I was only 14 years old when I lived abroad for the first time. To be honest with you, I have been very lucky because my family has always encouraged to travel – but this was different. It meant that I would be away from my family and friends for 2 months. This was 2009, and back then, communicating with your parents was not as easy as it is today. Specially when they are not good with technology and you are 9 hours behind!
The exchange programme was organised by my school, and it involved living with a Canadian host family and attending a Canadian high school for 2 months – from September to November. We traveled with RedLeaf, Canada’s expert in student programmes, who, along with our school, booked our flights, paired us with a host family with shared interests (we had to fill up a form stating if we liked children or not, outdoor activities, animals, and so on) and assigned us to a local high school in our destination: the beautiful Victoria in Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
As the exchange programme was an option for every student at my school, some of my friends came to Victoria, too. Some of them even attended the same high school as I did, but each one of us stayed with a different host family. If I’m honest, my main concern was not fitting in with my host family, since I had never lived with anyone else that weren’t my parents. However, the Brooms, my host family in Victoria, couldn’t have been more welcoming. From the very first day, they invited me to be a part of their everyday activities: from breakfast and family dinners, to birthdays, pumpkin carvings, and Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. Never, not for a single moment, did I feel like I was a burden. Their kindness, warmth, generosity and openness inspired me. For that, I will be eternally grateful to them.
During my stay in Victoria, I attended Victoria High School. It is a beautiful Victorian building and it was one of the filming locations of Scary Movie 2. But, believe me, nothing about this school was scary. However, it was very different than what I was used to. First of all, students didn’t wear uniforms to class; some even had dyed their hair blue, green or pink. We even had a “Wear your PJs to class” day. This might be usual in Canada and the United States, but it’s striking for a Spanish student coming from a private school. I was positively surprised by the freedom students had to express themselves in the way they looked and the activities they were a part of. Nobody looked at you differently just because your hair was a different color. Frankly, it was a relief to know that others would not judge you by the way you looked.
The classes were also different. In Spain, a regular high school student takes 10 different classes (e.g., Spanish, English, Math, History, Physical Education, French/German, Biology, Physics & Chemistry, and two other electives), but in Victoria I was only forced to take four classes: two “hard” ones and two “soft” ones. I chose English Literature, Principles of Mathematics, Food and Nutrition and Graphic Design. The highlight of the semester was learning how to cook in the Food and Nutrition class. I was a member of a team of 5 people, and we worked together for the whole semester. We were even assessed on the cooking technique, flavour and presentation of a “fluffy omelette”. This was the closest I have ever been to being a MasterChef.
Meeting new people was also a challenge. I had the comfort of having two friends from my school in Spain in Victoria High School – I even shared a class with one of them. But soon enough we started meeting local and international students who enriched our experience at this school. We had lunch together – time that I used to show them and let them taste my most recent creations from the Food and Nutrition class – and with time we started hanging out outside school hours. However, just when we had adapted to this new lifestyle it was time to go back to Madrid and to our “normal” lives.
I only realised how much I had learned and how much I had changed when I was back in Madrid and back at my own school. Living abroad in Canada for two months taught me to become more independent, confident and self-aware, more open to new experiences and less judgemental of others. Little did I know back then that this would only be the beginning of many other life-changing experiences. However, when I look back, it is clear to me that spending these two months in Canada pushed me to fearlessly seek new adventures.