From San Sebastian to Southern Spain

Finishing study abroad in Spain with lots of fun travel

The week in San Sebastian went by so fast, and everyone seems sad to say goodbye, both students and especially host families. I definitely saw some tears. On our bus ride to the Bilbao airport I heard some stories from their immersion week.

Monique told me that the first day she found out that last year her family hosted a friend of hers from California, so she had an immediate connection with her host sister.

Diana told me that she heard a lot of Euksara, the language from the Basque Country. Her host sister was very involved in basque dancing, so Diana saw a lot of traditional dance.

Nora tried snails, which she didn’t think weren’t too bad. While she was eating them her host father jokingly took a snail from the garden and let it slide along the table. Jordan’s brother, who apparently thought that Jordan was sleeping in too late, woke him up one morning with a megaphone. Jordan got up earlier after that.

On Eena’s birthday, she woke up to a birthday cake with candles and “Cumpleanos Feliz” sung to her. They also gave her a bracelet. Anais normally goes to France for family summer vacations. She told her host mother this, and the mother took her to France for a day, since San Sebastian is right near the French border.

Zoe’s sister woke up to fresh squeezed orange juice courtesy of her host sister. They also went to the beach and played cards for hours. When I ran into her during the week she had got some sun. She told me, “I was just on the beach for 7 hours!”

James played soccer with his host brother and his friends. He told me, “I was showed up!” I think that means the host brothers were better than him.
Pearl’s host dad showed her how to make a Spanish tortilla because he knew it was her favorite food in Spain. Sarah’s family took her out on a sailboat one day. Sarah got a little seasick and after 15 minutes the boat trip was over. But Sarah says it was still a lot of fun!

The Basque Country is very matrilineal  and traditionally men would usually give the paycheck directly to the wife to use as she pleased. Therefore men created societies, sort of like clubs where they could cook, and women weren’t allowed. Now women are allowed but they still can’t cook or even go into the kitchen. Both Maxes and Colton, whose families are friends went to the club one night for a big party. Max H said, “It was a feast and everyone at the party was expected to pitch in.”

Ned really wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwich and his family had no idea what peanut butter was. So they all went to the foreign isle of the grocery store to find it. Patrick had a bruise on his face when I saw him. He told me that he had been body surfing and hit the sand, but he’s healing fine. He also went kayaking, quite the adventurous family.

Amanda’s host grandma always “called her out” when she said “Si” to things she didn’t understand. Annie G has found her new favorite candy – a spicy gummy in the shape of a chili. Joe’s family bought him some traditional Basque shoes. They are cloth shoes that look like Tom’s. Joe is still wondering when he is going to wear them.

Tara went to Bilbao with her sister and saw the Guggenheim. She also bought a very cute 5 euro H&M dress the day I ran into her. Charlotte went to an island with her host sister and her friends. There was a platform that you could jump off into the ocean. When I asked, “wasn’t the water cold?” she said “not compared to San Francisco!”

We were all together again when we spent our first night reunited in Sevilla. We have to enjoy each moment because the end is coming!

We Have Been Everywhere Man

After Cordoba, it was a 2 hour bus ride to Granada to see the Alhambra!
Once a fortified city, the Alhambra is considered the best representation of Muslim influence. It is an incredible work of architecture. We also had these very cool headphones so we could hear our guide in a crowded place. However the tour was in Spanish, so probably the students still didn’t get everything. After their immersion week, everyone’s comprehension should have improved.

Granada was beautiful! After dinner we took a walk up to a viewpoint in the Sacromonte neighborhood, which is home to many gypsies. It’s also where we saw a flamenco show. In a cave filled with 40 some odd tourists we watched the locals dance, sing, and play the guitar. The best part was when an older woman performed. She would stop in the middle to tell someone “no video” and as James said “her stare pierced you in your soul”. Luckily we got a bus back to the hotel because we were all exhausted.

The next day we arrived in Nerja around 12:30 and had a visit to the famous Nerja Cave. Zoe and Patrick walked by me and said “this looks like a cathedral!” it was impressive with the largest stalagmite in the world, created with a trillion drops.

