Studying in Spain:
Allegra Molkenthin’s Unique Start to Sophomore Year

More by Amanda Sload - 11/12

Allegra Molkenthin is a loyal friend, hockey player, flautist, tennis player, loving sister, amateur harmonica player, marine biology enthusiast, smiling optimist, braid wearer, expert doodler, and typical 15-year-old girl. However, for the first few months of her sophomore year, she’s also a sister to not only her sister at home, but to a pair of Spanish twins and their little brother. She’s currently a student, and part of a family, in Godella a suburb of Valencia, Spain.

Molkenthin’s mother went on an exchange to France with her school when she herself was fifteen. Her mother always talked about the amazing experience she had and still is in contact with her host family and so Allegra had been hoping against the odds for the opportunity to have a similar experience since she was little. It never seemed like it was actually going to happen. But, once I figured out that there was actually a possibility, I jumped on it because I wanted the opportunity to travel, try new things, and have new experiences,” she said.

Trying to learn any foreign language is hard: ask anyone struggling in a language course here at DHS. However, many can’t even imagine being immersed in the language 24/7 like Molkenthin is. Her family doesn’t speak English to her and all her school is in Spanish. The books she reads are in Spanish, the TV she watches in Spanish, even when she’s trying to learn Physics, it’s in Spanish. Though difficult, it’s proved hugely beneficial for her Spanish language ability, especially in comprehension. “At first I couldn’t really understand anything. Just recently, and it’s about the halfway point of my trip, I’ve started to understand practically everything and my speaking is getting there. Besides the one hour a day when the other students are in English class, and I’m actually reading Spanish then, everything is in Spanish.”

Something that has made the transition and overall experience a little bit easier for her is the fact that her host sister, Ana, stayed with her family over the summer for about a month. Ana swam at her swim club, went to her house in Nantucket with her family, and did all the necessary touristy things in New York City. Knowing at least one member of the family she was staying with helped Molkenthin know she was going to have a good time.

Ana has enjoyed having having Mokenthin visit, just as Molkenthin enjoyed when Ana visited the US. Ana has a twin brother, Carlos, and a brother, Pepe, who is 12. She’s never had a sister before or shared a room, and she’s enjoyed doing those things, as well as being able to “show her my city and have her meet my friends, and introduce her to the Spanish schedule. It’s nice getting to know someone really well who is not normally in your life,” said Ana. Molkenthin and Ana have both gotten a lot out of each other’s company and learning about each other’s lives.

One of Allegra’s sisters at home, Christina, and eighth grader at Middlesex, misses Allegra, but she’s really happy that Allegra’s getting to have such great experiences. It makes her want to do something similar. Allegra is learning so much about another culture, it makes me want to go abroad. She has such fun stories about what they are eating, how gym class is at the high school, and says that seeing Obama and Romney on TV with dubbed Spanish is hysterical,” said Christina.

Though she has her family in Spain, she obviously misses her “family, all [her] friends, and DHS as a whole”. However, making friends overseas is one of the best things about her experience so far. There are only 25 kids in her grade in the school, and they all have almost all their classes as a group, so she’s been able to get to know a lot of the other students, not just her host brother and sister, very well. Being able to experience the culture first-hand is another really intriguing aspect for her.

Molkethin’s friends at home miss her, too. Sophomore Kate Halabi, a long-time friend of Molkethin’s, had similar feelings to Molkethins sister, Christina. Halabi said, “She’s one of my closest friends and I miss seeing her at school and talking to her, but I’m so glad she has such a unique opportunity! I’m sure the cultural contrast between the US and Spain is fascinating.” Though her friends and family miss her greatly, they understand what a great experience she’s having and hope she gets a lot out of studying there. 

She’s not just studying, though. Molkenthin has been in a tennis clinic at the local sports club and has also been participating in some of her brother and sister’s morning swim practices to supplement the biweekly tennis. “It’s cool- you get there when it’s pitch black out and then while you’re swimming, the sun comes up and shines in the glass windows and into the water. I like it. It’s just a long day,” said Molkenthin.

The schedule that people follow in Spain is very different from what we tend to follow in the US. Everyting is shifted back later. A typical (and busy) day for Allegra is as follows:

8:10: Allegra and her siblings wake up, make their beds, and have a typical Spanish breakfast- a meal of milk (chocolate milk for Allegra), and a platter of little pastries and little chocolate “breakfasty-cake”. Toast with butter and jelly or aufete, a type of oil. “It’s light compared to what else they eat… they eat a lot here!”
9:00: School starts: they walk the approximately five minutes to their school
9:00-11:00: First two (one hour each) classes
11-00-11:30: Small break, called jardin (garden). You can bring a sandwich if you want or buy one at the cafeteria. She always has her “jamón” sandwich, which has become somewhat of a joke within her family.
11:30-2:00: Three more classes, each a little less than an hour
2:00-3:00: First another jardin, followed by lunch. “We have our assigned seats at our tables, and it’s basically like a restaurant- three courses. We’re even served everything on glass plates.” The first course is generally a soup or salad, and the main course is usually chicken or meat, even calamari. “One day we had a typical Spanish pizza, which is nothing like American pizza, although it’s the same idea.” Dessert is last, which could be anything from cream puffs to ice cream, pudding to flan.
3:00-5:00: Two more classes
5:00-5:10: Snack at school
5:10-6:10 Three times a week, they attend an optional after school class such as English (where Molkenthin does more Spanish) or technology
6:15: Generally home from school, they start homework
7:45: Go to club for tennis/swimming
10:30: Get home from club, eat dinner, finish homework
11:30: In bed, although sometimes it ends up being later

When she has the occasional moment of free time, it’s rarely spent just hanging out. She’s been out to visit the parents of both her host mother and father. Also, one part of Valencia is called la Cuidad de los Artes y las Ciencias. There, there’s an aquarium that they visited, a huge sports arena being built, a science and art museum, a planetarium, and a garden similar to the park, all with modern buildings. Molkenthin has spent time there with her family as well as friends.

Since her birthday fell under her time in Spain, Molkenthin went to the art and science museum and later to a movie (“A Roma con Amor”) with some friends. That was fun because even though the movie itself wasn’t that good, I liked that could actually understand the movie in Spanish. I think it’s a lot easier to understand movies than television because television shows are ridiculously fast, but movies are reasonable speed-wise.” Then, there was a big dinner with all six girls that went to the movie and their parents.

Despite the fact that she can understand most of it, there is one thing that Molkenthin “can’t stand in television and the movies. Since most of them are originally American or British, all of the lip movement and the sound is off. It doesn’t match up and. I guess everyone here must be used to it, but… oi”.

So, next time you’re watching TV, in math class, or just hanging out with friends, think about doing it in Spanish. That’s what Allegra Molkenthin has done for the last two months, and she has loved every minute of it. Darien not only sends exchange students, but hosts them too! Meet Karoline Glad Want to learn about more DHS Students’ experiences abroad? Read about China Exchange!