When in Spain…
American exchange student with Spanish host sister enjoying a trip to the coast on a brisk day
Maia (right) with host sister Sara during her time in Vizcaya, Spain

From Minnesota to Spain

U.S. student Maia talks about her experience as a PAX Abroad participant.

PAX Press: Tell us about some “firsts” you experienced – how did you feel when you met your host family for the first time? What was something you tried for the first time? What was your first day of school like?

Maia: Meeting my host family for the first time was a nerve-racking experience. I felt very anxious to know what they were like and what they would think about me. They picked me up from the airport and brought me home around dinner time. My first meal was rice in a black sauce, “arroz negro.” It was a little startling at first, but I tried it, and it wasn't so bad.

A few days later came my first day of school. I think I was even more nervous on this day, as I didn't have any expectations as to what it could be like. My teacher introduced me to the class and to a girl that would help me get around the school. She became my first friend (other than my host family), and I am already missing her. I noticed a lot of differences from my school in America, but both school systems are great.

PAX Press: What was your goal going into this experience, and how did you achieve your goal?

Maia: My goals going into this experience were to learn Spanish and the Spanish culture, make relationships that would last a lifetime, become more independent, and grow as a person. I achieved these goals by insisting that my friends and family only spoke Spanish to me, to practice the language as much as I could, and actively asking questions about the culture. Through the experience as a whole, I became a more independent and understanding person.

PAX Press: What is some advice you would like to pass on to future PAX Abroad students?

Maia: The main piece of advice I would like to pass on to future PAX Abroad students is to never be afraid or embarrassed to speak the language of your host country. Everyone will make mistakes, but that's okay. Even if you don't feel comfortable with your skills, try to speak as much as you can. It's good practice and really helps you become a better speaker. If you hold yourself back, you might not learn as much.

PAX Press: How do you plan to use what you learned during your semester abroad in the future?

Maia: I plan to not only use, but also maintain my Spanish skills as much as I can. Currently, I am reading books in Spanish and I will be meeting with other Spanish speakers every week to practice my skills. During my trip, I also found I had a deep appreciation for everything in my country back home, so I made a list of all the things I missed. Now, I like to read that list a lot to show myself not to take the small things I have for granted, and to appreciate them as much as I can. I will also use my experience of being away from home for so long when I go to college. I feel that transition will be much easier for me, because of what I learned from my semester abroad.

—Maia (U.S.), hosted by the Ilarduya family (Spain)