Tuesday, May 12, 2015

7 Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad

When I decided that I was going to apply to study abroad during my junior year of high school, I was bombarded with a million questions that in the moment I didn't know the answer to, but now they just sound stupid.

"Why would you want to leave your life for a year?"

Because it will be there when I get back. Because I plan on making a NEW one in my host country. Because (while I have a nice life) what's so GREAT about my life that I would choose to stay instead of live in a beautiful foreign country for a year?

"Do you even speak Spanish?"

Have you ever heard me speak a lick of Spanish? Probably not because I failed my Spanish finals with a 42%. One of the reasons I applied to study abroad in SPAIN was to learn SPANISH. While I speak great Spanish now, I hardly spoke a word when I first got to Spain. I came to Spain with intent to learn Spanish, and HEY, I did! (Pats self on the back.)

"Aren't you going to miss your friends and family?"

Why do you even ask this? I mean of course I will miss my friends and family but I'm willing to take 11 months away from them in order to see the world, make new friends, live with a new family.

What I really wish I could say to the people who ask these questions is, "Just think a little. I'm leaving the country for a year to learn culture and language. And YES I am going to miss my friends and family, because they're my FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Its normal that I would miss them. But I'm really doing this all because I think that in the long run it will help me a lot. My future college major, job, life, family will all be shaped around the year that I had in a foreign country when I was 16."

I'm currently eight months into my exchange year in Spain and I have two months left before I leave. This has without a doubt become one of the best years of my life. I don't want to say THE best year of my life because I'm only 17 years old and hopefully I will have many better years to come. The beginning of the year was great because everything was all new and everything I saw was exciting. The middle of the year was pretty boring (just as it would be if you stayed in your home country) and the end of the year is awesome so far because at this point, I'm allowed to travel around and see new things and I also understand the language, so the whole being confused all the time is finished.

From everything I have experienced so far during my exchange year, I can give you a definite list of reasons you should study abroad at least one time in your life.

Other than the fact that you will most likely be fluent (or at least sufficient) in your host language, colleges LOVE seeing that you've had a year of study abroad. It proves independence, leadership and an interest to learn/try new things.

During my year in Spain, I have met people not only from Spain, but some of my BEST friends are from other countries. I had the great opportunity to meet a girl from Iceland, where the population is roughly 300,000 which means that about 0.000045% of the worlds population is Icelandic and the odds that I met someone from Iceland is REALLY rare. I can now happily say that she is one of my best friends, along with girls from Turkey, China and other parts of the United States.

I will be the first one to admit it. I used to be (and still am) TERRIFIED of confrontation. Confrontation as in facing my problems, but also confrontation like asking the Walmart employee where I can find glass jars. Ever since I was little, every time I was confronted with a problem, I would start tearing up and be completely unable to respond and then just break out crying. My whole family always encouraged me (or made fun of me, whichever way you decide to look at it) to face my fears and my fears happened to be confrontation and communication my thoughts. When you live in a foreign country, the only way to solve your problems is to communicate them to others. You will become a master at communication because you will be forced to communicate them in a language other than your native tongue and sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes just to explain what a Jack-O-Lantern is and how/why its used during Halloween.

Like I had said before, I used to be deathly afraid of confrontation. Luckily, how humans are, when we change one thing, we want to change everything. Its kind of like how after a bad break up, girls will go and dye there hair or when somebody moves schools, they decide to change the type of people they hang out. When you move to another country, everything is so new and EVERY THING IS SCARY. In order to live in a foreign country, you have to face your fears. Fear of pronouncing something wrong when trying to order a hamburger. Fear of being alone (face it, you're an exchange student and your friends are just going to magically pop up and be by your side forever. You have to remember that you will be alone for a while until you form relationships with the people on your school). Fear of bugs (trust me there will be a whole bunch of new little insects before that you've never seen in your home country). Fear of heights (some of the best sights in the world are from hundreds of meters above sea level). Or for me, fear of confrontation.  

This has got to be one of the biggest things. When you sign yourself up to study abroad, you are signing yourself up to do, see, eat, and experience things that people who don't study abroad, will never get to experience. I never in my life imagined watching a cooked baby pig get cut into four pieces and then actually eating it (though I felt really bad for eating a quarter of a baby pig, it was actually delicious and I would definitely do it again). I never pictured myself walking a portion of a world famous pilgrimage, 116 kilometers in 5 days and then practically dying of relief when we arrived. But I did both of those things and many more, and so many people I know will never have the opportunity to do anything like I've been doing for the past 8 months.


