CHS students spent Feb. 15-25 in Malaga, Spain
CHELMSFORD, MA (Mar. 23, 2023) – The dozen or so Chelmsford High School students who spent February break in Malaga, Spain didn’t really know one another before the trip.
Admittedly, they now have a unique connection having spent Feb. 15-26 on the World Languages Department cultural exchange to Malaga, arranged by CHS World Languages Coordinator Jessica Nollet.
On Tuesday, Mar. 7, the students sat in a second-floor classroom at CHS discussing their experiences, telling anecdotes, laughing, and marveling at Spanish customs such as dinner at 10 p.m., greetings by a kiss on each cheek, tiny cars, fast drivers and narrow roads.
The cultural exchanges at CHS not only build connections with students and families from other countries. They bond students at CHS, which, said Ms. Nollet, signifies that international exchanges are invaluable educational resources.
“Travel is amazing and so important because it brings people closer together,” said Ms. Nollet. “The CHS students that signed up for this experience last year weren’t necessarily friends or knew each other well ahead of time, but by the end of our 10 days in Spain they had grown so close and were sharing inside jokes, laughing, and getting along. They bonded over things like trying new foods, missing a flight, and the jet lag.”
The trip, chaperoned by Ms. Nollet, CHS Spanish educator Jessica Ferronetti and Byam Elementary School special education teacher Sue Ferronetti, began with a happy accident. Due to a flight delay, the group missed its connection from Madrid to Malaga – about 330 miles apart – on the south coast on the Mediterranean Sea.
Thus, they made the trip by rail, allowing them to see more of the Spanish landscape.
The speed and brevity of the host language caught most of the CHS students off guard at first, some admittedly having trouble understanding. “At first, my Spanish was not very good, but even though I could have spoken Spanish through (host) Eduardo, I decided to try and use Spanish as much as possible,” said junior Ben Redding-Cooper. “I am glad that I made that decision. By the end of the trip, my use of the language had greatly improved.”
In October, 11 CHS students and their families served as hosts to their Spanish guests. Students who made the return trip to Malaga said hosting was a significant factor in comprehension. “It was harder for those (students) who didn’t meet their families first,” one student noted.
By the trip’s end, however, each of the students claimed to be a remarkably better speaker of the language.
Despite the initial minor language struggle, the CHS students found many things fascinating and much to love about Malaga and Spain such as:
- The climate: 50s at night, mid-70s during the day
- Schools that encompassed all grades K-12
- Teachers changed classrooms while students remained in one classroom
- A staggered schedule of classes throughout the day, allowing students to leave school and return later
- ‘Microcars’ driven by students
- The ability to walk wherever needed and the easy, affordable access to trains for further destinations
- Predominantly more formal dress opposed to casual
“The Spanish custom that took me by surprise is how much people went out to eat because it is not that expensive,” said senior Analia O’Connor-Carinao.
During the trip, CHS students spent a day with their host students in their school and engaged in a Q&A session. There are several traits of U.S. schools that the Spanish student were surprised to learn were true. “They were also surprised to know that all of the stereotypical elements of American schools from the movies, like prom and yellow school buses, were real,” said Mr. Redding-Cooper.
On a deeper level, Mr. Redding Cooper was struck by the openness and sincerity of the hosts. “Although we were not from Spain, they spoke to us with interest, and respected when we were talking,” he said. “I saw this similar pattern almost everywhere we visited. The locals were friendly and patient and seemed to want to know what we had to say.”
While fascination of the Spanish culture was the topic at the Mar. 7 meeting, there were two themes that were unanimous: Each would return to Spain and each would remain in contact with their host families.
“It was wonderful to hear that students felt like their Spanish improved in such a short time,” said Ms. Nollet. “I’m so impressed by the connections they made with their host families and students and I hope they stay in touch.”
About Chelmsford Public Schools
The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential. This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students. For more information, please visit www.chelmsfordschools.org.