Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) students’ recent visit to Spain was a learning experience in Spanish culture, history and language.
From Nov. 3 to 11, 20 students, accompanied by RFH Principal Tracy Handerhan, World Language Department Supervisor Seth Herman and Spanish Teacher Christina Gauss, took the trip dubbed The Spanish Immersion Trip.
First on the itinerary was a weekend in Madrid, the Capital of Spain and its largest city. The group visited Casa del Campo Park, Puerta de Sol, and Plaza Mayor. A trip to nearby Toledo was also enjoyed by the group. Toledo, known as the Imperial City, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.
Next up was El Isabel de Castilla Institute in Avila, the RFH Sister School in Spain. The visit was coordinated by Christina Gauss, Seth Herman and Aida Marquez, a teacher at El Isabel de Castilla Institute.
This past February, 16 students from El Isabella de Castilla Institute were hosted by RFH and stayed with local families. In return, the RFH students were hosted by those students plus four additional families.
The RFH students attended El Isabel de Castilla Institute for two days, and participated in what is called Charlas — speed chatting —with students at the school. During Charlas, the RFH students were paired with Spanish students currently studying English, and given topics to discuss in both Spanish and English.
The RFH students also attended a chorus class, participated in gym class, and took part in a flamenco dancing class. Additionally, a tapas (appetizers) tasting dinner as well as excursions to Segovia and Salamanca were enjoyed by the RFH group.
The last two days of the Spain Immersion Trip were spent in Madrid, with visits to the Royal Palace, Buen Retiro Park and the Prado Museum.
“For me, as a language educator, the ‘Charlas’ at our ‘Sister School’ were the highlight of the authentic experiences that we created for our students,” Christina Gauss said. “Both sets of students were able to utilize the language skills they have been developing in the classroom for several years, and they gained firsthand insight into the lives and cultures of their peers. After several of these sessions, our students had spoken with over fifty students from El Isabel de Castilla Institute.”
Gauss noted that the six evenings spent with host families also provided the RFH students with an excellent opportunity to enhance their communications skills.
“Most host parents did not speak English, so our students communicated solely in Spanish,” she said. “I believe that the biggest takeaway for the RFH students, though, was that we are really more similar than different! Many students formed lifelong friendships in six short days. We will continue to foster these relationships with El Isabel students through email and video chat communication from our classroom, and have plans to collaborate with them on a project about current global challenges.”
Seth Herman added, “I was incredibly impressed by our students’ ability to use Spanish in a practical setting. They were able to negotiate meaning and interact meaningfully with students and families from our sister school. Their ability to speak Spanish improved tremendously on this trip.”
The RFH students expressed appreciation for the opportunity to broaden their horizons.
“I feel that my Spanish skills and knowledge of the world improved in ways that textbooks would not be able to teach me,” student Marin Altobelli said. “I made many new friends and I was able to live their everyday lives. This experience exceeded my expectations and I hope to visit again soon.”
Her fellow traveler Melissa Capano agreed. “It was an unforgettable experience that I will appreciate for the rest of my life,” she said. “I learned so much, and made so many amazing friends that I look forward to keeping in touch with.”
The students also expressed gratitude for the generosity of the host families. “I am so grateful to have had a wonderful family to stay with, and to experience the true Spanish culture,” said Julia Handerhan.
— Edited press release from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School