An abrupt transition from the vibrant city of Madrid to the suburban county of Marin wasn’t easy for junior Elena Smith Pablos, but the transfer student has adapted to the significant changes she encountered in her move. Pablos was born in Madrid, Spain, where she lived until the beginning of this school year when she moved in with a homestay family in Marin for the year. After her first week here, she noted that there are many cultural differences between Spanish and U.S. high schools, sports competition and general way of life.
“I’ve always wanted to be an exchange student because of the English language, and also American movies—living the American teenage dream,” Pablos said. “I think that’s what moved me here.”
Despite the many differences between her high school in Spain and her current life at Redwood, Pablos has made a smooth transition into the community. She recently made the girls’ varsity tennis team, and has since been welcomed into the tennis community. According to Redwood tennis coach Charles Fager, Pablos is a great asset on the team.
“I met Elena during our tryouts and I didn’t know her at all. She was as friendly as can be; she came up to me and talked about playing tennis in Spain,” Fager said. “She works hard, she’s a good tennis player and she’s been fitting in beautifully with the girls. It’s amazing to watch a kid come in and just fit in immediately.”
Fager believes that Pablos adds a unique quality to the Redwood tennis team because Spain holds cultural associations to the sport. Many famous tennis players, such as Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, served as influences for Pablos growing up.
“I absolutely think her Spanish culture influences the team and the girls individually, because Spain has a huge tennis culture with superstar tennis players all from Spain,” Fager said.
Although Pablos considers herself a dedicated member of the tennis team, she has noticed that athletes in American public schools compete at a higher level of competition than in Spain.
“In general, sports here are way harder than in Spain. Students here take the high school life very seriously. Here you work very hard on your activities. Tennis is more competitive here, and sports like football are even more competitive,” Pablos said.
Although Pablos has found common ground with her new peers with regards to playing tennis, other aspects of the daily lifestyle in Marin are vastly different than in Spain.
“The meal times are different and teenagers can drive at a younger age, because in Spain you have to be 18,” Pablos said. “Nightlife and curfew are totally different; in Spain, we spend more time in the streets with our friends, but here you go to specific places with your car and you go to the mall or wherever. In Spain we just walk, walk, walk.”
Pablos has also noticed variation between the school environment in Spain and Marin. The differences lie in school size and classes composed of mixed grade levels.
“Redwood is about four times bigger than my Spanish high school. Redwood also offers many sports and clubs, which we don’t have in Spain,” Pablos said. “The classes here are sometimes mixed with students of different grade levels, but in Spain, we only share classes with people of our own age, and that’s the biggest difference.”
Pablos has not only adjusted to the different environment, but she has become involved in the Spanish department as well by becoming a teacher’s assistant for Anna Alsina, who teaches Spanish 7-8. Alsina is Spanish herself and moved from Spain to California in 2007, which was a similar experience to Pablos’.
“Moving to California from Spain was a big adjustment. I was out of my comfort zone and what I had always known,” Alsina said.
Alsina met Pablos when she asked to be a teacher’s assistant on the first day of school, because Pablos knew she was Spanish. Alsina thought that she would be a great asset to have in the class, as her native Spanish-speaking abilities would allow her to collaborate with the students.
“I consider myself a mentor to Elena because Elena is always welcome to talk to me. I really want her to be happy here, and if I could help with that, I would love it,” Alsina said.
Moving to a foreign country, transferring schools, speaking a different language and living with a homestay family is something that both Alsina and Pablos have experienced.
“I can relate to her because I was actually an exchange student my third year of high school, so I know how it feels to be a teenager living abroad without your family,” Alsina said. “She seems to be dealing with the adjustment very well and enjoying it here.”
Pablos explained that the large student population at Redwood made her feel more comfortable, because most Redwood students do not know everyone in their grade level, making it easier for Pablos to integrate and socialize with her peers. According to Pablos, Redwood students have been welcoming and kind, and she feels as if she has already found a home inside Redwood’s community.
“Something that my old school had that I liked better than Redwood was … nothing basically. This school is way better,” Pablos said. “Redwood offers so many sports and clubs and gives students an opportunity. All the people I have met are very open-minded and accepting.”