The first thing I remember was the graffiti. Stucco buildings had drawings and words scrawled across their whitewashed walls. Stray dogs sulked past windows with metal grates, scavenging for dinner. The arid air was thick with cigarette fumes and exhaust from passing mopeds. Strangely dressed teenagers passed around suspicious looking bottles, laughing and smoking. I stared open-eyed out the car window as we drove through the city. This was not the ideal, charming Spain I had seen in pictures.
In sixth grade I lived with my family for a year in Granada, Spain. I went to school, picked up decent Spanish in the schoolyard, and made life-long friends. I memorized my way through the winding streets of the ancient Arab sector and watched young men flee from police, grasping bags of bootleg DVDs. I traveled to my friend’s village for the weekend and ate fish I had never seen before, surrounded by her large, friendly family.
That year was the hardest year of my life. I was plenty homesick and fantasized about coming home to my safe home in the States. I ventured past the “line” and talked about how I hated Spain and the food and the mean kids in my class and the obsession with soccer.
But, in retrospect, it was an incredible experience. The year taught me so much about the greater world, about adapting, and about how to beat around language barriers. I am stronger, more optimistic, more courageous, and more mature than I ever would have been if I didn’t live abroad as a sixth grader.
Getting through the tough stuff and coming back home a new, better person is my driving inspiration to do Global Citizen Year before heading off to college. I know it will be very challenging, but I will come out the other end a stronger, more confident person. I am so excited to branch out and to take a different path after high school.
As most of my classmates are picking out new pillowcases, I am finalizing my passport renewal forms. Instead of navigating Greek rush week, I will be navigating a foreign country. It’s scary to take a different route, but I am so ecstatic to have the opportunity to embark on this adventure.
I know it will be worth it.