As I look around everything is light. The bright gleaming sun shines through large windows that stretch from the ceiling to the floor. Everywhere is quiet for a minute except for a few mutters in the background where the other children in our group are chatting about their fears of spending a week with a person they’ve only met through email, Facebook and Twitter. As they talk, I am distracted by the smell of strong cleaning liquids as a woman with a trolley comes through in a white apron and her hair tied back in a bun.
Then the bell rings.
One sharp, ear-piercing sound. Hundreds of people come running out of classrooms from everywhere, all speaking a language I don’t understand. I stand with my friends, up against a bench, trying to stay clear of the hustle and bustle of people rushing to get home from school.
That’s when I first see her.
She smiles at me from amongst a group of other very pretty girls and waves. I wave back and then I know its all okay. Her father, a teacher who is leading the exchange, calls me over and alongside my two teachers, nicknamed by my friends as “Winter and Donaghy”, I introduce myself and I realise a week in Spain is not as bad as I feared.
I walk back to my friends. They are all laughing at me since I had to talk to the teachers, but I don’t care. I love Spain and I can’t wait for the experience to begin.
We only have to wait a short period before we are moved from the busy atmosphere of the corridor to an outside patio, full of Spanish children all discussing their excitement. Suddenly, the whole area goes into an eerie silence.
I am called to the front by her father and we meet for the first time. I don’t know what to say. Butterflies are swarming my stomach as I begin to say the first words.
“Hola,” I say faintly.
I see a grin appear on her face as she begins to speak. The butterflies disappear immediately. We talk for a while. In Spanish, of course but she speaks clearly and slowly and I understand.
That’s when I realise everyone else has left. The butterflies have reappeared.
I am alone with the teachers and my new found Spanish friend. Isolated, I say nothing else until “Winter” starts to talk to me. I am no longer alone! Despite being without the people I know well and love, I feel comfortable now. Carefree and happy.
Soon I meet the rest of the family, and I find my bedroom as presents await me. Food is layed out in masses on the dining room table. Delicious tarts and traditional food from the area. “Winter” is there too. Friendly as ever and beaming.
I could stay here forever.
A new family. A new start. A new life; in Andalucia, Spain.