When a group of high school students from Spain arrived in Eagle County after a full day of travel, the first thing they noticed was jet lag.
The second was that America is big. Everything about it is big.
“One of the most impressive things is the sky,” said Claudia Ruiz from Madrid. “You can see a big sky without clouds. It’s one of most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”
The students are part of Interway, an international exchange program that brings foreign students to the U.S., and sends American high school students abroad.
This group came to Eagle Valley High School for five weeks this summer. Each spring, a group of Eagle Valley students heads to Spain.
Learning about another country in school is fine, but living there is better, they said.
They were here to improve their English and learn about American culture.
“Visiting a country is how you learn to know people here,” Ruiz said.
While they were here, they spent their time studying everything they possibly could. How long they were in school each day depended on what else was on the agenda. Besides classwork, they did most of the regular tourist stuff we all wish we could do more of in the summer — camping, hiking, rafting, museums, the Fairy Caves and rides. It’s a long and exhausting list, but they’re young and recovered quickly.
They were here for the Fourth of July, which means they saw America at its most American. They saw fireworks, waved flags at parades, attended patriotic concerts and generally enjoyed all things American, up to and including the V-8 engine rock ‘n’ roll.
“Everyone’s English is getting better, more fluent,” Ricardo Blasco said in remarkable English. “Before, we had to think before we said. “Now it’s more natural.”
The students chose Colorado and wrote about it for Interway. They sent pictures of themselves doing things, then their host families chose them.
“We are the chosen ones,” Ruiz said smiling.
Blasco stayed with the Trotter family on their ranch south of Gypsum. Natalia Gomez stayed with the Aragon family.
Berta Diaz stayed with the Scott and Cappie Green family.
“They have five children and seven dogs. They were all fun,” Diaz said.
Just like home, only different
Interway takes them from all over Spain and brings them together. Several of the students are from Madrid. A couple are from a small town in the north of Spain. Vicky Trianes is their teacher and chaperon from Spain.
“It’s a very brave thing they did,” said Marie Schroeder, one of the Eagle Valley High School teachers who worked with the students while they were here.
In Spain, when students turn 16 they can choose between work and further study. It’s two more years if you want to go to university. You have to get good grades to get into university, and get more good grades while you’re there.
Ruiz has visions of being a heart surgeon.
“The United States is very different from Spain,” Gael Suja said.
Suja attended a quinceanera with her host family — a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. For Suja, it was one of those lessons in realizing where you are.
The quinceanera was attended by lots of Americans, which is great, but not something she had seen before. Then she smiled and said she thought, “Well, of course, this quinceanera is being attended by Americans. I’m in America.”
There’s not much mass transit in Eagle County — buses and subways, at least compared to what they’re used to. If you don’t have a car, then you can’t get around, which is both wonderful and terrible. It also partially explains why Americans love cars, Ruiz said.
“You can drive when you’re 16, and those people are dangerous,” Ruiz said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com. Follow Randy on Twitter at @torqueandrecoil.