 During my year abroad in Spain, if there was anything I did, it was learn who I am as a person. I've learned the kind of people that I am compatible with... and the kind that drive me insane. I've learned that a lot of times, I prefer my own company to the company of others. I've practically planned, took apart and then re-planned my whole entire future, all shaping around my experiences during my exchange. I've learned that (though they're a pain in the butt), I have a passion for languages and that in the future I either want to learn more languages, or I want to further my study in Spanish.

7. "Variety is the spice of life"
It really is. If you sit around your whole life doing the same things, you won't be happy. What most people think the purpose of life is, is along the lines of this: get good grades, get a good job, have a family, pay bills, retire and die peacefully. But tell me that doesn't sound boring. As an exchange student you are given the opportunity to explore cities with thousands of years of history, meet people who were born on the exact opposite side of the world as you, learn a language so that you can communicate with all kinds of different  people. I mentioned early about how as I've been slowly finding out how I am as a person, I've been planning my life. While it shares common themes as that of someone without study abroad experience, I can honestly say that as long as my whereabouts in life are constantly changing, I will be happy. I plan to study abroad again during one of my four years in college. After college, with a degree in international business, I will be able to take job offers in other countries or take a job in the Unites States that requires travelling. When I finally settle down and have a family, my kids will be given every opportunity I've had as a kid. Study abroad, learn a language, see the world.

While many people have unrealistic expectations about travelling the world for years, never having to work, being expense free, studying abroad has showed me that travelling the world doesn't necessarily need to be a vacation. You can study, work or live in other countries during your life and enhance the way you look at things. I now understand that there is, indeed, a world OUTSIDE of the United States. I've finally been shown what the world is like and now I won't rest until I'm full of knowledge about the different cultures, languages, people and lives that are out there. I feel like every minute that I'm not out there meeting new people from different places are minutes lost.


Monday, May 4, 2015

The hardest/best/worst week(s) of my life

Now I know this post is long past due, especially since these events occurred over a month ago. My mom kept bugging me to write a blog about everything but I kept putting it off. 

Let me tell you ahead of time, right now I am sitting in my favorite little coffee shop, drinking a coffee and eating chocolate palms. My life is just as it was 2 months ago, and I am 100% fine and about 98% healthy again.

In late March I joined AFS Spain and a group of about 45 on the Camino de Santiago. We walked 116 km from Tui, the border of Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela. It was absolutely HORRID but at the same time, it was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life and I would DEFINITELY choose to do it again, if I got the chance. 

When you see the email from AFS Spain offering the Camino, you think it's gonna be a slow-paced, nice, stroll through the park and then at the end of the week, you see a huge beautiful church and then you go home. And that's only about half of it. The walking isn't a stroll through a park, it's more like walking at a fast pace, uphill for 5 hours straight, taking an hour break for lunch, and then walking for 7 more hours. On the first day is when everybody's blisters start showing and the second day is when everyone complains about them. Your whole body will ache so badly and your feet will burn and any where you have to walk (when you aren't actually walking the Camino) you will walk to so oddly that it looks like someone stuck a fork up your butt. Not even close to kidding. But while the pain and the constant feeling like you need to lay down in the middle of the trail and sleep (which I feel like is a pretty accurate description of the exchange student life in general) all sucks, you pretty much have the best time ever with 44 other people who are just as miserable as you are. You will walk together, complain together (a lot), laugh together, cry together, hurt together and best of all you will have the best and worst 5 days of your entire life. 

