By Hannah Becker, Greenheart Short-term Programs Assistant
Do you remember the first time you traveled overseas? A first time experience abroad can elicit a plethora of emotions – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, intimidation, and the list goes on. Many youth don’t know what to expect and that can be overwhelming, at first. However, the end result of the School to School Exchange Program for the group of high school students from East Aurora High School(EAHS) in New York proves that such opportunities can be life-changing.
Their journey started out in Madrid, where the thirteen high school students and their Spanish teacher spent several days enjoying the sights and culinary delights Spain’s capital has to offer. The next part of their trip took them to Saldana, Spain, the location of their partner school. Situated in the northern region of Castille-Leon, Saldana is a small town of 3,000 inhabitants. Here, the students were paired with a student at the local school, and were fully immersed in the Spanish culture through their homestay experience.
Their arrival in Saldana meant settling in with their new host families and…speaking Spanish! Any language learner will confess that no matter how many years you spend learning a language in the classroom, nothing compares to communicating in it with native speakers. Needless to say, no matter how short the experience, you will fine tune your oral and listening comprehension skills. Many of the students were very anxious about speaking Spanish beforehand, Keifer Tehan, a junior at EAHS, said of his first few days with his host family, “I was so nervous. I had to put all of my years of taking Spanish to the test and it paid off.”
The overall experience of living in another culture can be the most eye-opening experience for teenagers. Since School to School Exchange students stay with host families, they are shown aspects of Spanish culture that tourists are typically not exposed to. Participant Alecia Skowronski expresses this perfectly, “I enjoyed staying with my host family the most. I was able to form a bond with these people that I will never forget. They are like members of my family now! Also staying with a Spanish family enabled me to be further immersed in Spanish culture and speak the language all the time. It would not have been the same experience if I was in a hotel.”
At the end of their stay, these lucky students from EAHS left with a much better sense of self and their place in the world. Participant Erica Kreutzer said about her experience in Spain, “I am more open to other cultures and now have a desire to see more of the world. Traveling abroad is something that I want to do more of now.” For many of these first time travelers, the sentiment was the same. They feel more informed about other cultures, and are looking forward to their next adventure abroad.
We leave you with the wise words of participant Courtney Weaver, “To anyone who is interested in partaking in an exchange program, I highly recommend it. It’s an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience and you definitely won’t regret it.” We agree Courtney!