Today is our last day and everyone is feeling a little sad and a little stressed, especially about making weight limit on the flight home. On the last flight, Bilbao to Sevilla people in the line literally clapped for Heather when she made weight limit.

Kayaking was incredible though the waves were choppy and a couple of the students flipped over. I think we can blame Felix and Joe for one of those flips.
As everyone is packing, I’m thinking of what a great trip this has been and how many wonderful memories the students will have. They have improved their Spanish, stepped out of their comfort zones, and matured a lot. I imagine that they will all want to return to Spain someday or continue traveling and exploring. 

On a personal note I have really enjoyed getting to know all of your students on this trip. I know that both Marya and I think that they are hilarious and fun and each has such a unique personality. We are really going to miss them!

– Kerry Tiedeman, Assistant US Leader

Last Days before Immersion Week

Busy in Salamanca before leaving for San Sebastian

With Salamanca 2 in Spain, the students enjoyed haveing some fresh new faces and the new students are a nice group. It also gave the group an opportunity to show off all the things they have learned this past week about Salamanca: best places to eat, useful Spanish slang, etc.

We had a Spanish cooking class, but since are group is too big for everyone to go at one time, we split the group in half. Patricia and I went with the first half to the cooking class and the other had a free time. The next day, we switched.

Making Paella, Gazpacho, and Spanish “Tortilla”

The cooking class was in a restaurant owned by recently graduated culinary students. Marcos was our teacher for the day. He told us that we would be making Paella, Gazpacho, Spanish “Tortilla” and Sangria, virgin (sin alcohol) of course! There were three stations, so the students chose a small group to work with. John, Max, Ned, and James were on the Paella station, Anais, Sarah, Anne, Amanda, and Annie were on the Gazpacho station and Heather, Charlotte, Diana, and Tara were on the “Tortilla” station. The students cooked everything on their own! Though it was apparent some had more experience cooking than others, they all contributed.

At the paella station, no one looked too excited about the shrimp, which of course in Spain they just cook whole, eyes and all. Gazpacho was the least complicated dish. Anais, Anne, Annie, and Sarah finished the Gazpacho first and began licking the bowl, the blender, everything. I was impressed because at 16, I hated Gazpacho. At that time, the rice was cooking in the Paella, and of course poor Charlotte, Diana, Amanda, and Heather were just waiting around while the potatoes cooked. Definitely the longest assignment. The Gazpacho and Paella teams had time to switch and make the second serving as well as the Sangria before Tortilla was finished. While we were putting the food on the table, it was finally time to flip the tortilla. 3 tortillas meant 3 student flippers and there was only one deflated tortilla. Good job ladies!

We sat down to eat and since by chance we had all the vegetarians in our group, the kitchen brought up another vegetarian paella. All the food was delicious, and the students cooked on their own! The best part is they have a list of the recipes so the can go home and cook for their parents!

Time to learn to Flamenco!

We left the restaurant a little messy and went back to the dorm to change for Flamenco dance class. The idea was to wear any sort of shoes that would make noise when stamped. In a little dance studio we began learning the basic steps, which were quite difficult when you added the arm movements. Then we paired up. I did my best to get Ned to dance. After doing the steps to the more traditional music, the instructor put on more pop music like Ricky Martin’s “Here we go…” and we followed her less traditional dance style (more shaking). It was a lot of fun! Sweaty and tired we went back to the dorm.

Salamanca scavenger hunt

Later, we split up into 3 groups and had a scavenger hunt. The students ran around town getting the answers from people on the streets or from what they remembered from the tour. Pearl and Monique said it was much easier to ask questions to the men and boys as the women didn’t want to give them the time of day. One of the best questions was a trick question: How many windows are in the Plaza Mayor (the large plaza where we meet nightly at the center of town.) The plaza is surrounded by windows but they are actually not windows, they are all doors with glass panes. No one got the answer to that one so maybe we will rephrase for next year. Another fun day.
Also some other fun notes: Charlotte, Heather, and Diana have adopted some of the Spanish way of life and instead of getting up and leaving the dining area after a meal, they sit and relax and talk for a while before leaving. We have another haircut to report. Sara got a haircut and it looks great.

Celebrating birthday’s abroad!