I just happened to suffer a tiny bit more than the others. Unfortunately, the day we arrived, I became VERY ill. We had arrived in santiago, and waited for the whole group to catch up. (I would just like to point out that I did not feel sick AT ALL up until this point.) A couple minutes after we left our meeting point to start the last walk to the big church, I started feeling really sick like I needed to puke. A little bit after that started, I became very weak and could barely walk and a couple people had to help carry me/walk with me to the church (shout out to Mariah and Felipe) and as soon as we got to the church (which also happened to be a big center area with thousands of people/tourists/pilgrims there admiring the church and thanking God that they made it 100km or 500km or 1000km) I ran away from our group and puked at least a dozen times. I felt relieved enough to take pictures with people and then became violently ill again. The vomiting continued during the day and I was then taken to stay at the house of a volunteer where I had a fever of 102. I was taken to the doctor, given some medicine but was told not to worry and that it was nothing bad. I ended up sleeping most of the next day and woke up with a fever of over 104.5 but couldn't go to the doctor because I had to leave for my flight to Madrid. As I had no energy at all (could barely sit up in a seat, let alone walk) I was pushed around in a wheelchair (thanks to Kristjana and Juanma) until the plane came (which ended up having a two and half hour delay, so we didn't get on the plane till 1am. After we arrived in Madrid, I was exiting the plane (slowly but  surely) and I did something unthinkable (don't laugh I was very sick) I pooped in my pants. I swear I didn't even know that it was happened until after it happened. I then was taken to another volunteers house in Madrid to stay until I was supposed to take the bus the next day back to Tudela. The ride to there house felt like 5 minutes but I was later told that it was actually 45 minutes and I just didn't realize because I wasn't exactly conscious the whole time. The next day it was decided that I wasn't suit to take the bus home and I would be checked into a hospital in Villalba. I ended up in the hospital for a total of five days where I always had tubes running into my arm, food that always went untouched, more blood taken every day for different kinds of tests. My mom was even flown out because AFS agreed that I was very sick and I needed family there. In the end I was diagnosed with a whole crap load of problems such as a urinary tract infection, severe dehydration, anemia, a blood infection, failing liver and kidneys, hepatitis and the biggest problem was that I had the bacteria brucella and the disease brucellosis. Brucellosis is diagnosed in less than 200 people in the United States each year and is very rare. Considering you can really only get it from eating meat or drinking milk from an animal that has brucella, and nobody else near me has the bacteria, nobody really knows how I got it or how I got sick. Brucellosis is a chronic disease that can last for weeks, months or years, that will recurrently make you sick with symptoms that I had while I was sick in the hospital. 

NOW, I'm not saying that if you go on the Camino that you will get very sick and almost die like me. Actually, that WONT happen. What happened with me was really weird and the chances that it happens to anyone else is like 0.08% literally. 

What I'm saying is that YES you should go on the Camino. YES it was the hardest thing ive ever done and sure I got a little bit sick afterward, but it was the BEST thing I've ever done. It taught me that yeah my feet hurt more than anything has hurt ever, but everyone else hurts too. I'm not the only one. I can't act like I'm the only one who has pain. I can't act like I'm the only one who had problems because everyone is going through the same thing, and other things, sometimes worse, sometimes better, sometimes the same. 

I just finished my coffee and I'm thinking about how lucky of a life I have. How many great opportunities I've been given and how I just want everyone around me to have the same chances I do. The cliche "life is short" is so overly used but so appropriate and fits perfectly with how I wish to live my life. 

I will be writing another post soon, I promise. 

Hasta luego,


Monday, March 2, 2015

The second home you didn't know you had

So. I know that the last time I made a blog post was like 3 or 4 months ago, and for that I am sorry. I want to say that I don't have a lot of time for it... Which is true to some extent. I actually have a lot of free time. But that free time is mostly used for taking my daily nap, or catching up with my friends and family. 

I have some catching up to do. I'm more than half way through my exchange year. I've experienced my first Thanksgiving away from my family. My first Christmas away from my family. My first New Years away from my family. My first Kings Day, ever. It's march already. My birthday is in a week. While I have so many emotions, I would give anything to see my family right now, I also feel normal here. Spain has become a home for me. All of the things I do daily, have become a routine for me and I no longer feel like I'm exploring an unknown world alone. I don't really feel like I'm wandering around clueless. And while that's a great thing, (WOOO LILLY YOU MADE A NEW LIFE IN SPAIN, GO YOU!), it's also kind of a bummer. Maaaan, everything is now NORMAL. Since when is NORMAL good or exciting or fun? It's not. I'm at the point where I know my way all around the city, have eaten at almost every cafe that's worth eating at, can communicate about 98% of my thoughts and feelings quickly, at a pace where I only slow to think of words I don't know off the top of my head. I'm officially an American Spaniard! Woooo! I'm past the halfway point. Six months gone, 4 more to go. How depressing is that? 

