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My Spanish Home

by: Emily Murphy, Emily Murphy, an incoming senior at Lake Oswego High School, stands near the “Palacio de Sobrellano” in Comillas, a town located on the northern coast of Spain.

Editor's Note: Review/Tidings Youth Board member Emily Murphy spent about a month this summer living in Saldaña, Spain, as part of a 'Homestay Immersion Program' created by the International Summerstays, a Portland non-profit organization. She lived with the Fernandez-Laso family, which included a teen-age son and daughter. The following is her personal account of the experience.

I think it may have been after, say, the first 10 minutes that I realized my trip to Spain was going to be a whole lot more challenging than I had thought.

On the plane ride over, I pictured myself holding long conversations with my host family and eventually coming home with a newfound ability to speak fluently. Yeah, right. Sure, I had studied Spanish for a few years, but once I got there, I could hardly understand a single word.

Not only did they use vocabulary that I had never heard before, but they talked faster than a pitch in the Major Leagues. My vision of long conversations turned into the reality of me with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face and the sound of 'No entiendo' coming out of my mouth more than a few times a day.

Now, one may think by this description that I didn't have a good time in the little pueblo of Saldaña, but on the contrary, my experience was absolutely unforgettable.

Like anyone, I had moments where I simply didn't want to watch one more English TV show dubbed over in Spanish, but after a while I grew to like the challenge. I began keeping a list of new words that I heard every day and my host family helped me out by explaining things to me, and by talking slower.

It was still hard to decipher words and to remember the names of all the people I had been introduced to, but I realized that learning the language wasn't necessarily the most important part of me being there. It was the fact that I was completely out of my comfort zone, and I was taking part in another culture.

It was the fact that when I looked at my dinner and had no idea that you could eat that part of the cow, I ate it anyway. And it was the fact that this family had taken me in without the slightest inkling of whether or not I would make their lives miserable for the next month.

I do doubt that I made it too hard on the family, mostly because I was constantly providing them with a source of entertainment (unbeknownst to me at the time, of course).

One dazzling Sunday after watching a baptism at the local church, I was walking with my family back to our car when I saw a large birds nest on the top of a tower. Feeling confident, I said, '¡Mira, un nilo grande!' (Look, a big nest!). Nicely, they corrected me and told me that a nest is called a 'nido' and not a 'nilo.' Later that day when we returned home, I pulled out my dictionary to look up the word that I had thought meant nest and found that 'el Nilo' is, in fact, the Nile River.

So instead of pointing out a large birds nest to them, I had told them to look, because a large Nile river is sitting on top of that tower over there.

Needless to say, I felt rather dumb, but later I reminded my host sister about it and we had a good laugh. It was little moments like that which I will never forget. Hopefully, they will.

Other moments stand out, like the time I was with my host sister, Laura, and a couple of her friends at the grand opening night of a discoteca in town. The club was called Dipos and the whole teenage population of Saldaña had relocated there for the night.

As we were in the middle of dancing to Shakira, again, a guy I had seen around town came up and asked me if he could buy me a drink. I said no, but then we began to talk a little bit. Well, we tried. The music was so loud that I could hardly hear him talking, let alone make out what he was saying. So, as I realized later, when he asked me if I liked Spain, I translated it wrong and thought he said, 'Do you like me?' Of course, I had never even met the guy before so I responded with what any normal person would say and answered, 'I don't even know you!' The puzzled look on his face told me that I had probably just lost the chance to ever get to know him.

Before I left for my trip, one of my friends gave me an eraser and told me to not be afraid to make mistakes while I was there, and after all of the times that I made a complete fool out of myself in Spain, I realized that life really is so much juicier if you are just willing to fail once in a while. And that, I accomplished.

Between Spanish TV, Spanish conversations and Spanish radio, there were times during the day that I would just zone out because my head began to hurt from trying to figure out what was going on. It was this occasional sense of detachment that really let me see the big picture while I was there, and I realized that if you scrape away the exterior factors such as language and culture, all humans really are the same, everywhere.

In Saldaña, there were girls who liked boys who didn't like them back. There were awkward moments. There was gossip. There was pure human nature like I see everyday at home, and like everybody in the world sees wherever he or she happens to be.

Unfortunately, these exterior factors are the barriers that keep people from realizing how similar everybody actually is. When I first met my host family, I thought of how different they were than the Americans I knew. But as I rode the airplane back to the United States, I discovered that I now saw them in the same way that I see my family and friends at home.

That's when I realized that it wasn't the turbulence that was making my stomach roll. It was leaving my second home where people just like me lived and worked every day. It was leaving the pueblo I loved in spite of, and due to, the challenges it presented. It was leaving the town that could have been anywhere in the world, but would be in my heart forever. So as they say in Spain, 'Hasta luego, Saldaña' ... 'Til we meet again.