We celebrated Charlotte´s birthday, and since we won’t be able to celebrate Eena’s birthday because she’ll be with her host family in San Sebastian, we had one big celebration for both girls. We secretly had everyone sign giant birthday cards and bought them oversized birthday cake sunglasses eariler this week. We told everyone at our daily briefing that they would have to stay after lunch for special announcements, hinting that they might be in trouble. But, the surprise for everyone was that we had cakes so the group could sing ¨Happy Birthday¨ and the girls could blow out their 17 candles. What’s a good birthday without surprises? The type of cakes we had are called “Brazo de Gitano,” which translates to Gypsy Arm. Interesting name, but a delicious cake

Things Are Going Swimmingly

Everyone was really excited to visit the neighborhood pool, since we have not had an opportunity to wear our swimsuits once this trip, and we thought we would be able to on the day of horseback riding. We reminded them, “Don´t forget your suncreen, water and hat!” We took over another city bus to get to the pool, which was actually very close to the soccer field. It was nice and sunny with grass. There were two giant pools, one inside and one indoors, a snack stand, and a lot of Spaniards. I guess when you don´t have the beach and July is quite hot, the pool is your best option. Everyone laid their towels out in the grass. Some brought cards and a lot of the girls had magazines. The students were enjoying the relaxed afternoon so much that we decided to stay for a half an hour later than our scheduled time. It worked out perfectly, because by the time we took the bus back and arrived at the dorms, it was time for dinner. After dinner, we gave the students some free time. Charlotte wore a birthday tiara to celebrate. I think it was a very memmorable day for her and Eena!

Last Days in Salamanca

We gave the students quite a bit of free time these last couple of days in Salamanca. That way they had time to buy souvenirs, take photos, and enjoy time with their friends before the immersion week. Classes ended on Friday, and while a lot of students were sad leaving their teachers, they weren’t too terribly broken up about not having 4 hours of class a day. On Friday, we took a small group to check out the Art Nouveau Museum and the Automobile Museum in Salamanca. The Art Museum was incredible just for the building, originally a home, with its stained glass roof and windows. Monique, Pearl, Marya, and I all thought these trinkets, vases, and dolls look a lot like something our grandmother’s would own or give to us.

The automobile museum was also popular, especially with boys. There were old cars, sports cars, and new cars. Unfortunately, as you can see, I know nothing about cars. But, Tara was very excited. She told me that as a child she preferred toy cars to barbies. She bought a very cute pin that looks great with her new Zara vest!

Friday was the last night with language partners. I know that Heather, Diana, and Charlotte went to Karaoke with their language partner, Javi and they told me that they were very sad about saying goodbye to him.

Before we left, we had our goodbye ice cream. At the plaza we went to our favorite ice cream place, which has “the best ice cream ever” with the worst customer service. There are 2 sides of ice creams, one with multiple flavors and the other with different types of chocolate. We have been told since day 1, “No se mescla” – you can’t order an ice cream with 2 flavors from different sides. When Marya asked for strawberry and dulce de leche chocolate, she got “No se mescla”. Then she did, what I think of as the unthinkable here in Spain. She asked “porque” or why. The woman responded with the equivalent of because I said so, and told her do I go to your house and tell you what to do? Ouch! Only in Spain. Imagine that happening at Starbucks.

Talented singers in the Salamanaca group

Later on, we discovered the secret talents of Colton, Ned, and Tara, singing and playing a ukulele that Ned had bought here. Colton has an incredible voice! Who knew? They could play Jumper by Third Eye Blind, American Pie, and Somewhere Over The Rainbow by that Hawaiian guy. We all got into it, singing along. Heather and Amanda came in the common room to join in as well.
This was all great practice, because later that night we took both groups, ours and Salamanca 2, to Karaoke. Karaoke was amazing! Marya has taken some great photos. Everybody was singing along. It was a great way to end our time in Salamanca.

New Experiences with Host Families In San Sebastian

We left for San Sebastian at 9 in the morning and I’m sure that out of the 6 hours on the bus, everyone slept for 5. The last hour we gave them a pep talk. The transition from being with friends and the group 24/7 to staying on their own with host families is really difficult. Personally I had a really hard time when I was 16. It’s important that we try to prepare them for that and let them know it’s normal to feel unsure and sad in the beginning. They have to value it as a chance to improve their Spanish, really experience the culture, and hopefully make a meaningful connection with people they normally wouldn’t meet.

