By: Hannah Becker, Short-Term Programs Assistant

Wouldn’t it be just a dream to spend the two weeks of spring break living with a Spanish family in the capital, Madrid! For a group a students from Woodstock High School in Woodstock, IL, they were lucky enough to do just that. By taking part in CCI Greenheart’s School to School Exchange Program, Woodstock students hosted Spanish students at their school in the fall, and then in the spring, a group of students visited their partner school in Madrid and spent two wonderful weeks immersed in Spanish culture.

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Their cultural exchange experience began with their arrival in Madrid, where they were met by their Spanish host families. Each student was matched with another student at their Spanish partner school, ensuring a complete immersion experience! Being part of a host family is a very imperative aspect of the School to School Exchange Program. There is no better way to understand a culture than being completely thrown into it. Student Mary Grace Mathison said about her host family, “I fell in love with my host family immediately. They were so warm and welcoming. I definitely felt at home and well looked after…I had a wonderful time with people I’ll never forget!”

The students were also able to enjoy a real Spanish school day and spent their first week attending classes with their host siblings. The students practiced their Spanish language skills by giving presentations about their home community and school. They also got to show off their fabulous acting skills though a dramatization in Spanish of The Three Little Pigs for elementary school students.

While not attending school, the students enjoyed the sights, sounds and food of the beautiful capital, Madrid. Being placed right in Madrid, students had easy access to the many cultural wonders Madrid has to offer, including the famous Museo del Prado, the vibrant Puerta del Sol, and the bustling Mercado de San Miguel.

Students also visited the medieval city of Cuenca, of which the old town is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is known for its famous Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) and cobbled streets, and has a beautiful view of the Cuenca Mountains.

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The second week of their stay in Spain fell on Semana Santa (Holy Week). This provided the American students with the opportunity to experience a very cultural Spanish holiday. It is typical for families to leave the cities for a vacation during the Easter holiday season and many Spanish host families brought their American student on their family trips. Not one student had the same experience. They travelled all over Spain, including the beautiful historical capital of the Northern region of Castille, Burgos, the breathtaking Mediterranean seaside town of Alicante, and the southern town of Granada, at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In taking part in the School to School Exchange Program, these students had a unique chance to become a part of a Spanish family. Being exposed to other cultures at a young age can be transformational for high school students. Student Shea Carzoli said, “Now that I have traveled I realize I love it and seeing the different cultures out there…It’s a great experience and a chance of a lifetime.” Many students expressed a desire to continue enhancing their cross-cultural experiences by studying abroad once they reach college.

Are you a Spanish teacher or school administrator interested in facilitating a life-changing cross-cultural experience? Apply now for CCI Greenheart’s School to School Exchange Program! We are currently accepting applications from schools for the 2014-15 school year. Please email schoolexchange@cci-exchange.org or visit the website for more information about the program. Click here to apply.