My roommate Grace, a fellow American, and I returned to our host family’s apartment after grabbing ice cream with some friends, and there she was: our new housemate, Federica.
She seemed friendly enough—it wasn't her I was jealous of. It was the way my host mom began blabbering on in Spanish. I could only half understand about how great Federica was and how much she liked her.
At dinner that night, Federica was showered with compliments and bunches of questions. She, in turn, communicated effortlessly with our host mom while Grace and I nodded and smiled along.
My host mom went on to say, “Por eso me gustan las chicas italianas, son las mejores.” Apparently, Italians were superior to Americans. At least, according to my host mom, we’re better than the French.
After dinner I reminded myself to give Federica a chance after all, it wasn’t her I had a problem with.
I’m so glad I gave her that chance.
The next day, on a tour of el centro de Malaga, we connected. I met some of her friends she had made in class, and we all walked around the beautiful streets talking and laughing. I showed her around town, then invited her to go to the disco and get ice cream with my friends. At the end of Federica’s first week, and Grace’s last, we had a nice goodbye dinner and bonded.
Federica then moved into my room and we began to spend a lot of time together: we ordered strawberry daiquiris and ate endless popcorn at the local bar. We spent a day exploring Granada together, my new favorite place, and ended the night back home in Malaga at a flamenco show. She invited me to a beautiful rooftop bar with her friends and we wandered around the city together again. When my parents came to visit, the four of us explored Marbella.
As we arrived at the airport together on our last day, about to take flights far away from each other, I was truly sad. We had become hermanas.
Overtime we had developed our own way of communicating in three languages: Spanish, Italian, and English. We had our own saying, “Google knows,” because we relied on it to speak with nuance. Federica pushed me to get out of my comfort zone with the Spanish language and was always very encouraging.
Every day during an EF Gap Year is completely different; join Allison as she takes us through an average day on program in sunny Malaga, Spain.
Wake up and get ready.
Go to the really nice gym next door, where I drop my stuff off in the locker room and head upstairs to do workout for approximately 45 minutes.
After I've finished exercising, I shower and change for the day in the gym showers (we were not allowed to use the shower in the morning at my homestay).
Next I go to the grocery store down the road to grab breakfast food and snacks. The lines here are always long.
Then I head home to eat my meal, yogurt with muesli, and my check phone.
Say "hello" to my host mom on the way out the door, then begin my 3-minute walk to the EF Language Campus in perfect, sunny weather.
Classes at the EF International Language Center Malaga campus.
My first class of the day is Level B1.1 Grammar; I complete partner exercises and assigned sections of the workbook, only speaking Spanish—no other languages are allowed in class!
In the break between classes, I run to the sandwich shop to get a turkey sandwich on a baguette, eating on the way back and finishing up in the courtyard behind the school building.
I end up being a bit late for my next class, but the teacher understands–it's more grammar with the same instructor, but this class is more fun with creative exercises. We sit at the picnic tables out front for part of the class.
Then it's time for my third class, where we're walking around town asking locals themed questions they'd answer on a sheet of paper, which involved going into stores and along the beach; we often were ignored or turned down, but always found a few kind people help.
Done with classes for the day.
I wait outside to join the school-offered activity: today, it’s a hike to the top of San Anton!
I leave with a group of other EF students from the school, none of which I had previously met, to walk inland and up through the streets; eventually, we run out of the road and take to the trail, following an EF staff member to the top where we admire the view of the Mediterranean Sea, Malaga City, and the mountains before walking back down to campus.
After, I head home and relax in my room after an exhausting hike, talking with my roommate when she gets home.
Dinner with host mom and roommates.
My host mom serves sausage patties and rice with corn.
I change for the night and then leave for one of the local bars by the beach with my roommates; we sit with friends and watch the European Cup, drinking strawberry daiquiris and snacking on lots of free popcorn.
Head back home and get ready for bed.
Allison's EF Gap programs took her to Costa Rica, Spain, and so many places in between; here she reflects on the special moments and revelations that happen between the monuments.
What destination would you go back to first?
“It only took a single day for me to decide that Granada was in my top three favorite places in all the world. It’s stunning! I traveled there with a group of EF Language students and staff in June 2021; thankfully, the crowds were a bit smaller than usual due to the past year of COVID, but the city was still lively.
Upon arriving in Granada, we passed a church with a cool classic car pulling up to it; inside was a bride-to-be in a beautiful dress. The church sat next to the Darro River that runs along and below the main road, which was just wide enough for a car to go by people squeezing next to the buildings to get out of the way.
We continued to a lookout and enjoyed a view with a beautiful contrast of the historic Alhambra on the left, and tons of Spanish homes with terracotta-tiled roofs on the right.
I headed over to the Granada Cathedral with a few friends and the architecture nerd in me was so happy! The cathedral was so simplistic and bright, yet its grand and beautiful columns dwarfed us in comparison. Due to the time crunch, we had to speed through the streets back to grab a quick lunch and meet up with the rest of the group.
Next up was our tour of the Alhambra. I’m obsessed! It has some of the most beautiful gardens and landscape architecture I’ve ever seen: meticulously kept shrubbery, dynamic fountains, ivy-covered walls, and paths designed so that visitors could flow effortlessly through the site. The architecture itself was stunning, with clear Muslim and Christian influence. The structures had countless arches, walls covered in intricate carved patterns, varied styles of columns, and gardens of their own.
