While it is common for European students at university level to study abroad, those still in school rarely take that step. Some might not be ready to leave family and friends behind for a while; others simply never get the chance. Clara, 17 years old and a member of our Youth Council for the Future, had the opportunity to study at a secondary school in Spain for four months last year. We have asked her to share her experiences with you.
Clara, you went to school in Spain at the end of 2013. Tell us a little about how it came about and what motivated you to take that step.
Since four years my Spanish teachers arrange exchanges between my school (in Munich) and a Valencian school. So they did this year, and I was selected. As I have always been interested in different European cultures, motivation was easy to find.
Did you know Spanish before you moved to Valencia? How did you adjust to the new language and culture?
I thought I knew Spanish before I moved! Since I had chosen to study Spanish since 8th grade in my school, I thought it wouldn’t be that hard to understand and make me understood in the country. However, as it is usual in different parts of a country, the Valencians speak a regional dialect and spoke a lot faster than in my Spanish lessons. Although it was harder than I had thought, I haven’t had huge problems adjusting to the language. The family I lived with was very friendly and understanding of my difficulties with the language and helped me out of situations a lot at the beginning! However, over time my Spanish became better and better and I could do nearly everything on my own. As for the culture, I haven’t had any difficulties. The community welcomed me with open arms and integrated me very quickly.
Many people think of Spain mainly as a destination for beach holidays and know little about everyday life in Spain. Would you say that it is very different from your home country Germany? And if so, in what ways?
Spain is really different from Germany, I would say. First of all, Spain is far more nocturnal. At the time restaurants in Germany and especially in Munich close, in Spain some just opened for business. The Spaniards are also far more family-oriented. Once a week we all met (the grandparents, the aunt, the nephew…) and ate a paella together. This might sound like a stereotype, but it is true!
It is also much warmer in Valencia than it is in Munich, and they have the Mediterranean Sea!
To my own surprise I have also found some similarities between Valencia and Munich: Especially the presence of the Oktoberfest (the most touristic attraction of Munich) in the Bullring of Valencia surprised me a lot.
Now that you are back in Germany and had some time to process all your experiences: Could you imagine going back to Spain in the future? Maybe even live there?
Of course I can! Spain has now become a part of me! I try to keep in touch with my friends and the family as best as possible so I will never forget this experience. I will actually go back to Valencia for the summer, and hope I will do it again several other times! And yes, if I would get the opportunity to live there, I think I would seize it.
At university level there are many programs enabling students to go abroad. Do you think it would be a good idea to establish a program like Erasmus+ for high school students as well?
I not only think it would be a good idea, but hope such a program will be created soon! There are plenty of European pupils that would like to experience such an exchange, but can’t because there are no real opportunities. It is a pity because this experience has given me the chance to get to know a new culture and offered me friendships that stay for a lifetime. Furthermore, in a period in which you are constantly growing, you can easily learn a new language, which is an asset for your whole life. That’s why I can only encourage the development of such a program!
Last question: What advice would you give to high school students who are interested in studying abroad? What are the most important questions to be considered?
First of all, you shouldn’t be frightened to discover the world that young. Sure, it seems a lot to discover a new country, a new culture and a new family but most of the time you’re welcomed with open arms and you adapt very quickly. Also, you should know that you will surely have to work more than your classmates when you return to the high-school of your home country, because the school programs aren’t necessarily the same in different European countries. Last but not least, there is one very important question you should ask yourself if you would like to participate in an exchange while you’re still in high-school: Can you handle staying that far from your family for a rather long time? It sure is difficult but with modern technology you can easily keep in touch and it doesn’t feel like they’re hundreds of miles away from you.
Interview: Dominik Driessen