Spanish language exchange trip to happen in 2018

   In the next academic year, 2017-2018, a third language exchange trip will be added to the international trip rotation: a Spanish immersion trip to various places around southern Spain. This trip is the brainchild of Urban School Spanish teachers Mary Lee and Esteban Speier. Since its conception in August of 2016, the trip has progressed  from a dream to a reality. Next April, a group of 16 lucky students who are immersed in the Spanish  program at Urban will fly to the region of Andalucía, a historically rich region found on the southern coast of Spain. Though the Urban community has expressed interest in creating a Spanish language trip in the past, the actualization of this trip was a complex process, and every decision made — from location to activities — was carefully thought out.

   Deciding on a destination for the trip was a logistical challenge. Finding a place in Latin America that met all the requirements of the school was extremely difficult. The Spanish department was looking to have “a language exchange program, and that premise already limited some of the areas that we considered,” said Mary Lee, Spanish teacher. Many agencies that coordinate school trips offer service trips or cultural trips, rather than trips with a focus on immersion. Lee and her colleagues were looking to find a language exchange program, which requires a sister school.  “Most of the schools in Latin America that can have an exchange are private schools. It’s easy for us to go there, but they have to have the means also, to come here,” said Lee. She continued, “So we’re talking about coed, private schools, and in Latin America, the vast majority of private schools are not mixed. The system structures are very different.” In looking for a sister school, Lee and Speier reached out to travel agencies as well as their friends. “Agencies didn’t have exchange programs in Latin America, and our private friends had gone to single-sex high schools,” Lee said.

   Even in the coed private schools that exist, the wealth of those schools was “not the exposure that I think we want to give our students,” Lee said. The huge division of wealth in Central and South America means that, according to Lee, “a lot of these schools, which we were originally talking with, are such privileged, such elite schools, that the students are children who are ridden around with private bodyguards, and live in completely secluded mansions, and all this stuff. I didn’t see how that fit into our curriculum.” Finding an existing program that met the specific requirements of Urban led Lee and Speier to hiring the agency Prometour, and “we found this agency that was really great, and they worked with Spain,” Lee said.

   Lee and Speier ultimately decided on the I.E.S Seneca School, and students will complete a week long homestay with its students. I.E.S Seneca, the oldest school in the city,  is “a school with about 1000 students. It’s a public school, it’s in the center of Córdoba, and I think it will be a different experience for our students.” said Lee. For the second part of the trip, “We will travel through Andalucía, and also go… to the center part of [Spain], Madrid [and] Toledo,” Lee said. The I.E.S Seneca students will also complete a homestay with Urban students, most likely in October of 2017, according to Lee.

   Deciding on Spain was not just a logistical decision: “It also made sense curriculum wise,” Mary Lee said. “We were already wanting to expand the focus of the class of 4A,” said Lee. The class currently focuses on  immigration in the US, but next year it is changing to be titled “Crossing the line: new subjectivities in a globalized Hispanic world,” and shift to a global perspective.  Andalucía, Spain, provides the perfect space to do that. This large region’s geographical position and abundant natural resources have made it a historically sought after territory. Remains from its Roman and Moorish roots live on in the architecture of the region. “We want to go to Andalucía because it has a rich history, a history of going back and forth, between being Christian, and being Moorish,” Lee said. The city of Córdoba, where the school is located, was first a Roman port city, and subsequently the capital of Islamic Spain a millennium ago. Now, the city is a cultural hotspot, with beautiful historic architecture, Fernandine churches, and the Mezquita (which translates to “Mosque”), a monumental mosque dating back to the eighth century.

   However, due to the size of the Spanish program, selecting students to go will be a challenge. Out of the many students in the Spanish program, only 16 will be able to go on the trip. To apply, “students will submit an application demonstrating both their interest and their commitment to that mission. Based on that applicant pool, then we will draw it out of a hat. Qualifying students are rising Spanish 3, 4, [and 5]” Mary Lee says. The trip is meant for upperclassmen in the Spanish program. This is the selection process for both the Chinese and French exchanges, although their applicant pools are significantly smaller. The trip is anticipated to occur biannually, in rotation with the preexisting French trip.