Tabernash teen returns from year abroad | SkyHiNews.com

Tabernash teen returns from year abroad

Georga Feek
Sky-Hi News Intern

It's been 10 months since local Middle Park incoming senior Callie Hale has been in Colorado. After her almost year-long exchange in Spain, she returned from her adventure on July 1 with memories and experiences she'll remember for a lifetime.

Hale, 17, lived on the southern coast of Spain in a city called Marbella. She first became interested in a year abroad after hearing other exchange stories from previous students. Hale applied through the Fraser Valley Rotary Club and underwent a long application process, including an orientation for all possible exchange students in Estes Park. Hale was the only local applicant for the 2014-2015 school year.

The next step was an interview to make sure she could handle being away from home and "act maturely." When Callie and her mother returned from Estes Park, she received a phone call telling her she was the student chosen to represent in Spain. Hale was extremely excited and happy because it's uncommon for students to be assigned to their first choice country.

"I was very lucky," she declared, "I wanted to be in Europe, and Spain was my first choice." Hale listed Spain, Switzerland, and Austria as her top three countries to exchange.

“Don’t go in with expectations because everything will be different than what you think. It’s OK to not know where you’re going.”Callie HaleExchange student

Hale proudly told her friends and the rest of the community, who all showed their support and well wishes with aid in fundraising. She wrote letters for grants and scholarships, and organized her Visa and other paperwork before she embarked on Sept. 4, 2014.

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Hale's first host family was a single father and his daughter, though the daughter was on her own exchange in North Carolina. She recalled the first five months being particularly difficult simply because she went from a family of five, eating every meal together to an empty house and eating alone. At first, she had no friends or family, no knowledge about the culture, and a limited understanding of the language.

Turning point

During Thanksgiving, Callie started considering an early return because "things weren't really how they were supposed to be." People in Spain don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so most exchange students act like it doesn't exist. Callie ended up celebrating the American holiday in her own small way and it helped tremendously to acknowledge it.

Christmastime was easier for her, and that was when she requested a family change to see if that would make a difference. Her new family consisted of two parents and two older kids, both studying abroad as well. Her host parents names were Gloria Gomez and Eugenio Molto. Callie moved into that family with another American exchange student named Rachel Leidmann from Pittsburg, Pa.

That time marked the turning point in Hale's exchange in Spain.

"I loved my new situation and host parents, and things were finally starting to look up."

She felt like part of a family again, the language was easier to grasp, and she had made good friends that made it easier to fit in.

Toward the end of her year abroad, Hale's birth parents visited for two weeks over Mother's Day and Callie's 17th birthday. It was her favorite part of her adventure because she could be herself with the people she was closest to, as well as introduce them to her host parents. "They talked and laughed over dinner," she remembers.

The last part of her exchange was another one of her favorite memories. Hale, as well as 60 other foreign exchange students from Spain, embarked on a 20 day trip across central Europe called EuroTour. The group would spend roughly two to three days in each city, going on tours and independently sightseeing; they traveled mostly via double decker bus. The places she visited were: Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Berlin, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Postojna, Slovenia; and Lido di Jesolo, Venice, and Rome in Italy. Callie's favorite place she visited was either Prague or Venice.

Looking back, Hale believes the hardest part of her year abroad was in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time where she thought about the festivities and traditions she wasn't a part of with her family and friends.

However, she has grown as a person and knows what it's like to be the one to not understand everything.

"I know how to take care of myself," she declared, "I can speak up or ask for help, and I'm more outgoing because I've put myself in a new situation."

When asked what advice she would give to herself prior to her exchange she said, "Don't go in with expectations because everything will be different than what you think." Particularly about her first few months, Hale wished she knew that "it's OK to be lost. It's OK to not know where you're going."

Callie would absolutely recommend going on an exchange to other Middle Park students because it's a growing experience that opens one's eyes to so much; you see an entirely different culture.

"I have new ideas about my future from just 10 months away," she said.

Your family, friends, and community welcome you home Callie.

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