Becoming an exchange student sounded like the most fantastic idea when I first heard about the opportunity two years ago. Today, as I went for a run along the sea I was filled with numerous emotions; none of them being appreciation or excitement for this experience.

I survived my entire first week of school but not without many difficulties. This morning my philosophy teacher digressed from the lesson for ten whole minutes to mock me in front of the class and say what a pity it was that I couldn’t understand Spanish and had to look like an idiot. I know this because Stefania, my only friend, explained what the teacher said after class and apologized for his rudeness. The laughter of my classmates stuck with me all day, though, and my spirits remained low.

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Many of my classmates are unique (for lack of a nicer word). The boys help each other to knot their dreadlocks and I’m pretty sure I witnessed a drug exchange yesterday between two girls, but I’m not completely positive. Making friends has been extremely difficult especially because although I change classes, the same students are in every one of my classes. Therefore, I don’t have many new opportunities to make friends. At lunch I found my friend Eli, another exchange student from the United States, and asked him about his week. He’s made several friends and enjoys the science and math classes that he has. If things don’t improve in school I might ask to change my schedule, but for now I’m going to give these artistic classes a shot.

After school I ate lunch, spent some time on the computer, and then went for a run at 3:45 p.m. During this time most people take their afternoon siesta (nap) so few people were at the beach. I sat on a rock, turned up the music on my iPod, and cried.

Once ready, I ran along the beautiful coast and calmed my emotions. Along the shore I stopped to sift through rocks and shells. I picked up lots of sea glass for my best friend Nicole who has a collection at home, and was brought to tears again. Before heading home, I sat on a cliff of rocks, turned off my iPod, and said a prayer. The waves came up and flooded tiny pools of stone and coral that slowly trickled back to the sea. Closing my eyes and taking deep breaths, I let go of all the negative emotions that poisoned my thoughts today and opened my heart. At 6 p.m. I walked home, took a shower, and lay down to rest.

Elena, my little host sister, and her friend came into my room at 7:30 and invited me to walk the dog with them. The three of us walked to the beach again and strolled down the path with Yaco in the lead. What happened next made me speechless. Elena walked up behind me, took my hand in hers, looked up into my eyes, and smiled. Words were not needed to express anything. For the rest of the walk we held hands and I no longer felt homesick because her hand reminded me that she is my sister now, and this is my home.

Every day here in Spain feels like a year. Moments of joy pass quickly and homesickness attacks me at every opportune moment. Thinking of home and my life there drags the life out of my days. But despite every difficulty, I know that I need to keep focusing on the positive aspects of this exchange, the relationships that are forming, and my personal growth. Tonight I’ll be going to bed feeling much different than I had this morning. I have a loving family to take care of me here in Dénia and a year to strengthen these bonds. The sea and cliffs make for breathtaking scenery when I need to distract myself from the ugly feelings inside of me. And most importantly, everything is going to get better once I find my place to belong in this city and learn what it means to be a Spaniard. As long as I center my thoughts on these things, the days will be easier. I refuse to go home early or throw away this once in a lifetime opportunity. I know that I can do this; one step at a time.


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