Politics and Pueblos: Learning to Listen in SYA Spain

As I stepped off the bus in Zaragoza, Spain to meet my new family for the next five weeks, I had no idea what to expect.

As I stepped off the bus in Zaragoza, Spain to meet my new family for the next five weeks, I had no idea what to expect. Having exchanged a mere two emails with my host mom, I knew little about my host family and walked off the bus without knowing whom to look for. Eventually, I was greeted with the customary kiss on each cheek from my host mom, Teresa, and host sister, Beatriz, and we set out to their apartment for the first weekend as a new family.

Immediately, I was overwhelmed with information about Zaragoza, the Spanish culture, my family, and much more, all in rapid-fire Spanish—something I had to quickly get accustomed to. Although I knew there were 40 other kids like me meeting their new families, I still felt slightly lonely; moreover, I quickly realized how different living in Spain would be than living in the United States. For example, the technology that I took for granted in the U.S. such as air conditioning, hot water, and driving, was not commonly used in Spain. My limited access to these resources pushed me out of my comfort zone—quite literally. On days when it was 100 degrees out, I would be sweating in my house during my siesta, but experiences like this taught me to step back and acknowledge my privileges as a U.S. citizen.

During my time in Spain, I also realized that I wasn’t obligated to defend the U.S. Oftentimes, my host family and others would ask me to speak for the U.S. as a whole, which was very challenging because I could not accurately represent the views of the entire country. Instead,I focused on listening to my family and others’ thoughts and views on the nation, which offered more insight than my own responses to their questions. For instance, in my host mom’s pueblo, or small town outside of the city, where her family lives, my extended host family wanted to discuss President Donald Trump with me. Instead of trying to explain the U.S. political climate, I asked them questions about what they thought about President Trump. As I listened to my family, I gained insight into the U.S. from an outsider’s perspective—a lense I’d never been able to view my own country from— hearing about the indignación Trump causes Spaniards, how Spaniards perceive Trump’s tweets as tontería, or nonsense, and many, many times, “lo siento.”

Now, whenever I leave my room, I recall the voice of my host mom saying “¡apaga la luz!” Eventually, I picked up on the habits of my family, shortening my shower length, making extra sure to turn off all the lights in my room, bathroom, or any room I was leaving, and even small things like making sure to fill up the pitcher of water at night if I was the last to use it to make sure every family member had cold water to drink from the next day, and I even brought these habits back to the U.S. with me. I am much more aware of simple things I can do to alleviate my impact on the planet, a change I did not expect to happen while in Spain.

One of my favorite parts about SYA Spain was being able to engage with people in Zaragoza. Not only was I able to meet many of my friends’ host siblings during our afternoon activities like cooking typical Spanish food and learning Spanish dances, but I was also able to build bonds with many maños, or citizens of Zaragoza. For instance, multiple times a day, I would go to El Criollo, a cafe located a block away from school, for my classic cafe con leche, coffee with milk. Through my daily visits, I formed a relationship with one of the baristas, Lenny. I learned that she used to live in Seattle, has two sisters, and pursues art as a side job. As we got closer, she shared her artwork with me. I found out she loves to paint animals, and she would do special designs for me such as bees and deers through her latte art, but the crown jewel of them all was the design she made for my birthday—a beautiful bear cub. Getting to know Lenny was one of the things that made the trip special to me, knowing I am not just leaving Spain with new relationships with people from the United States, but people I never expected to cross paths with, such as my host family.

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