Students learn Spanish, volunteer in Argentina

Twelve students volunteered at an orphanage for girls and polished their Spanish while they spent three weeks of their summer in San Juan, Argentina for the Foreign Language Department’s 14th annual summer trip.

The trip was centered on language improvement, immersing students in the culture and offering four hours of Spanish language instruction every day.

“[Volunteering] is one of the highlights of our trip since these are institutions with real social needs and our students rise to the occasion and provide a much needed service,” chaperone and Spanish Department Head Javier Zaragoza said.

The students, led by Zaragoza, his daughter Laura Zaragoza ’06 and middle school Spanish teacher Andrew Brabbee, departed for Argentina on July 17.

After three days of touring, the students arrived in San Juan and were assigned to live with an Argentinian family while they attended classes. Other than language classes and community service, the students participated in city excursions, nature sightseeing and tango lessons during the weekdays.

On the weekends, the students traveled outside of San Juan. They stayed in cabins in Barreal and toured Buenos Aires, engaging in activities from horseback riding to tango shows.

“Our students were placed in an environment with no English spoken, so they had to fend for themselves,” Zaragoza said.

“The results after three weeks are a reversal of their self esteem and the confidence to speak the language.”

Generally, the summer trip appeals to students who want to improve their Spanish skills and experience a new culture. The objective of the trip is to put the students in a safe environment in order to facilitate personal growth and maturity, Zaragoza said.

“The bottom line for our trips is to help the students develop character and learn to address a culture different from ours from within, from its foundation,” Zaragoza said.

After the program, four students who were previously on the borderline for acceptance into Advanced Placement Spanish courses will now enroll in the classes, while another student who hoped to advance to Spanish II was placed in a Spanish III class after a placement test, Zaragoza said.

“I understood everything within three days and could speak with proficiency, which is amazing because I had never taken a Spanish class,” Jack Petok ’11 said. “I even dreamed in Spanish.”