Spain trip teaches language, culture

Emily Shi, Staff Writer

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18 students and three faculty members spent two weeks studying Spanish at the University of Salamanca and immersing themselves in the city’s culture for the second straight summer.

The language department sought to provide another unique opportunity for students of various skill levels to experience Spanish in a classroom setting while also visiting cultural landmarks in Salamanca and across Castilla, Spain, Spanish teacher Susan Carnochan said.

Every student in Salamanca pledged to only speak Spanish throughout the entirety of the trip in order to provide a fully immersive environment, Morgan Smith (10) said. “If we didn’t know how to say something in Spanish, we would have to explain what we were trying to say using other words we knew, which drastically expanded our vocabulary and explanation skills,” she said.

Since the curriculum focused more on conversation and vocabulary than grammar rules, the courses included units on different everyday topics, followed by debates and discussions at the end of each unit. “That really helped a lot to improve the command of the language because we were practicing using the language the way we would in the real world,” Teddy Ganea (10) said.

“A lot of the time when we get stuck on the grammar and the rules, which are still very important, we lose the flow of the actual conversation and pronunciation. I learned the most during conversations in class that we conducted completely in Spanish,” Tiger Moreno (12) said.

Each day after attending classes for four hours, students had the opportunity to either engage in a number of daily activities, or tour the city of Salamanca. Typically, the activities related back to the lesson plans, Jade Ciriello (10) said.

On weekends, the group toured towns outside of Salamanca such as Segovia and Madrid.

“I think that living in another culture and sensing the depths of antiquity around you of a culture that goes back thousands of years, as opposed to our American culture that goes back 250 years, impresses individuals in ways that are very hard to articulate,” Carnochan said.

Even while visiting various restaurants and stores, the students continued to communicate and strengthen their Spanish speaking skills, Ciriello said.

“There were times when I felt like I was exploring Spain like a local,” Alena Underwood (12) said.

When eating paella, Lauren Gay (11) said she continued to observe small cultural differences between Spain and the United States, such as the tipping etiquette at the end of the meal, where there aren’t as many stringent rules regarding gratuity.

“Even the pronunciation of words, formalities, and dialect rules sound very different than the style of Spanish we see in school or in New York,” Moreno said. “It’s the little things that stick out the most when you’re talking to native speakers.”

Each night, the students would gather and, in Spanish, share stories of successful interactions with native speakers such as ordering ice cream or holding a conversation, Carnochan said.

Apart from providing a forum to discuss language learning, the nightly conversations enabled Moreno to bond with the other students. “After every conversation we became closer, and we really felt like a family with more than just a shared interest in Spanish by the end,” she said.

For Smith, each individual conversation developed her Spanish skills, as she picked up small phrases and techniques that would enable her to hold conversations with others, she said.

“I’ve always felt discouraged that I couldn’t do it, or that learning languages in school wouldn’t work out for me,” Underwood said. “With this trip, I realized that I can learn a language if I put the effort in.”

In future years, the department hopes to travel biennially to avoid conflict with the music trip, Upper Division (UD) Dean of Students and Spanish teacher Michael Dalo said.

Glickman looks forward to recalling memories of Salamanca by reading through a journal that each student was required to write in to document the details of the trip, he said. “This trip really opened our eyes to how Spanish can be spoken differently depending on the culture, and exposed us to the unique food and lifestyle in Salamanca. I’m glad that I’ll always have a way to remember these special memories.