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Luke M. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from Milton Academy in Massachusetts.

I am currently writing this blog from my home in the USA. A month ago, I would have never guessed I would be at home in April. Instead, I was planning for Semana Santa and thinking about travelling around Spain with friends. Unfortunately, those days are now over. Those days will never come back. SYA has come and gone. The program that I looked forward to and felt scared about for about a year is now a thing of the past.

I still remember vividly the last month in Spain. Luckily, I kept a journal while in Zaragoza so I can flip to any page and remember what I did. This last month was one of the best, at least in my opinion. The city was beginning to warm up and the entire SYA community seemed closer than ever. I felt perfectly comfortable every night with my host family. The thought of home had pretty much left my mind. 

Until a few weeks ago. The coronavirus came into Spain quicker than I ever could have imagined. We went from feeling bad about countries like China, Iran, and Italy to worrying about our own host families. The call to evacuate Spain was a quick one. It was so quick that I was not able to say goodbye to many people who made my time in Spain so memorable. The homey room I woke up in had turned into a bleak and empty space by sunset. Therefore, in this blog, I would like to share one experience that I will never forget. 

The first has to do with a board game. My host Mom is from Girona, a city in Catalonia. We would travel to see her family whenever it was possible. One weekend, we got in the car for the four hour drive and made it up to the host grandparents’ house at around midnight. We hung around for a bit but since it was late we quickly went to bed. The next day I remember sitting on the couch watching an FC Barcelona game with my host uncle and cousin. At halftime, Barcelona was winning 3-0 so I began to work on a bit of homework. However, my host Mom interrupted me from upstairs, asking if I wanted to play a board game.

When I got upstairs, I immediately recognized the game. Ticket to Ride is a favorite for my family and me back home so I immediately accepted the offer to play. I sat down and got ready to play when I realized a problem. The three other players were my host Mom, her brother, and his wife. All three of them were born and raised in Girona so their first language was Catalan. Although they could all speak perfect Spanish, they had accents and only spoke to each other in Catalan. Over the course of the game, I was mesmerized by the strange words flying across the table. I could understand a bit thanks to Catalan’s similarities to Spanish, but the majority went in one ear and out the next.

My opponents destroyed me that round, but I kept smiling. For some reason, I loved the experience of playing this board game. Something about being able to understand so little yet play the same game fascinated me. Despite my butchering of Catalan words, our laughs and competitiveness were not bounded by one language.

Language might seem like the ultimate barrier but it certainly is not. Trust me; I thought the same thing during some parts of my SYA experience. Nonetheless, the only boundary between you and a completely different person is yourself. By closing yourself off, you eliminate any chances of building a relationship. That afternoon, I made relationships with people from drastically different walks of life because of a board game. All because I took a chance and dove into an experience, I grew less alone in a country of strangers. 

So, I hope that whoever might be reading this blog takes a chance. I understand that doing SYA is a tough decision. But hundreds of kids have done it and I do not know a single one who did not love the experience. I was scared of going to Spain. And I definitely failed and embarrassed myself during my seven months there. But I learned that all you really have to do is look up and jump in.

SYA Spain was an amazing experience. Even on the first tough days in Zaragoza, I knew that I had an amazing nine months ahead of me. I was right. The past seven months months have been some of the best of my life. 

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Luke recalls a recent memory that encapsulates the lessons he learned from SYA.