Friendship beyond language at summer Spanish immersion trip


This past summer, eight Spanish-taking Pioneer students went on an educational “field trip.” Yet, instead of hopping on a yellow school bus, they boarded a plane headed to Salamanca, Spain. 

The two-week stay gave students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the Spanish culture. Although their high school Spanish courses augmented their language abilities through exams and routine practices, the immersion in the Spanish culture helped their skills reach another level. 

“You can do all the grammar studying you want, but the only way you’re ever going to learn is to go [to the country] and talk to people,” said Elijah Chapman, one of the seniors that went on the trip. 

Senior Maya Todd agreed, “I think it’s important to broaden your horizons and understand different cultures,” she said. “There’s only so much you can learn from a textbook.” 

Besides their intense studies, they were able to experience the nature of several other cities, such as Madrid and Toledo and even taking two Salsa classes offered by the school, “Colegio Delibes,” located in Salamanca, Spain. The school offers Spanish courses to foreign students of all ages and skill levels. “The school was for exchange students from all around the world,” said Chapman. Pioneer students met kids from China, France, Germany, Madagascar, the Middle East, and more. In most cases, the only common language amongst the students was Spanish, which pushed them to overcome the language barrier in order to have conversations. “We literally just talked all the time in Spanish,” said senior Emma Bullock, “I think that was probably the most beneficial Spanish class I’ve ever had.”  

Classes at Colegio Debiles started at 9am and went until 1pm. The time was split in half; first they  learned the mechanics of writing and grammar, and in the second half they simply had conversations on subjects, such as television shows. 

But what stuck with the students wasn’t just what they learned, it was the network of relationships that they created. Bullock even plans on going to Connecticut to reunite with her friends in November. 

Furthermore, Chapman still keeps in contact with dozens of British kids that he encountered in the middle of the town square as well as  his roommate who was from Japan.“I just wanted to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible,” he said. “I have a lot of friends from all over the world now that I wouldn’t otherwise have had if I didn’t go on this trip.” 

While Rita Lederer, the trip’s organizer and a Spanish teacher at Pioneer, was happy about the students’ newfound friends at the school, she wished that they had more opportunities to interact with native Spaniards. “We hoped they’d make Spanish friends,” she said, “It wasn’t an exchange where you really bond with one student and you interact with a Spanish speaking student.”

Even though the students stayed with Spanish host parents, the arrangement felt more like a hostel where they were simply provided housing and food. For example, Todd describes eating variations of just canned tuna everyday and exchanging one brief conversation with her host dad. However, this was not the case for every student. Chapman remembers going into depth about the difference in smoking cultures with his host mom. 

Although each student had a different experience on the trip, they all agree that living in a different country transformed their perspectives on the outside world as well as their personalities. Chapman believes that being pushed to survive in a foreign environment amplified the confidence within him, “You become more adaptable to whatever environment you’re in after you plunge in the deep end,” he said. In only two weeks, Chapman claims he underwent a transformation from a nervous foreigner to “a point where I didn’t even realize I was in a foreign environment.”

The lesson that Chapman took away from the trip and the message he hopes to convey to future travelers was, “Embrace yourself in another culture that’s outside what you know you’re comfortable with. Even if it’s to another English speaking country.”