Spanish experience memorable for students

Posted on: Jul 2, 2018

Spanish experience memorable for students

A dozen Delano High School students honed their speech skills and broadened their cultural horizons with a 10-day trip to Spain this past spring.
 
“In a small way, what I’m trying to do is open the kids’ eyes up to the world around them,” said Spanish instructor John Fitzer, who has led at least eight trips to Spain since 1999. “When I pick the kids up from the week with their host families a lot of them will look at me and say, ‘I learned more in five days with my family than I have in three years with you, senior.’ I say, ‘Thank you. That’s what I want to hear.’
 
“I tell my students that you can’t learn a language in a classroom. You can learn generally how to speak a language and I can have them hear native speakers and do activities where they’re talking on their own, but until you’re in it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you’re bombarded with it, you’re not going to really learn it.”
 
The group flew into Madrid on March 31, viewed a historic aqueduct in Segovia and spent another night in Madrid before heading to Castellon to meet with host families for a five-day stay. Each student lived with a separate family in order to be fully immersed in the Spanish culture.
 
“Staying with the family was my favorite part,” said senior Paige Grover. “I was really nervous going into it, but as soon as I was with the family I just kind of fit into their lifestyle and really learned a lot of Spanish. In the beginning I started out speaking half Spanish, half English. Toward the end I was able to speak full conversations with them. So it was really beneficial.”
 
Senior Steven Hajas had a head start, having gone a previous Spanish language trip to Costa Rica as a sophomore, but he ended up polishing his skills significantly as well.
 
“It was really fun because I thought I had a pretty firm grasp of Spanish. Then I went and I had no clue what they were saying,” he said. “They slowed it down, and they spoke pretty good English so we were able to talk about and forth. By the end of the trip I was talking very fluent Spanish with them. Just staying with them for a few days, talking with them, you were able to pick up Spanish quickly.”
 
Senior Eva Sundheim had a different experience. Many of those in the group were in the college-level DHS Spanish course, but Sundheim was more of a beginner in Level 2. Her host family was eager to practice English, an arrangement that suited Sundheim just fine.
 
“I had a host sister who was 16, and her and her friends wanted to get better at English. So I ended up teaching a lot more English, which I was happy with,” she said.
 
Fitzer said that while students typically improve their Spanish significantly on the trip, the overall objective is much broader.
 
“Some schools don’t allow students to take trips like this until they’re done with Level 3 or Level 4,” he said. “My attitude is that whatever Spanish they have, they’ll go with a family that has the right amount of English. The bigger picture is not the language, but the cultural aspect.”
 
Life in Spain
Sundheim, Hajas and Grover had all traveled abroad before, but Sundheim said the food in Spain was unexpectedly exotic. Hajas said some of the dishes included snail and octopus.
 
“They were all home-cooked and delicious, but they were just super different. They eat a lot of seafood,” said Sundheim. “Things were more sour and the textures were almost gelatin. Every food I tried was really odd.”
 
Beyond meals, Grover said the overall lifestyle was an adjustment. She spent time walking the village of Torreblanca her host family, accompanying them on daily tasks like grocery shopping, and hanging out with her host sister’s friends.
 
“We didn’t get up until about 10 a.m. We ate breakfast, then we had lunch at 2, and dinner at 10,” she said. “Everything about the culture is more relaxed. They’re not nearly as busy. They eat every meal with their family. Overall, it was just so different from here, so it was just fun to walk around. We went to the beach. I spent a lot of time with her friends too, so I was able to meet a lot of other kids there.”
 
Hajas, who stayed in Benicassim, was impressed with the architecture, the stone streets, and the personable nature of those he encountered.
 
“They have a really interesting culture over there,” he said. “The openness of people is not something you see here, just the way people greet each other and talk. You’d talk with them and it felt like you had known them for a while, not like you had just met them.”
 
Students also remarked on the beautiful countryside, the comparative prevalence of smoking and alcohol in the culture, the absence of single-family homes, trash alongside highways while city streets were carefully washed every evening, an ornate but empty church except for tourists on Easter, and a much different attitude toward care for vehicles.
 
“Their cars are not like a prized possession, so when they’re parallel parking they will back up and hit the car behind them, then pull forward and hit the car in front of them,” said Sundheim with a laugh. “All the cars have paint coming off, scrapes and dents, and they don’t mind.”
 
Other highlights included travel by train, museums, a flamenco show in Madrid and a pair of days in Barcelona before the return flight on April 9.
 
“The whole trip, every part of it, was fun,” said Hajas. “We had a small group, so we all got to know each other a lot better. We were talking about it on the way back. It felt like we had been there for six months, just living in Spain.”