Spain trip aims to immerse students in culture

FLAMENCO-SPANISH ITINERARYRarely are high school students given the opportunity to explore a sprawling castle, sightsee at a famous aqueduct or travel to one of the world’s most famous museums. Alongside a rigorous academic experience, the upcoming trip to Spain hopes to deliver in both the educational and worldly categories.

From Feb. 14 through Feb. 28, a group of students taking Spanish at level two or above will be attending classes and living with host families in Salamanca, Spain. In a geographical, academic and life-skills sense, the trip aims to provide a novel experience that can be hard to come by without leaving Brookline. At the same time, it hopes to live up to the high standards of the previous Spanish trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico, in its own distinct way.

Spanish teacher and trip coordinator Ric Calleja spoke highly of the Mexico trip for its connection to history and the strong relationship that has been built with the school there over the past 30 years. However, he said that he is excited for the group to experience something different than before.

“Salamanca has the element of newness; it’s going to be a new thing and that’s always exciting,” Calleja said. “But it also promises to be rewarding. We’re using the model of the Mexico trip, which has been successful, so we’re going to see if we can make this a success as well.”

According to Spanish teacher Pedro Mendez, another leader of the trip, the world language department will alternate between Spain and Mexico annually in the future.

Calleja said that the structure of this year’s trip will be very similar to the one to Mexico. Students will attend rigorous morning classes of Spanish four days a week before heading out on group expeditions later in the day, with even larger excursions on the weekends.

According to Mendez, one of the most valuable parts of the trip is the encounters the students will have with people from another culture, especially their host families.

“They are going to have a real experience with real people who might not speak English to communicate, so they are going to be pushed beyond their comfort zone to communicate with them,” Mendez said. “The expectation is also that students are going to spend time with families; families are going to invite them to different events. That is a real life experience.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.14.08 AM

According to Calleja, Mendez and trip leader, Spanish teacher Marta Fuertes, they have done a lot of work to prepare. This includes constant communication with the Ledra-Hispanica school in Spain, amassing documents, preparing passports and recruiting students. All students applying to the trip were required to write an essay and receive a good recommendation from their teachers.

Senior Felice Liang, who takes AP Spanish Language and Culture, finds that the experience of traveling to a new country has an even greater appeal than the chance to improve language skills.

“I think it’s a lot more about exploring than learning Spanish. Anybody who is in Spanish II or above is eligible for the trip, so that gives a large variety of students the opportunity to come,” Liang said. “Even through that you can see that the trip is mainly meant for getting to know Spain and Spanish culture.”

Senior Shahar Amitay, another student of AP Spanish Language and Culture, believes the trip is more embedded in cultivating Spanish skills than immersion into a new culture.

“Right now, it’s more about learning because we’re actually going to go there and study for four hours every day,” Amitay said. “It’s less about the bonding and the traveling and exploring; it’s more about garnering a fluency in Spanish.”

According to Liang, a trip like this is a large financial undertaking for the school and thus requires a lot of fundraising. Liang has contributed to this effort by designing t-shirts for sale and helping with the International Dinner fundraiser, which took place Jan. 22 in the MLK room. In addition, a raffle is going up in the hopes of raising more money.

While Amitay was thankful for the academic and explorative benefits of the trip to Spain, he said that one of its greatest benefits is in how it enhances the language department. Amitay believes that the trip, among the others to countries such as Italy and China, will bring strength and seriousness to the department.

“You’re reaching out to more countries across the world and kind of making Brookline more reputable,” Amitay said. “You’re giving it a better reputation, better kind of system in the world, so that’s definitely a really important aspect of this trip.”

Jake Brodsky can be contacted at [email protected]com