoked for the rest of it.