The plan was for us to leave at 7:15am and head as a Spanish class to Castleton University, where the Spanish Club and some international students would put on a day of immersion and cultural activities for us. The trip down took nearly two hours. However, once we arrived, we walked into a conference room on the bottom floor of a recently constructed, solar-powered building. Empty seats and tables were lined parallel to one another; the students took seats next to their friends.
The first to greet us was Dr. Ana Alfaro-Alexander, a native of Peru and director of the Modern Languages Program at Castleton for nearly three decades. Her charismatic tone touched each one of us as she introduced herself, asking for us to respond in Spanish. Instead of going to high school, we were spending our day at college!
After meeting Dr. Alexander and going through introductions, a Castleton Student, Katelyn, volunteered her time to give us a tour of Castleton, while explaining everything slowly in Spanish. We walked through various buildings, learning Spanish vocabulary the entire time—la biblioteca, el gimnasio, la cafetería. It was awesome being able to understand a foreign language!
Subsequently, after our brains were completely in Spanish mode, we made our way back to the conference room to listen to a presentation by Debbie and Patrick, Castleton’s two international affairs directors. They told us about how learning a foreign language opens new doors and facilitates traveling, drawing from their own experiences working abroad and domestically with foreign students. According to them, knowing more than one language is extremely helpful in the real world.
Next on our list of presenters was a Castleton student, Nicholas, who had just returned from traveling abroad to Costa Rica and Spain. He spent his time showing us videos and pictures about his time in Costa Rica. We especially loved a video he showed of him diving off the coast of Costa Rica, one in which a sea turtle comes to “…see what was up.” It was awesome! Nicholas concluded his presentation by describing how knowing Spanish has allowed him to travel so much and experience so many cultures abroad. Even though he was studying to be part of the medical field, knowing multiple languages allowed him to have so many fun adventures.
Lunch time came very quickly following the long bus ride and jam-packed morning schedule. We had all brought our lunch, but we were given the opportunity to try Spanish tortilla as an added bonus. It was absolutely delicious!
Once we bit into the scrumptious potato and egg tapas, they were gone. Four tortillas vanished into thin air. They were the perfect appetizer to a forthcoming presentation on Spanish culture.
Dressed in his red, Real Madrid soccer shirt, Julian told us about his transformation from being a Spanish native to becoming a college student in Vermont. He showed us a video that encapsulated some of Spain’s wonderful architecture, history, and (did I mention) food. Julian then went on to explain to us how his accent from Spain is different than those of Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico. More specifically, his accent includes a lisp when pronouncing words like gracias and zapato. Soon after, we met Mar Orozco, a Colombian native who is currently teaching Spanish to Castleton’s students. During her presentation, she gave us each a sheet of paper and had us match sixteen Spanish words to their meanings in English. Once finished, she explained each word by showing us a video that explained Colombia’s culture. Interestingly, though, every word on the paper appeared at least once in the video. What an awesome way to learn!
Mar’s lesson didn’t stop there, though. Once we were comfortable in our seats she invited another presenter to the stage. This next presenter was in charge of making us dance the Bachata—a Dominican-based dance that has spread into many Latin American dance halls. Worst of all, however, she made up pair up with someone from the opposite gender. I remember watching Tunmay have to dance with Mrs. Crosby.
In the end, we circled up and each person shared one important experience or idea that was going to stick with them after the trip. Some students mentioned how traumatic it was having to dance, while others touched on the importance of travel and having a global perspective. For many of us it was exciting being able to experience a college campus for the first time. And, seeing how most of the interactions were done in both Spanish and English, it was our first time using our language skills outside of the classroom.
We owe many thanks to Dr. Ana Alexander, Castleton University, and the Castleton Spanish Club for their help organizing, planning, and putting on the GEMS Spanish field trip.
Brian Garvey, Jr. is the Spanish Teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School. This is his first contribution to the FWSU Blog.