It is a great opportunity, and when they are finished it will represent a moment of personal growth and empowerment. That said we are here all week and we check in with them. Also when they met their host families getting off the bus, Eva, the host family coordinator, told me that many of the host brothers and sisters are from the same class. Therefore  it’s very likely that our group will see each other a couple times this week. We just ran into Monique at the beach with her host sister. Overall, Eva did a great job choosing the families. All the kids are either 15, 16, or 17 perfect ages for our group and after meeting some families ourselves, they seem really nice and welcoming.

So, we are signing off for now, but I’m sure we will have lots of stories for you when we come back from immersion week! Enjoy the photos, and make sure to click the 2 or the right arrow at the bottom of the page to see the rest of the image collection.

– Marya Kahan & Kerry Tiedeman, US Leader

Study in Salamanca and travel to Segovia

Weekend travel, soccer, speaking with locals, and riding horses

At the end of the first week of classes, the students seemed to be adjusting well to their schedules, and we can already see improvements in their Spanish. They all looked forward to the weekend.

In the afternoon on Friday we were planning on having an art class, but unfortunately the art teacher had an emergency and wasn’t able to come. Instead, we decided to check out the University’s facade on a guided elevator tour. The elevator is quite an eyesore, making the facade look as if it was under construction.

Once we got an up-close view of the incredible decoration. There were busts of the Catholic King and Queen, angels, mystical creatures, and the famous frog on a skull. The theory is that if a student can not find the frog on the facade, they will not pass their classes because they are not focused on their studies but other temptations. An important lesson for all our students. Also, Nora looked peculiarly alike one of the facade’s female busts. Check out the photo below!

Salamanca has Ghosts?

Later that night we took a tour called “The Ghosts of Salamanca.” We all thought it was going to be spooky, but apparently ghosts was more of a symbolical term for historical figures like Christopher Columbus. The highlights were the underground tunnels, the Salamanca Cave, and the monument whose pieces used to be used as torture devices. On a second visit to the Garden of Calixto and Melibea, Felix and Nora volunteered to circle the well three times to see if the legend of everlasting love is true. Only time will tell. Salamanca may be even more beautiful at night then during the day.

Weekend travel to Segovia

We left for Segovia early on Saturday morning. The students weren’t too excited about waking up so early on a Saturday, but luckily the bus ride was two hours so they had plenty of time to nap.
We met our guide in front of Segovia’s 2000 year old Roman aqueduct. The guide walked us through the old city, pointing out important churches, buildings, and neighborhoods. The grand finale was the Alcazar, a castle once home to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The castle is supposed to be one of the inspirations for the Disney castle and it’s likely that Christopher Columbus asked the Catholic King and Queen to fund his trip to the new world here.

While we were admiring the castle and taking photos, we noticed a stork on top of one of a tree. We’ve seen the nests everywhere, but never the actual bird. Max D took Marya’s camera just to take close-ups of the stork. While in front of the castle, James asked if the part below was a real moat. The guide explained that while it was a moat, it wasn’t like the movies with water and crocodiles, however one king did have lions in the moat.

Beautiful views of Segovia

Next, the students had the opportunity to climb up the tower’s approximately 160 steps, and were rewarded by a spectacular view of Segovia. Once our tour finished everyone had some free time to explore on their own before we took the bus back to Salamanca. Later that day, the language partners met the students in the Plaza Mayor. Heather told me the next day that she understood a lot more than she did the first session. They’ll be having tapas with the language partners, so they’ll have even more time to practice!

Playing Soccer in Salamanca

Today we took the public transportation with all 30 of us to get to the field where we went to play soccer. Luckily the buses were pretty much empty because it was Sunday. In Spain, they call it football of course, but I’ll cal it soccer in this post so everyone is on the same page. We had the use of a turf field and locker rooms. There were bleachers and some of the locals looked on as we got started. Before our instructors arrived, we did some pre-game warm-ups and stretching. Anais and Sara taught us some ballet moves. Joe, Pearl, and Jordan were the winners of the 4 minute plank contest. For those of you who didn’t know what a plank is, only your arms (from elbow to hands) and toes are on the ground the rest of you looks like a plank of wood.

