Sometimes, the best way to learn about another language and culture is just to dive in. After learning Spanish in the classroom, a group of Marshall High School students took the next step, by traveling to Spain.
"It was tough, especially the first couple of days, because of the accent," student Emma Meyer said. "People don't say the ends of their words and everyone talks very fast."
After a while, Mackenzie Vogt said, "I started thinking half in Spanish, half in English, and I'd get confused."
Photo submitted by Danielle Thooft
Marshall High School Spanish students recently returned from a trip to Spain. Their teachers are Michelle Noriega and Danielle Thooft. Thooft accompanied the students to Spain. Pictured are, from left: Thooft, Lauren Geurts, Mackenzie Vogt, Emma Meyer, Angela Tauer, Hunter Kontz, Brent Louwagie, Dani Crowell and Kayla Sawchak.
MHS students studying Spanish have an annual opportunity to visit Spain as part of a two-week program. In March, the group of eight students including Vogt, Meyer, Dani Crowell, Lauren Geurts, Hunter Kontz, Brent Louwagie, Kayla Sawchak, Angela Tauer and teacher Danielle Thooft made the trip.
Thooft said the goal for the Spain travelers was to use their language skills in everyday life, as well as to experience a new culture.
"The best thing is the relationships they build with people they meet," she said.
It took a lot of planning, saving and fundraising, students said, but the experience was worth it.
The first week of the trip, the students traveled as a group and toured cities including Madrid, Toledo, and Sevilla (Seville).
Some of the sights included landmarks like the Prado art museum in Madrid, the Alhambra fortress in Granada, and the Alcazar castle overlooking the city of Segovia.
"The view was amazing. You could see the whole town," Sawchak said. Of course, they first had to climb lots and lots of narrow stairs to get there.
"The stairs were really tight, and they just kept going around and around," Geurts said.
During the second week of the trip, the group split up to spend time living with Spanish host families. Meyer said her host parents invited their whole family over to meet her.
"It was kind of tough, because they didn't know they had to talk slowly to me,"?she said.
There were some cultural differences that took getting used to, students said. People in Spain had much smaller "bubbles" of personal space, and everyone tended to stay up late.
"We would have supper at 9 p.m.," Geurts said. Louwagie said the latest he ate supper with his hosts was after midnight.
However, the students said the architecture and history all around them were impressive.
"The whole U.S. is just such a new country compared to Spain," Geurts said. At home, it's rare to see buildings more than a hundred years old.
"The buildings were huge, too, like they would have to have taken tons of money to build," Vogt said.
Students said they still had a lot of fun getting to know their host families, and even attending school. Tauer found out that even in another country, there was still a sense of small-town community to be found.
"I was in a really small town, so we pretty much went door to door and introduced me," Tauer said.