Do you remember showing up at the airport to meet your new GLA friends? We were so excited to get to know you and experience two full weeks together in Spain. The time difference was real and after a couple of days we were in full swing feeling fresh and ready to experience and learn about Spanish culture, its diverse components, and how to grow personally!
“Nuestro americanos,” is what the summer school students and staff at Jarit called us during our two weeks of service. From cooking classes to Capoeira; card games to pick up soccer; field trips to music videos; assembly circle to the mascaleta and everything in-between–time was spent smiling, laughing, planning sneaky water attacks, and building an invaluable relationship with each student. Timid at first, we quickly expanded our comfort zones in collaborating with the local staff in leading icebreakers, games, and mini educational lessons (not to mention doing so in Spanish!). The two weeks flew by, however it was wholesome. Day by day our connection grew and this proved obvious on the last day—the field trip to the river. On the final day instead of a surprise water balloon, we were ambushed by something stronger and more meaningful–that’s right, emotion. Hugs and tears were exchanged as we reminisced on memories made and our time spent together. We left that the river with proof of the impact we had on the students and the impact the students made on us. A priceless cross-cultural connection was formed in the short two weeks and we learned to “nunca dice adiós, siempre dice hasta luego!”
A highlight for many of you was our trip to Barcelona. During a relaxing bus ride through the countryside and olive tree vineyards, many took advantage of the quiet time to catch up on sleep after a full first week of service and leadership activities. We were more refreshed and could feel the energy and excitement of being in Barcelona, staying at our hostel The Generator, enjoying buffet meals, playing charade games, sleeping in air conditioning, and having access to Wi-Fi.
We filled our Barcelona days to the fullest. Remember getting caught in a fluke rain storm while we waited to enter La Sagrada Familia cathedral? However, within half an hour the sun came out so we could appreciate the sun shining through the stained glass windows, creating glowing rays of orange, red, green, blue, and gold, illuminating the inside of the church. We continued exploring the city via our Hidden Tour Guides ___ and ___. This left a lasting impression to view Barcelona from this perspective and hear about people who had a stable career and then lost it all and became homeless. Our Guides shared intimate details about what it was like to become homeless and provided insight about the challenges as well as the resources available at food banks. Has this changed how you view or interact with homeless people?
One of Barcelona’s gems that we got to enjoy is Parc Guell where we walked around and admired the fusion of nature, religion, and mathematics that Gaudi used to design unique archways and colorful buildings. Would you return to Spain to take wedding photos at the Park?
The next morning, after breakfast which most of us woke up for, we headed to the Barcelona Stadium Camp Nou, which was enjoyable for most all to explore at our leisure. Can you remember, “What does mes que un club mean?”
Back in Valencia, we continued getting to know the city from the local perspective via a variety of cultural activities. Do you remember sampling the bitter chalky taste of pure cacao? Our Chocolate Museum tour guide was so quick to slice, shape, and roll the bollets, which tasted more like fudge than chocolate. Another local flavor to savor was the Horchata, made with only chufa seeds, sugar, and water. It was so refreshing to enjoy the bottomless refills of homemade Horchata while at the farm. Have you tried Horchata since being in Spain? How does it taste compared to Mexican Horchata? We also learned how to make Paella during a cooking workshop with Mama Teresa, one Valencian with chicken and another vegetarian.
Our second weekend in Valencia was packed with fun and adventure. The activities were well deserved and a great way to cap off our two weeks of leadership learning and service work. Friday afternoon started off with shopping and visiting cafes. It was followed by a fun and relaxing bike tour through the city and the park- eventually arriving to the City of Arts and Sciences. This entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. Many of us enjoyed talking to each other via the Communicating Arcs. We learned that we could have a normal conversation with our friend who was standing 160 ft away when we placed ourselves on either side of the arche structure.
Saturday was an action-packed day in the sun and the water. Many students were nervous about going whitewater rafting but everyone ended up loving it! We split into 4 boats and survived waterfall drops, jumping off of rocks and splashing wars between boats. Do you remember the rafting commands? Izquierda, Derecha, Adelante, Atras, Rock and Roll! When we got back to Valencia, we went straight to the beach. This was many of our first times in the Mediterranean Sea! We spent hours playing keep away with the volleyball and splashing in the clear, warm water.
Sunday morning, the entire group took a relaxing boat ride through the Albufera – a wetland nature reserve. We escaped the bustling city and enjoyed the calm sounds of nature. We learned about the importance of the nature reserve for the region of Valencia as we ate fartones and sipped horchata brought to us by our tour guide, Vincent. That afternoon, we did a reflection activity to really soak in all that we had learned and experience during our two weeks in Spain. Do you remember your one take away from the experience? It was inspiring to hear about the growth each student on the program had experienced in their own unique way. We followed the reflection activity with one last opportunity to shop, sit in a cafe and get gelato. That night, we wrapped up the program with a fabulous and authentic flamenco show performed by local Valencians. We even had the opportunity to get up and dance after the performance. We had a traditional Spanish dinner of tapas where we got to eat plate after plate of delicious food. Following the lead of the local Valencians, we broke into clapping song and dance again after dinner. Then, we had ice cream and did an appreciation circle. This was an opportunity to shout out our peers on the program and appreciate them for all the ways they had positively affected us during the past two weeks. This led to many tears and mixed emotions. We soaked in the strength of the relationships we had formed in such a short period of time.
Looking back, we did a lot and we learned a lot. Each and every one of us was impacted and impactful. In those short two weeks we experienced so much of Spain and its culture all while doing service as well. We are fortunate to have had such an immersive experience. Amongst our group, close relationships were formed that will last a lifetime and memories were made that will last a lifetime. Don’t forget your takeaways from this experience. Take what you learned and carry that to a new space and add to that community! We hope you all continue to travel and learn more while doing so. Teresa and Juan welcome us back with open arms, vive España!!