Our instructors arrived and set us right to exercising. We did a couple of laps around the field then launched into drills. I was surprised at how well everyone was doing, especially those who hadn’t played before. We all had fun lining up to do penalty kicks with one of our instructors as goalie. We then broke off into teams and played a game. Not a full game, but two 20-minute halves. This is where the fun began. Everyone played and was into the game. We had so much fun! All of the students sweat and ran around. They looked forward to half time, but were excited to start the second half. The final score was 4-5 with the blue team winning over the red. Our instructor was the referee and also wore both a red and blue shirt and helped out the teams where needed. Super Guay! Which means “super cool” in Spanish.

Tengo Ganas de Ti, pt. 1

In the afternoon we had free time. Some of the girls had inquired about seeing part 1 of the movie we saw in the theatre “Tengo Ganas de Ti”. It was part 2 in the series. We have other students in our dorm and there are a group of aeronautic engineers on our floor and one of them had part 1 which he lent us. A group of us watched it in the living area. We understood most of the movie and what we didn’t we asked Patricia.

Tasty ice cream & Tapas

I think that the kids all have a ice cream/yogurt addiction. Almost every time I see them at least one of the kids in the group has an ice cream cone or some frozen yogurt. Fortunately or unfortunately I now also the addiction. I have to say both the yogurt and ice cream are SO good! The kids always ask, “Do we have time to get ice cream?” Seems to be a high priority to the students.

In the evening for dinner they went with their language partners on a tapas tour. There is a street in Salamanca where they have several places to get tapas and they were able to visit several of them to try several different kids. Many of the kids said that they loved the food and that they were full. Gotta love the tapas!

Horseback riding in the Salamanca countryside

We traveled outside of Salamanca for about 45 minutes to a small farm with 62 horses and 2 dogs pretty much the size of horses. I don’t think we have the breed in the us but they were both pretty much the size of a bull mastiff. One was especially social and loved hanging out with the group.

We split into smaller groups to ride the horses. The groups that were waiting or had just ridden were either relaxing in the grass, playing mini golf, or frisbee. Horseback riding itself was fun. Annie L exclaimed how beautiful the scenery was where we rode. Annie G. and Amanda were thrilled when their horses started to canter (although Amanda said she was a bit sore today from it). Some students even wanted to ride a second time. All in all, I think the excursion was fun and they had a blast riding horses or was a good time to relax.

We got back just in time for dinner and let me tell you the kids went through all of the food that was in front of them. Who knew that horseback riding could create such voracious creatures!

Welcoming Salamanca 2 group to Spain

After dinner, my group welcomed the ECI group from Salamanca 2 by showing them around Salamanca. We all split up into small groups and took one of the new kids around. When I met them back the square, I think that at least 90% of them were holding an ice cream cone or had just finished one. It does seem that one of the themes for this trip is really ice cream. I had everyone come back early since I knew they were all tired. A great end to another fantastic day!

– Marya Kahan & Kerry Tiedeman, US Leaders

Learning to bullfight and salsa dance

Learning more about the Spanish culture through traditions

Today at our group briefing, some students told us that they talked about Mario Casas, the star of the movie we watched the other day, in their language class. I’m very happy that the students seem to be enjoying their classes, especially conversation class, where the professors know how to focus on topics that the students find interesting. They all seem more confidant to use their Spanish than when they first arrived, which is also promising.

Plaza de Los Toros

After classes we went to “Plaza de Los Toros” where an accomplished bull fighter explained to us the theatrics of bullfighting. While inside the old arena of Salamanca he showed us the door where the bull comes out and the door a “torero” can leave from only when he has claimed both of the bull’s ears. He later did a demonstration of the art form, unfortunately not with a real bull, but a cart with a plastic bull head. The first cape was neon pink, but then there was a second red cape for when it was time to kill the bull. Afterwards we took turns to try out our “torero” skills. Sarah was the first volunteer, then Colton, Max, and Marya. Heather and I got to be fake bulls for Max and Marya. There are photos you can see below. We also had an opportunity to ask the “torero” questions and give him our opinions on bullfighting, all in Spanish of course. It turned into a discussion about the morality of it all. The “torero” was an interesting person, very elegant and prideful.

