Instead of learning about European history and culture from used textbooks in a college classroom, Tampa Preparatory School senior Wesley Wall will savor and absorb the world for himself.
Seville — a Spanish town surrounded by vineyards and orange groves, which vaunts the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world — is the place Wall will soon call home.
With high school graduation Sunday, the 18-year-old says he is not ready for college yet. He was accepted into Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., where he plans to study engineering someday. His father, Jim, is an engineer.
"I want to learn about myself," Wall said. "This is the first time I won't have my family safety net."
Wall will fly to Spain in September as part of the Gap Year Abroad program with the Council on International Educational Exchange. In Seville, he will live with a host family, take Spanish-language classes in the morning and volunteer as an English teacher in the afternoon.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of his favorite authors, once wrote that "action is character." Wall hopes to immerse himself in the culture, find his independence, and discover his interests and passions.
CIEE is a nongovernmental organization serving high school and college students, as well as graduates and educators, who want to study and teach abroad. The organization aims to establish international understanding and trust. It offers 118 study-abroad programs in 40 host countries, and programs to teach abroad in Chile, China, Spain and Thailand.
The Walls spent $20,000 for their son to participate.
"My husband and I feel it is an investment," said Wesley's mother, Jean Wall, 52, who is also the director of college counseling at Tampa Prep.
Her job is to counsel students on their college education, but she feels strongly that some graduates should take a "gap year."
As a former high school exchange student in Germany, not only did she propose that her son spend a year abroad, she also encourages others to do the same. She thinks people who take gap years come back more mature and focused and with a sense of independence.
"Your world view opens up so much," she said.
Wall, who habla un poco de Español, will experience Europe for the first time. However, he already has some mileage on him. He previously traveled to Canada, the Bahamas and spent a summer in a ranch in Australia.
A redheaded young man with freckles and a passion for sports, California beaches and Blink 182, he was editor-in-chief of Tampa Prep's newspaper, Terrapin Times, and played on the school soccer and baseball teams.
Soccer, which is considered either a religion or a cult in Europe — depending on whom you ask — will be a good way to meet people in Spain, he said.
But he also wants to learn new customs.
In Spain, he will be able to drink legally, and his mother is fine with that. The attitude toward alcohol is different overseas, she said.
Wall looks forward to his new adventure with only a touch of reluctance. He will miss the sense of security that comes with knowing what to expect. Mostly, he will miss his family and friends who, he says, are a little jealous.
"They will be working hard in college, while me, I'll be almost on vacation."
Mom's last-minute advice?
"Be open-minded, be safe, be smart — and wear your sunblock."
Alessandra Da Pra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.