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Practicing Spanish in Spain

In November, a group of Colorado Academy students traveled to Madrid, Spain and attended school at the Colegio Virgen de Europa in a language immersion and exchange program. They were accompanied by Daniel Lopez, Director of Global Travel and Exchange, and Upper School Spanish teacher Lisa Todd. Junior Meilani Cole shared some of her experiences with us.

Why did you choose to travel with the Colorado Academy group to Spain?

I had always heard about CA trips, like the one to Scotland in Lower School and others in Middle School, but I never took advantage of them. But I have really developed a love for learning Spanish, so a Spanish immersion trip intrigued me.

To what do you attribute your interest in learning Spanish?

I had Ms. Hill for Spanish, and I could really relate to her teaching style. It’s so interactive! Most of the time we were walking around the classroom talking in Spanish or singing songs, and that really forces us to use our language skills. So that led me to want to try my skills in Spain.

Did you have a chance to practice Spanish on the trip?

Definitely! I got a lot of practice. I was staying with a host family, paired with their daughter who is a little younger than I am. They were so welcoming and sweet to me, but when I first got there, I was a bit in shock and stumbling with words. But every day I became more fluent and more comfortable in the language. And getting to know my exchange family was the high point of the trip, and by the end of the trip, we were very close.

And you also went to a Spanish school?

Yes. It was very different from CA. Most of the classes were lectures, and the teachers spoke very quickly so it was a challenge to understand. There was one class in English, Philosophy. We were studying “What does it mean to be human?”

What was your impression of Spanish people during your travels?

Everyone was really overwhelmingly friendly. People were immediately willing to go out of their way to help us. One day we were shopping for chocolate in a store, and we asked another couple for help. They stopped what they were doing and made sure we bought something that they thought we would really like. Their kindness seemed very genuine.

Were you able to travel around the country?

Yes. We were based in Bodilla, which is about 30 minutes outside Madrid, so we also went into Madrid. And we traveled to Segovia, which I will absolutely never forget.

Why did Segovia make such an impression?

We visited the Roman aqueduct that still exists there. I remember standing on the top and seeing how the aqueduct curves around throughout the city. It looked so cool. It was built so long ago, in the first century, with no mortar to even hold it together, so it was amazing to me. It defies gravity. I kept thinking, “How could it still be standing?”

Any other part of the trip that you won’t forget?

Oh, the food! All of the food was so wonderful. I originally thought that tapas was a specific food, but I learned that tapas is a concept, like appetizers. And the very best was churros con chocolate. You have a long, thin pastry, and they give you a cup of thick melted chocolate and you dip the churro into it. It was so warm and good.

Are there advantages to traveling with a group from CA?

Going with a group gave me the opportunity to spend time with people in different grades that I would never have met otherwise, and now I am friends with them. Also, having people around that I knew gave me an occasional outlet to speak English. Language immersion is really immersion, and to know there were people from CA going through the same thing was comforting. Ms.Todd was a huge help during the trip. In the best way possible, she took on a motherly role for all of us, making sure everyone was happy and comfortable with our families. She was always there for us if we ever had a question.

Would you recommend the trip to other students?

If you are really serious about improving your Spanish and willing to try new experiences, this is a great trip. You are living with a family you have never met before, speaking Spanish all the time, so you have to be okay with making mistakes. At first, I was nervous about speaking the language, but I got over it, and my Spanish was better by the time I left. I had even developed a new accent!

In March, the daughter of the family with whom Meilani stayed will travel to Denver to attend CA and visit Colorado.