Thanks to the Abbey Road staff and my homestay family, I came back to my American family not as a demure sponge, dictionary, or thesaurus, but as a more independent, intelligent, and interesting explorer, friend, roommate, daughter, swimmer, student, sister, and person. The Abbey Road staff members were a central part of my experience in Cádiz. Each of the staff members was unique and brought something special to the group, so as a whole the staff was dynamic and diverse.
I probably came to know Staci, the program director, the most. She exemplified the staff’s great balance between being understanding, sweet, and fun, yet strict enough to keep us safe. I was surprised overall by how flexible the Abbey Road staff was and by how much they listened to us. They were constantly looking for feedback and traveling around with the suggestions box to find out what we were looking for in our trip, and once they knew, they strove to accommodate us.
The teachers of my morning and afternoon classes showed me a ton about the Spanish language as well as the Spanish culture. Both classes were different from normal classes at school because they were experiential. We spent about half the class time in a room at the school, and then we left to explore Cádiz and apply what we had learned. Our teachers instructed us to ask the people of Cádiz questions ranging from what they liked to eat to what they thought of tourists. If we had merely sat in a classroom for three hours a day memorizing vocabulary and doing grammar exercises, I do not think I would have learned nearly as much.
Most nights and weekday afternoons we had group activities. We always had choices when we signed up, from baking desserts with Aitor to sports on the beach with James, to literature workshops with Gema. The variety of activities, workshops, and optional classes was incredible. Every Saturday we took a bus to a different town close to Cádiz. My personal favorites were Ronda and Los Toruños. In Ronda, there were stunning views, trails for descending, and even a waterfall. And at Los Toruños we relaxed at the beach, went on a bike tour, and kayaked. But even more than the staff, classes, and excursions, my personal favorite part of my trip to Spain was my homestay family.
We ate together every day, went to the beach together, and watched Encantada (Enchanted) as a family. For me, there was a special kind of security in knowing that every day when I came home from my morning class Carmen, my host mother, would wave her green fan and comment on how hot it was all the time in Cádiz. She and Chano, my host father, would make a delicious lunch and Juanjo, my host brother, would complain about having to share his laptop with his two annoying sisters whom he loved anyway.
There are a lot of things I miss about Cádiz. I miss the bells of the old cathedral that ring at 15-minute intervals, having ice cream pretty much every day (sometimes twice), and trudging up four flights of stairs to get home. I miss obsessing over where the keys that my roommate and I shared were, and I miss the custom of giving people air kisses when you meet them and when you say goodbye. But I know that I will visit and experience these things again someday. And when I do, I will think of Abbey Road and its fantastic staff, dinner stipends, and enforced curfews. I am more than grateful for my once in a lifetime experience in Cádiz with Abbey Road.