When I was 15, I went abroad to Spain totally alone, and stayed there for two weeks. I know it’s quite an unconventional venture for a 15-year-old, but that’s exactly what made it so memorable and such a great learning experience.
Let’s hop into a time machine and travel back to 2016. I was about to complete my second semester of 9th grade and, as one does, I asked my friends about their plans for the summer. My friend at the time — I’ll refer to her as Jane — mentioned a cousin who worked as a counsellor for a company called Diverbo. In this role, Jane’s cousin got to travel to Spain and oversee English speaking volunteers who would come from all over the world to act as “English teachers” for Spanish youth. Jane herself was going to travel to Spain that year as a volunteer. The reason that I’m putting “English teachers” in quotations is that this was not by any means, conventional teaching in a typical classroom setting. Instead, Diverbo offered to fly all the Anglos, as we’d later come to be called, out to Spain and send us to a scenic location in the country. Then, we would stay in a hotel and partake in a series of bonding activities for two weeks, talking and hanging in English. That’s it. And the best part — you don’t need to break the budget to go. Diverbo covers most of the expenses for their volunteers, except for the plane ticket and a couple of hundred euros to stay in the Spanish Capital, Madrid, for a day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point. Woah, isn’t that kinda sketchy? It seems way too good to be true. Totally a fair concern – one that I shared as well. But I trusted my friend’s judgement. Jane had all the information and had vetted everything through and through, which was reassuring. Without her, this trip wouldn’t have been possible.
My interest was piqued. That’s when Jane suggested that I should go too. I didn’t take her seriously at first, thinking there was no way my mother would approve. But seeing Jane’s excitement — she was brimming with delight at the prospect of spending two weeks in Spain, in what essentially doubled as a free vacation — I started to dream of this opportunity to go to Europe, meet new people, have fun and also complete some volunteer hours for high school. It took a bit of convincing, but after some extensive research, my mom conceded and off to Spain I went.
I flew alone in the middle of July and was due to meet my friend Jane in Madrid, who had gone to see her aunt earlier in the month. Despite some anxiety, my flights went smoothly and to my huge relief, I didn’t get lost in the airport. When I arrived, I stepped out of the Spanish airport into the early morning heat. Shortly after, I was picked up and dropped off at a hotel with a handful of other teenagers. Within a few hours, I was mingling with people from all over, making friends. I later went on a tour of the city during which I got to learn about the different styles of architecture and see one of the world’s oldest restaurants. Soon enough, my group and I were moved to a hotel in a mountainous region in the south of Spain called Granada. Here, all the fun began.
Our days with Diverbo started early and ended late. Each morning would start with a good workout followed by breakfast. Then came social time, games, and lunch. Next, we had the chance to enjoy some relaxation by the pool. In the evening, we’d have dinner, more games and socialization, and finally, bedtime. This was our routine for two weeks, with a few variations here and there.
During my trip, while getting to know people from around the world, I also met a few other Canadians. I got to play pool, and look up at a sky full of stars and constellations late into the night. I got to exercise every morning overlooking a vast, green mountain range. I had the chance to engage in academic debates with Americans on gun control. I learned that the way I say “sorry” is so very Canadian and, according to my European acquaintances, distinguished me heavily from my American counterparts. I spent hot days by the pool talking for hours and hours on end with perfect strangers. People that I had known for barely an hour would reveal to me intimate details of their lives — their worries, fears, and troubles. As strangers, we knew that we most likely would never cross paths again so there was something very freeing and wonderful about each exchange — one so raw and unfiltered. It was amazing hearing people speak so openly without the need to maintain a facade or any pretense.
Throughout all of this, I felt like my life was a movie. In what world does your average 15-year-old get to travel across the world on her own? It was a real privilege. Not to mention, I’m extremely lucky that the trip was a safe and positive one too.
What I learned from this experience may sound like a string of clichés and platitudes but they all profoundly impacted my world view. If I took anything away from my trip, it’s the following:
- Be open to new opportunities. Life is unpredictable. Even if you think that an idea or a certain notion seems absurd and out-of-reach, don’t be afraid to pursue it. Don’t be afraid to at least try. It may bring about opportunity for amazing, new experiences.
- Don’t be afraid to get your friends involved. Suggesting exciting new ventures to your friends and bringing others on board can make any experience more fun. This can be applied to many aspects of our lives, not just travel. So, think about what you are doing and how you can do it with other people. This way, it’s good times all around.
- Talking to people with very different lived experiences changes you profoundly — in a way that is difficult to put into words. It may even lead you to re-examine your life and decide which course you want to chart for yourself and your future. It’s a real opportunity for introspection.
- My last big lesson: find ways to make everything that you do more fun. Prior to my trip, I did intend on volunteering during the summer to fulfill the volunteer hour requirement for my school, but I found a way to have fun while doing it and enjoy the process a bit more. I think this applies to anything that we attempt to do. When we do things that we generally enjoy, the idea of completing the task at hand is no longer so daunting. So, instead of doing things that you enjoy, learn to enjoy the things that you do.
Meeting so many different people on this trip made an impression on me and is something I will carry with me forever. As I’m looking back on this trip, I’m filled with the urge to travel more and hopefully do so in a not so distant future. I hope to make new memories and one day reflect on them as I did today. The world is so big and there’s so much to explore. Cheers to that!