Spanish students practice language in Spain

By Maddy Baxter

Twenty-seven students practiced their Spanish in nine different cities in Spain this summer with four chaperones, while visiting local sights, museums, cathedrals, beaches and local shops. The purpose of the trip was to merge culture with language in a natural environment, foreign language teacher Javier Zaragoza said. He and foreign language teacher Andrew Brabbée led the trip with Zaragoza’s daughters, Laura ’06 and Catherine ’08.

Zaragoza has been the leading faculty adviser for school trips over the summer and spring break since 1991. He has organized trips to Costa Rica, Argentina and two places in Mexico.

“When you are under an institute such as Costa Rica and Argentina, it’s quite expensive, so we wanted an environment where we put all of the money into the kids,” Zaragoza said. “The language, eventually, only takes care of itself if you have the passion and the cultural interest.”

The trip consisted of two “city activities” per day, including tours and local trips. Students had to take part in two sessions a day of workshops and skill lessons at the hotel or on the bus. The workshops emphasized reading comprehension, oral drills, research, writing, vocabulary development, critical thinking and deductive reasoning, and grammar. Daily quote exercises were accompanied by packets based on Spanish classes at Harvard-Westlake and catered to each student’s level.

The students were allowed time to explore the cities and had a midnight curfew each night.

“I designed the program so that the students were never all 27 at once, other than a couple of dinners and the bus, and I had them in different hotels,” Zaragoza said. “I wanted them to get that feel that they were looked at as an individual, not as a group.”

The group began in Madrid and traveled to Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Almeria, Murcia, Benidorm, Valencia and Barcelona.

“It was fun hearing all the differences in the accents and we had a lot of freedom so it was fun to have the opportunity to explore the cities,” Annie Wasserman ’13 said.

“It was an incredible experience that completely changed the way I think of the language and culture,” Andrew Friendly ’14 said.

Zaragoza hopes to return to Spain for the summer trip next year. It is still undecided whether or not students will visit the same cities, in case some kids would like to go on the trip a second time. If the trip continues, it will include more of northern Spain as well.

“In Spain, people are talking, they’re sharing, they’re enjoying and the students saw that. I think in time they’re going to see that this will be one of their greatest experiences, just because of the way it happened,” Zaragoza said. “And now, for the next year, I’m going to fine-tune the trip to the point where it will be 100 percent perfect.”