I haven’t seen them in two years, but I still remember the last bonfire I had in Spain with some of my closest friends.
Two summers ago, I participated in Pueblo Ingles, a two-week exchange program in Spain. The ironic part is that the program highly recommends you not know any Spanish at all! The purpose is to help the Spaniard teens learn how to speak the English lingo, without the aid of Spanish. It was partly tricky having to teach without having any form of dictionary, as I usually do in any of my foreign language classes.
On the first day of the program, each Anglo-speaking teacher was paired with a Spaniard student of approximately the same age, and the pairings would be switched once every hour for three hours. At first, it was repetitive and boring having to introduce ourselves every time with little variation - where we came from, how many siblings we had - very trivial matters. Personally, it was difficult to rack my brain for a common, but relevant connection between us two parties, as there are many differences between our cultures, and there seemed to be some discrepancies in what was popular amongst adolescents at the time.
But what amazed me was their English proficiency with which to begin. I had no idea they were already learning some English from the American forms of media to which they were exposed. Instead of having to review grammar and spelling, we bonded over what movies and television shows were popular at the time. I became especially close with my third partner when we began discussing music. In fact, we jammed out for almost an entire hour together while listening to Drake, Rihanna, and Ariana Grande. Our bond deepened for the rest of the two weeks, while we discovered more and more commonalities between us, and among other youth at the program, as well.
At the end of the two weeks, we shed tearful good-byes, posing for lasting photos and hugging each other until it was finally time to go. But the monthly pen-pal letters haven’t stopped. We’ve introduced each other to different cultural pastimes; we’ve updated each other on our lives, our hopes, and our aspirations; and most importantly, we’ve never missed a beat. Although there haven’t been plans for us to meet in the middle, I hope we’ll be able to find each other again and remain even stronger friends.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.