Elizabeth L. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from San Francisco University High School in California.
Every year in February, SYA Spain students participate in a program called “Cinco días en…” (Five days in…), in which the class splits up to spend five days in a different part of Spain with a new host family who has a kid our age. When our director, Eileen, made the announcement about the trip, she said that the program should really be called “Cinco dias con…” (Five days with…) because rather being about seeing a new place, the richness of the experience would come from the people we would meet and the relationships we would form with them. I was lucky; I spent five days in a wonderful place while with wonderful people.
I went to Santiago de Compostela, a city in Galicia, the autonomous community that makes up the north-west corner of the country. It’s at times called ‘the Ireland of Spain’ for its green hills and coastline, but for me, it evoked memories of my native Northern-California. Santiago is far, and there isn’t a direct train from Zaragoza, so before it was given to me for Cinco Días, I didn’t think I’d get a chance to go. I’m so glad I did. It was beautiful, refreshingly different from Zaragoza, and I felt at ease there in a way I can’t quite explain, perhaps because the landscape was so similar to the one I am used to in the US. Arriving in the city, I thought, “Even if my family doesn’t work out, at least I got an incredible location.”
From there, it only got better. Admittedly, it was a little awkward at first—there I was, in a house with strangers, again. However, the family was warm and open; the mom called me cariño starting on the first night and the girl, Tania, was curious and kind. By the time I woke up on Thursday morning to get ready to go to school, I was more excited than anything else. To get to her school, Tania and I walked down a cobblestone road lined by low white buildings, the sky a hushed pink behind them. We turned a bend, and out of nowhere a wide valley of green opened out before us, interrupted only by a small footpath that curved its way tentatively down the hill. The stone building of the school stood below, where, as I later learned, they had begun giving classes before the French Revolution.
After school, we walked around the old part of the city and visited the Cathedral de Santiago, famous for being the final destination of the Camino de Santiago, a popular pilgrimage. Friday, I attended my second day of classes, and in the afternoon, Tania, her best friend, and I went to a small beach town where we spent slow, happy hours talking, eating sunflower seeds, and dancing on the sand. On Saturday, we went on a day trip to A Coruña, and before I knew it, Sunday—my departure day—had arrived. I don’t think either of us realized how attached to the other we had become until it was time to say goodbye. As we hugged, I didn’t want to let go, and I realized that Eileen had been right.
Apart from pretty views and new foods, Cinco Días offered greater lessons to be learned. Lessons about persistence—that even while uncomfortable, you must stay open to what and who is around you. Lessons about generosity—that it should be shown to everyone, old friend or new, and that it can take a million different forms. Lessons about curiosity—that, until you follow it, you never know the places it will take you. Lessons about kindness—that it is understood by all, can go much further than you expect, and that it can bridge practically any gap.
Most astonishingly of all, Cinco Días taught me that with persistence, generosity, curiosity, and kindness, strangers, in five days, can become family.
- Campus Reporters
- SYA Spain