WCD students take summer trip to Spain
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 15, 2013 1:50 AM
Wayne Country Day School students typically start taking a foreign language as early as kindergarten.
But that doesn't necessarily mean when they reach high school, it'll be easier visiting a country where that language is spoken.
Seven students, accompanied by Headmaster Todd Anderson, spent a month over the summer in Madrid and Spain, living in host families' homes and immersed in the language and local culture.
"I felt prepared," senior Jacob Parks said. "The best way to learn the language is to practice it. So when I got there, I didn't really have much trouble."
"I think for the rest of us it was a bit of a shock that first weekend," senior Karis Hawkins admitted.
The whirlwind month featured many things beyond seeing the sights -- learning about the host country while sharing about the USA, going to cafes and adapting to wearing a swimming cap while swimming.
Food was definitely an issue from the outset, the group said.
"It was really hard ordering food," senior Maryanna Mitchell said.
"We never knew what we were getting for food," her classmate, Kennedy Dalton said. "The first day I was living off of bread."
Her back-up plan was a dependable staple that worked at home -- Easy Mac, microwavable cups of macaroni and cheese.
The strangest dish they encountered, Jacob said, was Spanish rice with a yellow sauce and shrimp -- eyes and all, he said. For Kennedy it was the large "pig leg" on the dinner table one night.
Churros and chocolate, however, received rave reviews.
The group was spread out all over the area of Ronda, perhaps known because Ernest Hemingway once stayed there and Madonna had made a video there in 1994 for her song "Take a Bow," about a Spanish bullfighter.
"Every morning we had a photo picture view," Jacob said of the impressive scenery.
Weekdays were spent in school, learning the Spanish and accompanied by their host families' children.
While it was a challenge getting to know a new family, especially ones that spoke little or no English, the students bonded with their hosts and developed warm relationships.
"My brother was going to an emergent trip to England right after I got done," Jacob said of his host family's son. "He was about like me going into a situation."
"We did a lot of charades," Maryanna said of overcoming the language barrier.
"If we didn't understand something, they would get close and like yell," Kennedy said with a laugh.
"Mine wouldn't slow down," Maryanna said. "They'd just yell louder."
The group said they enjoyed taking in the culture, from figuring out whether to pull for Madrid or Barcelona in the soccer playoffs, to watching their hosts' relatives participating in a flamenco dance. And the "excursions," affording them the opportunity to be tourists from local sights like cave drawings and waterfalls to visiting Turifa, just six miles away from Africa.
"Gibraltar was literally the worst place, though," Jacob said.
"I got attacked by a monkey," Kennedy said. She explained that the group had been forewarned with a litany of rules that included not smiling at the animals and forbidding loose bags or anything the monkeys might grab.
They were reassured that nothing typically happens, but she said she was not convinced.
"Well, it would happen to me," she said. "A guy was trying to feed the monkey. The monkey decided to grab onto me and hold on. It was like (the size of) a man. All the monkeys were jumping up and down."
The trip also provided poignant moments.
"I had the hardest time with my family. Two days before I left I had to help them put down their dog," Jacob said. "I feel like it was part of my family, too, because every time I would walk in, that dog would greet me."
"It was crazy because we were part of all that that was going on," Kennedy said. "Everybody was affected by it."
The day the students' visit came to an end also proved to be a sad one, several said. A caravan of students and their respective host families all trekked down to the train station.
"I didn't think I was gonna cry but I was the first one to cry," Jacob said.
It was a memorable opportunity, the students agreed -- about differences and similarities, cultural diversity and yet commonality.
"We probably did everything wrong but in the end they just totally accepted us," Kennedy said.
The students said they continue to keep in touch with their newfound friends, through Twitter, Facebook and Skype.
And yes, they did improve on their foreign language skills.
"I feel like I can tackle Spanish a lot better," Jacob said. "Not only for developing an ear for it but listening so much. It's kind of helped us get more prepared for going to college or taking the AP exam."