In March, the St. Paul’s community welcomed 17 students from Colegio Alarcón, a school in Madrid, Spain, for an immersive exchange program that was a wild success.
Spanish teachers Senorita Aycart and Senor Ward pioneered the program as a way to introduce a reciprocal immersive experience that would expand St. Paul’s students’ understanding of the world. Not only would St. Paul’s students be able to practice Spanish with native speakers, they would also be able to develop cultural understandings that are different than their own.
Throughout their two and a half weeks in Kansas City, the students from Colegio Alarcón spent several days experiencing daily life at St. Paul’s. They attended Middle School classes, spoke with younger grades about life in Spain, Spanish architecture, Holy Week, and much more. And they answered many enthusiastic, “Hola! Como estas?” (Hello! How are you?) greetings from our K-2nd grade students.
When they weren’t in class the students were exploring Kansas City and the surrounding area, learning about our culture. They visited Kauffman Stadium, Arrowhead, Shatto Farm, the University of Kansas and much more. And, of course, we introduced them to Kansas City BBQ.
The students stayed with St. Paul’s host families, embedding themselves in daily family life and quickly becoming a beloved older sister/brother and daughter/son figure in the family.
“It was a really great experience,” 8th grade student Grace said. “Over those two and a half weeks, Anna (the exchange student) and I grew really close. At first it was kind of weird having someone new in your house that you didn’t really know. But by the second day that she was here, we became really close friends. I’m the oldest in my family, so she became like my older sister. She also got close with my younger sister.”
St. Paul’s parents were also enriched by the experience.
“Our family has grown to include our Spanish exchange student and her family,” parent Casey Simmons said. “The bond that was formed was much deeper than we could of imagined. Every day was filled with discovery, learning, laughter, curiosity, adventure and memory making. We still talk to our sweet Dani every day.”
The visit also motivated St. Paul’s middle school students to learn Spanish, as they recognized the benefits of being bilingual first-hand.
“Our students were excited to see the benefits of being able to speak another language. The experience truly broadened their horizons. We now hear students saying, ‘I really want to learn Spanish so that I can have conversations with my exchange student all of the time.’,” Ms. Aycart said.
The exchange program provided authentic experiences to grow in cultural awareness and understanding. At St. Paul’s one of our life skills is flexibility - the ability to adapt to new situations. This experience provided a wonderful opportunity for students to both practice and observe students doing just that.
We are now planning for our visit to Colegio Alarcón in Madrid, Spain in Fall 2018. Accompanied by Senorita Aycart and Senor Ward, 10-20 St. Paul’s students will visit Colegio Alarcón for two weeks. Students will stay in homes of families from the Spanish school, attend classes, participate in school and community activities, learn another way of life, and visit places of tourist interest.
As students experience a different country, culture, and school, they will establish a more rewarding and long-lasting relationship with the students and families from Colegio Alarcón and will grow tremendously.