Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

For the next 10 months, I will be taking up residency in a suburb of Madrid, Spain. The suburb is called Tres Cantos, which is a 23 kilometers (14.3 miles) north of Madrid.

I bet you are wondering why a 16-year-old junior in high school would want to do something like that. Many people have asked me this. Some are excited about it and encourage me to make the best of it. Others don't understand why I would want to leave Albany and say it's not a good idea. I want to participate in this exchange program because it is going to be an amazing opportunity for me to experience something other than the South.

Another question I get a lot is how I found this program called Youth For Understanding (YFU). While on spring break, my mother met a lady whose daughter was studying abroad in Germany. She gave us the name of the organization and told us to look into it. Of course, when we got back to Albany, my mother immediately looked into it and asked me if I would study abroad if given the chance. Right away, I said yes!

A few weeks after I sent my application in and got accepted, I got a letter telling me the name of the family I would be living with and where I would be staying. I had requested to be in a big city and was ecstatic to know that I was!

I am very excited about my 10 months in Spain. However, the closer my date of departure comes, the more nervous I get. I'm dreading the good-byes from family and all my friends. It is going to be so different when I get back. Everybody's lives will have changed, including mine. Even though my friends will still be my friends, I am not going to know what has been going on in their lives and all the changes that have taken place.

The language barrier will be the biggest challenge for me, I think, especially when it comes to school. I have taken three years of high school Spanish and took it thoughout elementary school. However, what I learn from a book is going to be very different than what I learn while I'm there.

Even though I will be completely submerged in the Spanish culture, it's going to take me a few months to become fluent. They say you know you have become fluent when you have your first dream in Spanish.

I have heard Spain is a beautiful country! It's capital, Madrid, is said to be very lively and busy, just like a large city in the United States. Like any other big city, I expect it to be dangerous, too.

People who have been to Madrid before have warned me about the pickpockets and the people who will try and take advantage of the fact that I'm American. It's going to be interesting to learn how Spain and the people in and surrounding the country view the United States of America. Will they treat me differently based on assumptions and the reputation of others in America?

I can only hope for the best though. There are many things I hope to get out of this experience. Just the fact that I have gotten the opportunity to become part of another culture is amazing. When I come back, I hope to be more open and understanding to other people's way of life and culture. Becoming fluent in Spanish is important to me. With that skill, I will have more jobs and opportunities available to me.

I will keep you up to date!

Darby Calhoun, 16, is the daughter of Bill and Laura Calhoun of Albany. During her year of study in Spain, she will contribute a monthly column to The Albany Herald on her experiences. You can also keep up with Darby at