Broadening my horizons in a land far from home

Grant Clarridge, a Bremerton High School student, is spending his junior year in Brazil as part of Bremerton Rotary’s exchange student program.  - Tom Long courtesy photo
Grant Clarridge, a Bremerton High School student, is spending his junior year in Brazil as part of Bremerton Rotary’s exchange student program.
— image credit: Tom Long courtesy photo

Editor’s Note: Grant Clarridge and fellow Bremerton Rotary exchange student Adriana Alexander will each appear in the Bremerton Patriot every other month.

I have been in Melilla, Spain for 12 days now and I have already begun to enjoy the experience very much. Melilla is a very interesting city. It is a Spanish enclave on the North Coast of Morocco approximately 130 miles across the Mediterranean south of Malaga, Spain. Melilla has been a Spanish territory for more than 500 years.

When I first found out I would be going to Melilla, instead of mainland Spain, I was unsure if I would enjoy my stay, though I never doubted this would be one of the best and most enriching years of my life. I was both right and wrong. I was right about this being a very enriching year and wrong about being unsure I would enjoy my stay. This has been great so far. I have already tried a variety of new foods and found I enjoy many of them. In the past, I had been a relatively picky eater, but this has taught me to try new things with an open mind. I have tried swordfish, octopus that looks like onion rings and many other unfamiliar dishes.

The first two days here were very hard. It is difficult going to a new country and being surrounded by thousands of people, none of whom you know and who speak a different language. At first I thought I had made a mistake, but soon realized quite the opposite. Everyone here has been very nice to me and has offered to help me anyway they can. Already I have made many friends, all of whom think it is incredible to meet an American face-to-face. Even though I have had three years of high school Spanish, the language is very difficult for me to understand as they speak unbelievably fast and with a heavy accent. However, I find I am picking it up rather quickly. Soon, I believe, I will be able to speak it well. One cannot put a price on learning another language and I am very excited to have such a great opportunity.

Life here in Melilla is very comfortable. My host family has a lovely pool and a beautiful view of the Medi-terranean Sea, which I wake up to every morning. Already, I can tell I will miss this place when I return home to Bremerton. My host family has a maid, who also is the cook. At first, I was a little uneasy about never having to pick up after myself. I would offer to do so, however every time I tried my family would just wave their hands in dismissal. Still, I feel rude not picking up after myself, but I am learning to enjoy this leisure. I am sure this will spoil me and my mom will be very surprised by what I have gotten used to when I return home in a year.

Before arriving in Melilla, I was unsure how I’d be received — the world situation with Iraq and all being what it is. However, I have been well received by everyone here, including many Muslims. They are very nice and do not resent me at all, though they do tell me they dislike George Bush very much when I inquire about their opinion of him.

I have just gotten off the plane after returning to Melilla from a Rotary inbound exchange student orientation in Madrid. I had been looking forward to meeting the other inbound exchange students in Spain. However, to my dismay, I found that nearly all were Americans. Still, it was nice to be able to converse in English and joke again as I find it very difficult to joke and be funny while speaking in a foreign language. I made many friends there and hope I will be able to visit them often.

Madrid is a very beautiful city, however it is very expensive, especially because of the unfavorable exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and Euro. I am hoping after the upcoming U.S. election, they will start to balance out. Melilla is not nearly as expensive as Madrid, although because of the exchange rate I still have to be very careful and remind myself I am spending more than it seems.

There are things I miss about America, but for every one thing I miss, I have found two things I enjoy here. I am very grateful to have been given such a wonderful and unique opportunity to broaden my horizons and become, what I believe will be, a better person.

Grant Clarridge’s next column will appear the last Saturday of the month in November.

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