I could go on and on about the views there, but I’ve got a camera roll full of pictures that would do it more justice.
This is the place I want to return to, not only because it’s pretty, but because I didn’t have enough time to really enjoy the city. I couldn’t enjoy a local relaxing lunch or wander through side streets with no destination in mind. But I’m not too worried–I have a feeling I’ll make it back one day.”
What destination from your program felt least familiar, and what place felt most like home?
“Staying on a sustainable farm in the middle of Costa Rica was the least similar to home. It was awesome–seriously, so cool! And it couldn’t be more different from where I’m sitting now, in my own room in the suburbs of Ohio, relatively separated from nature and the things I consume.
On the farm, I stayed in a bunkhouse with shared bathrooms and rooms so small that two standing suitcases took up nearly the entire floor space: there was no air conditioning, no place to set things, no windowpanes, no driveway out front with cars, and no service. I could hear almost every noise, from people talking to the sounds of the rainforest.
The dining table here wasn’t downstairs–I had to walk along a path, passing pretty trees and flowers to get there. My food was coming from the place I was living, and every plant and animal around was thriving. Although this place was completely different from my home in Ohio, I felt at home; it just seemed natural for me to be there. I was completely comfortable and happy.”
When was a time you impressed yourself on your adventures?
“When my parents came to visit me during my last week in Malaga for their 20th anniversary, I was able to order them dinner and give them suggestions on what to do. The roles were reversed, and I had to kind of help them along. Having them around caused me to reflect on who I was the last time they saw me, almost three months prior: I could walk around town by myself with full confidence, something that would have made me anxious before. I had cemented myself in this new place so far away from home and I was happy to share that with them; it was awesome to see how much I’d grown in such a short time, and I was really proud of myself for that.”
When did you first feel like a global citizen?
“I have this great picture of five hands holding up five passports, each from a different country, with the historic Rock of Gibraltar in the background. That picture includes passports from the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland.
My friend from the Netherlands invited me to join her and her friends on a day trip; we did the long, hot hike to the top together and I almost forgot we were from various places at all! Bonding with the four other girls was so natural and we had a lot in common: we complained while walking up the seemingly endless steep stairs, laughed at the monkeys that would mess with tourists who got too close, and took in the view of Africa across the Mediterranean Sea together.
Afterwards, we came across a snack shop back down in the city, filled with a bunch of different types of candy. I was familiar with most; the other girls, though, had never tasted many of them. They were so excited to finally have the chance to try Sour Patch Kids! It reminded me that I had just spent the day in a group with five different nationalities represented–before I traveled, I only had friends from the United States. I really felt like a global citizen then: I was on another continent, enjoying a day with people from around the world.”
What's something you bought on your travels for yourself?
“As you might guess, Costa Rican fashion is not the same as Spanish fashion. After I arrived in Spain from my two months in Costa Rica, I quickly realized my tiny rolling wardrobe built for the heat and tree-planting was not going to cut it: I walked around beautiful architecture in flip flops and even took them off while walking down a hill next to a castle–people tend to look at you weird for that.
When I wore the same jeans shorts three days in a row, I realized it was time to go shopping.
Most people would be excited to get a new wardrobe in Spain–I was not. I did not want to spend multiple afternoons shopping on a street I’d seen so many times when I could be exploring new places. Unfortunately, I was desperate. And, to my surprise, it was actually kind of fun!
Along with some basics, I purchased a dress that accompanied me through the gardens of the Alhambra, another that climbed to the top of Gibraltar, and a romper that attended a flamenco show and had a couple drinks watching soccer. Most importantly, I bought a pair of cute white sneakers that carried me through all of these experiences and more, without making me look like an idiot in flip flops.”
What's something you purchased on your travels for someone else?
“My parents and I were wandering around the center of Malaga; as we were about to pass this cute artisan shop that I’d noticed a few times before, I told them I’d always wanted to stop in, but was always with a group on the move. We were heading to find some lunch, so I wasn’t expecting to stop in, but they were up for it. Because the building was made of stone and lacked windows to see inside, when we walked inside, I was amazed by all the beautiful art that filled the space: photographs, paintings, ceramics, pottery, jewelry, and more!
The three of us had so much fun marveling at the different works in the store, all finding ourselves drawn to a specific collection of painted pottery. After talking to the woman who worked there, we found out that her family made these pieces and she happily helped us pick out our favorites. My brother was still back in the States, so we choose something for him; after quite a bit of deliberation, we decided on an adorable baby bull. The piece has a youthful, energetic feel to it, which is perfect for him.”
How did your EF Gap Year experience prepare you for college? For your career?
“I feel more mature than my peers at Ohio State and learned to trust my decision-making. I now know I’m brave enough to take risks, spend some extra time understanding what I really want, and create my own unique path to get there.”
Discover your own best-year-yet with an EF Gap Year, Semester, or Short-Term program today. With a range of program lengths, diverse focuses, and endless destinations to choose from: there's a program for every student.
Helen, seasoned traveler and EF Gap Year alum, offers her advice on how to live in the moment while traveling abroad—advice that she practiced personally…