I remember this time last year like it was yesterday, literally. It's about the time of the year where the Speedwell Scholarship winners have just been told that they got the scholarship and will officially be going to the non-English speaking country of their choice. This time last year, I was having trouble sleeping at night, thinking about my upcoming year in Spain. How crazy is it. I can EASILY recall my emotions, thoughts, feeling and everything during my anticipated year abroad ONE YEAR AGO, and here I am. Closer to my departure date than my arrival date. Never in a million years did I ever think that this would actually happen. I'm an exchange student living in Spain. I have Spanish friends, friends from ALL OVER THE WORLD, I speak great Spanish, I know my way around a few big, famous Spanish cities, just from memory. I eat chorizo, drink coffee, clear my plate with bread, and say "sta logo" (jajajaja you won't understand that unless you've been to Spain) all on a daily basis, like second nature.

I guess that just stands to say that what everyone told you about your exchange, is right. Your host country will become a home to you. You will begin to know it and recognize it like the back of your hand (in theory because really idk if I could choose the back of my hand out of a group of others) and it will all become NORMAL. That's the problem. DONT LET IT BECOME NORMAL. The moment things become normal is the moment that your exchange year ends and it's June and you are on your flight back home. I am saying this to you, encouraging you to make the best of your experience, and I'm saying it to me too, because right now my life is normal. Walk through streets that you've never seen before. Take pictures of things that have become "normal" to you because in a couple months, you won't see them anymore, possibly ever.

These past 6 months, I have experienced thins that I will most likely NEVER experience again. That being said, I also experienced things that like 70% of the American population will never even experience once. I'm beyond honored and couldn't be anymore proud of my decision to try something completely different, something that most people are too scared to try, too scared of change. 

But the real important thing is that you will spend your entire life looking at peoples pictures online and think "wow I wanna climb a mountain" or "man I wanna walk the great wall of china" but then you don't do anything to make it happen. You have to make it happen! 

Go after what you want, it isn't just going to pop up in front of you.

Lilly Cook

Friday, November 21, 2014

What is artwork even for

Wow well, time really does fly. It feels like just yesterday that I was making my one month blog post, and now I'm 2 and a half months into my program.

Things I have learned while being here so far:

Every city in Spain is beautiful. Beautiful in that "full of history and culture and art" way. I fall in love with every new city that I go to. 

Other exchange students progress faster and slower, so you can't compare your own experience to theirs. You may occasionally get jealous that it looks like others are having a fantastic time, and you're at that stage of your exchange where you are just bored. And trust me, that stage comes, and it sucks. And that's when you know you need to plan a weekend retreat with your fellow exchangers.

The holidays come a lot faster than you expect. Next week is thanksgiving, and I'm planning on making thanksgiving dinner for my family. And then in a month is Christmas.

All in all, there are good times and then there are rough patches. Sometimes you may regret deciding to go on exchange because you miss your friends and family, and then the next day you are running around a new city alone with your closest friends in your new country. (That's what I did). But at the end of it all, the year is going by too fast.

This time last year I was applying to study abroad. I remembering it like I have a photographic mind or something (which I don't or else id be a lot better at spanish by now) and now here I am, actually in Spain. I never in my wildest dreams believed that I would do something this crazy and outgoing and life changing. I don't regret it one bit.

The past two weekend I had hung out with my afs friends, one weekend in Zaragoza and the next weekend in pamplona. Here are some pictures. 

My motto for the year "what's artwork even for if you aren't going to post awkwardly with it?"

All in all, my year is going great. I'm sorry I don't post more but MY LIFE IS JUST SO DARN EXCITING I NEVER HAVE TIME.

Jk I sleep a lot. 

But it's all good. Adios amigos!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A month and a week later

As I had originally planned on making a post on the day of my one month anniversary with Spain, I have failed horribly. 

Right now it is a Saturday afternoon, I woke up 25 minutes ago and I have all the time in the world to post. (Not literally but still). 

Well I have been here for over a month. A month and a week of me living in Spain. I think I put this in my last post, but I'm going to say it again. This has been the most challenging time of my life. Things have been getting easier. I have fallen into a good patter for the weekends, were it's pretty much the unspoken rule that every Friday we meet at The Plaza at 7 and hang out for the night. 

The Plaza Nueva is the center of the city. It's where practically everyone meets when they need to meet, and you pretty much walk through it going anywhere. I walk through it at least 2 times a day, and up to 4 or 6 times a day. I walk through it going two and from school, and some days when Lina and Goyo have music I walk through more. I don't mind though. It's beautiful. Lined with restaurants and bars with rows and rows of table and chairs for people to sit at. One thing I've learned while being here is that Spain is a very social country. I love it. 

