As part of the one-to-one Spanish exchange program, the school welcomed 15 students from Malaga, Spain to the Country Day campus in September. In March, the Country Day students who hosted them were able to get a taste of Spanish culture during the second part of the exchange: their trip to Malaga.
“Our group was able to bond very closely,” remarks Emil Hettich `23 when recounting the highlights of the trip. “I think it was great for all of us to experience a new country, a new culture, and be able to have a chance to improve our Spanish.”
The Country Day students stayed with their host families for about a week in the small town of Malaga, Spain. They also took an excursion to Madrid to experience even more Spanish culture, art, and history.
“Even though Spain is across the Atlantic Ocean it’s not necessarily a completely foreign environment; there are definitely similarities to experience,” says Hettich. “My favorite experience was being with my host family and being able to experience their day-to-day life.”
While in Malaga, Emil was able to bond with his host partner, Javier, once more over their love for soccer, and even had the opportunity to attend a Malaga match. One of the highlights of the trip was being able to visit the famous Real Madrid soccer stadium in Madrid.
“We study the language in the United States and it is an academic language. Then you step off that plane and suddenly everything is written in Spanish and everyone is speaking Spanish,” says Upper School teacher Dr. Jeanette Hecker.
The Country Day students were not only able to experience a new language and culture but also a new way of life and living. “Different mealtimes were one of the main things I noticed,” says Hettich. “They typically occur around two hours later and last for a longer period of time. Also, they are more communal in the sense that families usually order around 10 different things and share them.”
“One of my favorite experiences was staying with my host family,” says Ambika Sharma `24. “I was able to meet her family, and I hadn’t seen her [Lydia] in a long time, so I was able to bond with her again. I was also able to go see the Mediterranean Sea. I had learned about the sea in school, but I don’t think my brain had processed that I was actually in the sea once we got there.”
When Ambika was asked about how the trip differed from her knowledge of Spain, she explained how the experiences drastically improved her understanding of the culture. “I was immersed in the language and the culture during my short time there. I was actually able to keep a conversation going with my host family by the end of the trip.”
Additionally, the small town of Malaga had its own charm, says Upper School teacher Angela Suarez. “It was so small that we could have bumped into each other all the time so that was nice. There were people out walking in the streets all the time and it felt more social. I feel there was more time dedicated to socializing and family.”
Jeanette and Angela elaborated on the tremendous impact a student exchange program such as this has on students. “For the students, it is real life now. They won’t be so anxious to study abroad when they get to college. Most of them have already talked about doing a semester abroad in college and reconnecting with their host partners,” says Hecker. “An experience like this has a tremendous impact on their learning in the sense that they are not afraid of redoing the experience now that they have gone and lived someplace. That means the world to me because it means they are opening up their worlds and getting out of their Ohio comfort zone.”