Learning to Salsa in Spain

After dinner we went to salsa lessons. Everyone dressed up, dresses, heels, and Max even wore a suit! The dance instructor, who reminded us of a Colombian Lionel Richie, danced on the stage in front of us, while we tried to follow along in 3 lines. Francesca and Hayley went on stage with him for a song, and then Monique, our professional salsa dancer, stayed on stage to help demonstrate the couples dancing. Our local leader, Patricia, helped teach some of the boys who were shy how to dance too. Max said afterwards, “I think I’m going to take lessons when I go home.” I bet they can’t wait for flamenco lessons!

– Kerry Tiedeman, Assistant US Leader

Celebrating 4th of July in Salamanca

Feeling at home while studying abroad in Spain

After classes on our second day in Salamanca, we took a formal tour of Salamanca led by our local leader and yours truly. We began in  Plaza Mayor, describing the architecture and pointing out busts of important writers, explorers, kings, and dictators which are on the square’s columns. While I was doing my spiel about Franco and Spanish history, I asked them what they knew about the civil war, and Patrick and Max knew quite a bit. Definitely more than I knew at 16, so I was very impressed.

La Casa de Las Conchas

On our tour we also passed “la Casa de Las Conchas,” a house covered with “Conchas” or shells, the Jewish neighborhood, and the Garden of Calixto and Melibea. The garden is a very romantic place and its name follows the idea that the tragic love story was set in Salamanca and therefore the garden was where the lovers would meet in secret. When I told the group that there would be something special in the garden’s well, Anais guessed correctly that there would be locks with lovers’ names on them.

Salamanca’s beautiful cathedral

The last portion of the tour involved climbing  up the tower of the cathedral. There was a spectacular view of Salamanca and the students were able to see how small Salamanca is and its surrounding countryside. There were very short doorways in the passage ways of the tower and Felix asked “Were people just really short back then?” We decided to do an experiment to see how many group members could fit underneath the doorway without crouching. We have the photo below of those who would have had no problem fitting in during the 17th century (Monique, Zoe and our trip leader, Marya). No wonder we have trouble spotting Marya on our forward marches.

Independence Day abroad

Wednesday was our Independence Day! (Oh say can you see…) While no one cares here in Spain we still do! The students, especially the girls, are dressed in red, white, and blue. Tara, Zoe, and Eena all wore shirts with the American flag proudly displayed. I asked them if they had planned it, but Tara told me she bought her blouse here. I guess the American flag is a popular design here. Can we blame them?

Introduction to Spain

Today after class, we had a special seminar: “Introduction to Spain.” Jorge, one of the teachers at Mester, gave a fantastic presentation on the different languages, regions, culture differences, and stereotypes in Spain. He also asked the students questions about their first impressions all in Spanish. When Jorge asked how tall a bull was, Pearl had the answer! Jorge’s students are very lucky. He speaks clearly and his voice carries.

Movie night in Spain: Tengo Ganas de Ti

After the seminar we had to hustle to the cinema because we had tickets to see a Spanish film, “Tengo Ganas de Ti.” Translated to English it roughly means, I desire you. It was a teenage love story with some action scenes. The main characters enjoys racing motorcycles. His friend has died racing motorcycles (good lesson) and he has to choose between two love interests, his first love and a new love. Everyone was really confused, but not because we didn’t understand the Spanish. Only after the film, did Patricia tell us this was part 2 of 2 parts. “Ohhh!” Marya and I didn’t realize that there were three girls, not two, until halfway through the movie. But the students loved it!!!! I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the main character was really good-looking.

We were already late for dinner so we ran back to the dorms to eat hot dogs and “freedom fries.” Also Max H made more apple art. We shared some photos of his creations below. At 10 we went to the Plaza Mayor to light sparklers. Unfortunately, no real fireworks this year, but we took photos and it was a sweet little celebration. An American woman came up to us afterwards and said that she watched us from a restaurant. We are hoping that they won’t be too homesick for what some call their favorite holiday. Los Estados Unidos hurray!!!

– Kerry Tiedeman, Assistant US Leader