When some of her students expressed an interest in traveling abroad, Henry County High School Spanish teacher Robin McCoy thought a trip to Spain might fit the bill.
After opening up the opportunity to go to McCoy’s students, several from Henry County wound up making the trip that for all marked the farthest they’d ever been from home. And for some, it marked a very unique experience with a new culture.
“It really was interesting, it was kind of a culture shock ... respect is so much more of an issue (in Spain) than it is in the U.S., and you have to be respectful to everybody,” sophomore Billy Kelley said. Until the trip to Spain, Kelley said the farthest he’d ever been from home was Alabama.
Sophomore Chase Copley said he was most surprised by the number of shops.
“If you went somewhere, there was a vendor for something,” he said. “There were always people in the street selling stuff ... (there was) a guy making stuff out of cans.”
Venturing out into the streets brought a new awareness for the students, as well. Kelley said motorists drove “like maniacs,” on the very narrow streets, though Copley said not all of the drivers were that bad.
“There weren’t any big trucks there, there were little cars,” he added.
Kelley said the architecture was quite different from what he was used to, and sophomore Maggie Ward, who celebrated her 16th birthday while on the 10-day trip, noted that all of the buildings were considerably older.
Each student said they were surprised to see farms next to the highways, particularly olive farms. Ward said it was neat to see so many windmills, which McCoy said are used for energy.
The trip wasn’t just fun and games, though, there was plenty of learning to be done in a place that was a gigantic history lesson.
The students experienced something many Americans never will.
“I thought it was neat that we got to see Christopher Columbus’ tomb,” Kelley said, while Ward noted that Columbus is almost worshiped.
But the students also got to see the room where Columbus received the money to make his famous trip.
“We were standing where he was asking for the money,” Kelley said. “It was very surreal. Something so huge that changed the history of the world, and we were (standing) there.”
Ward said she felt that way each time they visited an historic site. “I would picture the people from way back then,” she said.
The students also got to see the Spanish Royal Palace, and the tombs of the country’s kings and queens. There also was plenty of time to see art and historic landmarks, including the Church of Seville.
Everything, the students said, was interesting.
And then there was the food.
The food, Ward said, is what surprised her the most. “They don’t cook with oil and salt,” like Americans do, she said. Kelley noted olive oil was a key ingredient.
But it was the prevalence of ham that surprised them all.
“They had a cafeteria designated to ham,” Copley said. “We went to one that was almost a ham-eteria.”
Ward, however, said she didn’t care for the food, though Kelley said it depending on where they were.
“In Madrid, they had really amazing food in the hotel,” he aid.
“They don’t use ketchup or condiments,” Ward noted.
Copley said when the group went to Gibraltar, he asked for ketchup with his fish and chips. After asking for more, Copley said the attendant was puzzled. “She asked me, ‘are you going to drink that?”
The students said they were able to find some foods they were more familiar with.
“We found this one place that had, like, everything,” Ward said. “It had good food. They had pizza and hamburgers and stuff.”
Copley, however, opted for more authentic food.
“We bought a hamburger, but it didn’t even have a bun,” he said. “I never ate American food the whole time I was there. I didn’t want to.”
For some students, McCoy said, it was the first time they’d come face to face with poverty.
“Having for the first time any confrontation with people begging for money, and poor people that were really unfortunate,” she said.
Maggie Ward said while they did see some homeless people, she’d seen more in Washington D.C.
And of course, the students picked up more than a little bit of Spanish while they were there.
There also was plenty of self-reflection.
Ward said she thought she had manners, but learned to be more proper.
“I mean, I have manners here, but over there, you really learn to use them more because they’re more proper, I guess.
Kelley said he learned he knew more Spanish than he thought he did. He too said he learned that perhaps he wasn’t as respectful as he thought he was.
The students said they also realized just how wasteful Americans tend to be.
“They were really ‘green,’” Copley said. “It made me realize more about the environment. If they’re like that, why can’t we? “
Kelley said conservation is emphasized more in Spain.
“They’re so much more concerned about conserving the water and energy than we are,” he said. “Things were posted in the bathrooms, reuse your towels so you can conserve energy. It made you realize something has to be done or we’re going to be in a terrible situation in the next 40-50 years.
“It made me jealous because it’s so much more beautiful over there than here.”
Each student said they would take the trip again in a heartbeat. Copley said he’d like to see Barcelona, and Ward said she was already planning to go back after her senior year.
E-mail us about this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.