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Short-term exchange provides profound experience


May 14, 2019 Adena Lowry, Special to the ATA News
Alberta teacher Adena Lowry (right) shared many meaningful moments with exchange partner Sandra Pla Garzon. Each teacher spent two weeks visiting the other’s home and experiencing life abroad.

I gained a friend. An unforgettable friend. For 20 days we spent almost all of our waking hours together. We hardly even had time to email each other before I arrived in her country. She didn’t even know what I looked like when I arrived at the airport. From the first night, the first walk, the first silence, we connected. We had so much in common and we didn’t even know it yet.

I didn’t just arrive in Spain – I landed straight into her life. I woke up the first morning and I instantly became her shadow. We jumped onto the back of her motorcycle and rode along the streets of Barcelona. She showed me the best parts of her city, the most famous views, the beauty of the blue sea and the sand in my toes. Moreover, she allowed me to see the personal areas of her life, the places of her dreams, the areas where her love grows.

Every day was incredible. Every day carried a surprise. She had the gift of observance. She listened to the excitement in my voice, she heard what was important to me and moved on these things. Everything I had on my list to do, we did, and then some. No day was the same. From art galleries, to hiking mountaintops, to visiting churches, fancy restaurants and off-the-grid beaches. Each day, a new adventure.

We walked everywhere, from one end of Barcelona to the other. When we walked, we talked. No subject was off limits. Explaining our lives, our customs, our cultures, our world views and our experiences. We shared our most prized possession, our time.

We spoke about our differences and similarities, expressed our concerns and our fears. We laughed. We understood. Most of all, we accepted each other. I could open up. I could explain my heart, my passion, my cares. We listened as we both spoke as mothers, teachers, friends, daughters and wives. Her life passed around us as we toured her city.

A few weeks later, she entered my life. We continued to walk and talk. We talked like old friends. We asked about our hearts, about our doubts. We shared as if we had known each other for years. It seemed as natural as can be. Our conversations became deeper, understanding became stronger, connections grew more substantial.

Her experiences in Canada were surprising. We visited our vast open spaces and our mountain areas. She was amazed with our beauty, our nature, our wild animals and our riches. I was reminded how fortunate I am to live here. She showed me how exciting our country can be. She spent each day discovering my country with me. The time together showed me how much I take for granted, from family to work to my personal time.

She also reignited my awareness of caring for the environment. Most importantly, she impressed upon me my need to continue learning, specifically, to increase my knowledge of languages and world events.

The experience was a beautiful moment. The difference between travel and exchange is the feeling of living in someone else’s life. I became more than a tourist, more than a visitor and more than an individual. I became part of her family and community. ❚

Adena Lowry teaches at Strathcona Christian Academy in Sherwood Park. For two weeks this spring she hosted Sandra Pla Garzon, a teacher at Institut Monserrat School in Barcelona, as part of an exchange program administered by the ATA.

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