Three weeks in Spain isn’t a bad way to spend the summer.
This summer, a group of St. Mary’s girls accompanied by Señora Rosenberg had the opportunity to explore the beautiful Spanish coastal town of Alicante. After over 30 hours of airplanes, bus rides and delays, we arrived at the bus station in Alicante at 1:00 in the morning. While I was extremely excited to be in a new, exciting place, I was experiencing a typical feeling for students participating in an immersion experience: anxiety about being in a completely unfamiliar country and culture. However, most of us began to feel at home when our kind and welcoming host moms greeted us with open arms and showed us around our new apartments.
Exactly seven hours later, we woke up and went to our first day of school at Estudio Sampere in Alicante. Our teachers were excellent, and while we learned many important grammar rules, we also participated in enjoyable activities that simulated real world situations we would encounter in Spain like ordering at a restaurant, shopping or renting an apartment. While it is important to learn grammar and conjugations, the real “heart” of the program was learning about authentic Spanish life.
Our weekdays in Spain began with school, which we attended from 9:00 to 12:15. Following school, we returned to our apartments for “la comida,” or the lunchtime meal. We were given free time after lunch, during which many of us spent time at the beach, getting ice cream or delicious crepes from Borgonesse or simply exploring the city. We then had our daily excursion with Estudio Sampere, which included tours of Alicante, flamenco classes, beach trips and countless other activities unique to Spanish culture. Rachel Beem (11) was a student on the trip, and she explained, “The school gave us great experiences with the excursions, but we also had free time to experience Spanish culture on our own.” The balance of scheduled outings and leisure was perfect in giving us an authentic Spain experience.
One of the most memorable excursions was our visit to the Castillo (castle) de Santa Barbara, from which we could see an incredible view of Alicante and the Mediterranean Sea. After our daily excursion, we had more free time until “la cena,” which was dinnertime, usually with our host families. Since many of us stayed in our apartments with girls from other countries, such as Switzerland, France, or Italy, the dinner table was a great way to get to know our other roommates who were also in Spain to learn Spanish. Speaking to them in Spanish was extremely beneficial to the immersion experience, along with speaking in Spanish with our host moms. After dinner, we were free until curfew at 10:30. This was usually our time to get ice cream and further explore the city.
During the weekends, our group had the opportunity to make day trips to some of the most beautiful spots I have seen in my years of traveling. One Saturday, we took an hour-long bus ride to Guadalest and Los Fuentes de Algar where we swam in breathtaking spring pools surrounded by rocks at the bottom of waterfalls. We also took a Saturday trip to Cartagena, a port city and naval base dating back to 220 B.C. The following Sunday, we had a relaxing day with Señora Rosenberg at the beaches of San Juan, which were a short metro trip from Alicante. Along with experiencing the surrounding areas, we got to experience the lively culture of Alicante during its biggest festival: Las Hogueras de San Juan, or the bonfires of St. John.
During this festival, Alicante was packed; it was extremely difficult to even walk around, especially at night. There were bonfires, parades and fireworks, and the entire town seemed to be out all night. The culmination of the festival was “La Crema,” or the burning of the cardboard and wood monuments that had been built and displayed around Alicante for the week. Following the burning, firemen sprayed the crowd with their fire hoses until everyone was soaked, which was especially fun for the young people of Alicante. We truly experienced the energetic, lively nature of Spain as Alicante really came to life during the week of the festival.
Simply learning about the way Spanyards live life was one of my favorite parts of the trip. When I reflect on our three weeks in Alicante, I am reminded of the carefree and upbeat atmosphere and people of Spain. Although teenagers in Spain have usual responsibilities, they also realize the importance of taking time to enjoy themselves. This could be going to the beach or simply spending time with others. As we get caught up in our busy lives, I believe we should follow this example. As Beem continued to discuss the trip, she expressed her admiration of the Spanish community by saying “I loved how they lived in the moment and enjoyed life every day.”
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