Eagle Valley students learn life lessons in Spain | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley students learn life lessons in Spain

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Drop a bunch of Eagle County kids in Spain for two weeks and they learn all sorts of things, mostly that the world is weird and wonderful and you cannot be bashful about asking Spaniard to speak more slowly, as long as you do it in their native language, not yours.

Eagle Valley High School’s Travel Club sent 16 students to Spain for 14 days to learn everything they could … language, culture and life.

“If I’m not able to understand them, I can always ask them to speak more slowly in Spanish. Habla mas despacio, por favor,” said Maddie Cerney.

It was an immersion in culture and language, and those lessons last.

“I quickly discovered that there is a whole other world out there that I never knew about. But this world welcomed me,” said Amy Applegate. “The language barrier didn’t hinder us from being a part of their lives.

“Laughter is the same in every language, but culture is not,” Applegate said.

Last year, Dustin Arguello went with the Travel Club to Panama. This year it was Spain.

“My family is really excited and happy immersing myself in their culture. It is a great experience to get to travel outside of the country and experience a new language. Not a lot of students get this opportunity,” Arguello said.

Sixteen kids, 14 days.

Teachers Gretchen Leibfried and Ashley Weaver qualified for sainthood. They spent 25 hours confined in an airliner with a group of teenagers, who, by the way, were exceptionally well behaved.

Leibfried offers different travel opportunities each year to students interested in being immersed in Spanish.

“This is our second trip to Spain,” said Leibfried. “Over the past years, we’ve also gone to Costa Rica, Peru and Panama. I try to change continents each year.”

To get to go, students had to have completed Spanish II class with at least a C. Then you have to write a three-page paper in Spanish about why it’s important to learn about other cultures.

Then, students are expected to come up with their own $3,500.

On this trip, students did all the regular tourist stuff: visit the Alhambra and see a flamenco show in Granada, the Catedral de Sevilla and El Alcazar in Sevilla, the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia museum, the royal palace and the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

After that, they stayed with host families in Valencia for a few days.

“To say that I know enough Spanish to get by would be an overstatement,” Applegate said.

Just hours after they landed, the whirlwind tour started.

Some of them found their way into a Pablo Picasso exhibit. Up that point in their lives they might not have been entirely thrilled with they way their nose might look, but they felt much better after seeing Picasso’s work. Unlike those depicted in Picasso’s paintings, their noses were in the middle of their faces.

They learned lots of stuff real fast, such as:

• Homeless people in Spain, like homeless people everywhere, ask you for money until you can get away.

• There are statues everywhere, not just in the museums. But even better, some people dress up like statues and perfectly stand still until you give them money, then they open their eyes and move.

• Taxi drivers are crazy. In America they drive on the right side. In Britain they drive on the left. In Spain they drive on both sides, and using rearview mirrors and turn signals are signs of weakness.

• The food was incredible, for the most part, but there were those moments. In a restaurant, Brooke Asmussen ordered something that turned out to be a black piece of sausage. A waitress said that it was dried blood from different animals mixed together, but didn’t know what animals.

• Skating is a universal language. Dustin Arguello met a kid from Portugal. They shared a skateboard, taught each other new tricks and parted friends for life.

• If you really want kids to pay attention, send them on a scavenger hunt across Madrid. They found an halderia, pasteleria, statue of Felipe III, street actors, and this cute little place with churros con chocolate.

• They learned that the hot chocolate here is basically melted milk chocolate and is amazing, that you don’t have to know what’s in food to enjoy eating it, and there’s always McDonald’s if you get in a bind.

• You can see books written by Isaac Newton and Galileo. You cannot read them, but you can see them.

• Dinner starts at 9 p.m. and lasts several hours. You can go to a club (bar/disco) until 3 a.m. and everyone is fine with that.

“Apparently staying out late is normal here,” Applegate said.

Part of living with host families was attending school in Spain.

School is pretty much the same everywhere … lectures, talking to friends, not understanding everything all the time.

As in America, Latin class is pretty interesting. Literature class is not.

If you give these 16 kids a pop quiz, they can answer the question, “Who’s buried in Columbus’ tomb” They saw the tomb; they know the answer.

The Spanish students were curious about the visiting Americans, and asked all kinds of questions about houses, school, hobbies and politics. They answered each inquiry patiently and completely.

“Yes my school has lockers and cheerleaders. Yes my family lives in a wooden house and yes we have a gun,” Applegate said.

Kolby Glissman was peppered with questions through an entire English class, ranging from whether she likes driving, has her own car, to whether she likes Justin Bieber.

“When they asked if I liked Justin Bieber, and I said ‘not so much,’ they all started clapping and hollering!” Glissman said.

Classroom discipline is different.

“The kids here are really wild in the class and the teachers just keep talking, like it’s not important,” Applegate said. “I am going to respect my teachers and my school system so much more now because we are actually doing something every day and learning.”

These sorts of excursions do have some practical applications.

Natalie Goodwin has always been interested in medicine and science, and has studied Spanish since the first grade.

“Now that I have gotten into foreign languages, I have been thinking about how to combine medicine and foreign language,” Goodwin said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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