Since I've been in Spain, I have visited many big cities. Those cities include Toledo, Zaragoza and the beautiful San Sebastián. 

I had gone to Toledo with my family my second week here. We went and stayed with a family friend for a night and I got to see the beautiful city. It's literally sitting atop of a hill and all of the streets and rocky and winding. Just standing there and breathing in the air I could feel the history that lies in the city. In spanish class in the United States, I learned about El Greco and Don Quijote and El Castillo de La Mancha. It's amazing to think that I was standing there. The home of all of these amazing things. 

The next weekend, I had my first orientation in Zaragoza. There I met with 5 other AFSers staying in my area of Spain. We were given the chance to explore the city together and it was all so much fun. I loved getting together and talking to all of them because we are all experiencing the same thing. 

And finally, San Sebastián. The most beautiful place I have visited since being in Spain. My school had taken a trip there to visit the aquarium and the University of Navarra. The aquarium was freaking awesome and even had one of those walk through tubes where all of the sharks and sting rays and sea turtles swim over and under and around you. It was such a great experience and definitely would NOT object to going again in the future.

It's definitely weird to think that 3 weeks ago I was homesick and wanted to go home to the comfort of my family, and now I am having fun with all of the new friends I've made while being here. I'm already over 10% finished with my exchange. A couple weeks ago I would've been excited to say that, but now I'm thinking "wow, I don't have that much time left." 

School is definitely still the most challenging thing here. Some classes I am doing well in.... Like English. And surprisingly, Spanish. The two classes I am struggling most with are Physics and Chemistry  and Math. In math, my class is in their second year of learning trogonometry while I haven't even learned geometry yet. And in Physics, I don't even know what I'm learning except that it included trigonometry which, as I just said, I have never learned. I had a physics exam the other day and got a 0.6 out of 10. I was pretty excited since I was expecting a flat 0.

Anyway, I'm sure that class will get easier as I become better at understanding the language. My parents told me that they can tell the difference from how I was the first week, to how I am now. Give me another 2 months and hopefully I will have this whole language barrier in the bag.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

One week later

I have been with my host family for one week so far. I feels like it has been forever, but also feels like I just got here earlier today. Wednesday was my first day of school and thus far I have come to the realization that learning a different language is REALLY hard. My teachers have been pretty helpful so far, saying that it isn't a necessity for me to write down certain things and that I don't need to worry. I made my first friend, Ivan, only because the teacher was talking to me and I had no idea what he was saying so Ivan stepped up and translated it for me. It turns out that Ivan is also a new student, who just moved to Spain from Colombia, and he speaks really good English. I try to listen and pay attention in classes but it is really hard when I don't understand what is being said.  I write my notes (as much as possible) and copy from Ivan what I don't understand. Overall, my Spanish is better than it was a week ago, when I first arrived. With that being said, I still suck. I feel like I can speak much better than I can listen, because most of the time, I listen to peoples conversations and only pick up one or two words. Or if someone is talking to me, I almost always end up saying "que," "repite," "no entiendo," or "despacio por favor." It really is not what I expected it to be, but not in a good or bad way. I miss my family more than I expected, but I feel like that goes along with me not being able to understand things people are saying. BTW the other day I went to a fiesta in Ablitas, a neighboring city to Tudela, and I ran with the bulls. Best time of my life, I definitely hope that I get to do it again.     

Friday, September 5, 2014


Today, I arrived in Spain. After quite a lengthy, over-night orientation in NYC, a 7 hour flight to Switzerland, a 4 hour layover, and a 2 hour flight to Madrid.... Here I am! It is beautiful and..... HOT! 

We had dinner and an arrival orientation which didn't include too much, but I am now pleased to say that I will leave in the morning at 7 o'clock for the train station, and head to Pamplona, where my host family will pick me up! I am beyond incredibly excited and ecstatic that I am finally here, but it still doesn't feel real and I don't think it will until I actually meet my family and sleep in my bed. 

One thing that I was expecting but dreading was drinks with no ice. A cold glass of water will only keep from becoming room temperature if it is paired with ice, and sadly, Spaniards do not put ice in their drinks. Room-temperature drinks may not be as refreshing as ice-cold drinks, but they do go down the pipe better! 

As I have not much more to say, I will update again in another couple days (or weeks) as I see fit.


PS everyone thinks I'm weird for bringing my javelin with me and carrying it around in a PVC pipe.