Students spent two weeks abroad as part of a cultural exchange program with a Spanish high school.
For the past 19 years, the Crossroads World Languages Department has facilitated a cultural exchange program in partnership with Colegio Inglés, an independent school in Zaragoza, Spain. After a brief hiatus due to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the program resumed this past June, when 20 Upper School students spent two weeks in Zaragoza living with host families, visiting historical landmarks and immersing themselves in Spanish language and culture.
Every year, the application-based program is open to Upper School Spanish students in grades nine through 11. Upon their return to campus this fall, students and faculty chaperones took time to reflect on their time abroad.
“What’s really special about this trip is the opportunity to do a homestay,” said Spanish teacher Molly Cavallaro “A lot of student travel is focused on [sightseeing], whereas this trip is really centered on their experience of staying with host families.”
Each Crossroads student was matched with a host sibling based on common interests, and quickly jumped into their host family’s daily routine. From cooking meals to doing activities together as a family on the weekend, Crossroads students experienced firsthand what it’s like to live and attend school in another country.
Each morning, they accompanied their host siblings to school, then embarked on field trips throughout the city and region.. On some of the excursions, the Roadrunners were accompanied by their host siblings, like on a field trip to Monasterio de Piedra, a monastery that dates back more than 800 years. Together, the students hiked the monastery grounds, visited waterfalls and bonded with their international peers. On campus, the students played soccer and basketball during break times. Crossroads students also spent time assimilating into the general Colegio Inglés community, even leading a craft one afternoon for primary school students.
“Generally what I liked about this trip was spending time with the Spanish kids and really getting to know them while being immersed in their life,” said 11th grader Yasu Agawa. “In Zaragoza, my favorite memory was during school, when we came back from an excursion, and after lunch we ended up playing soccer in the courtyard area. It was really fun because it was like the U.S. and Spanish culture combined.”
Crossroads students also learned about Spanish history and culture, visiting landmarks including Aljafería Palace, the medieval village of Albarracín, Zaragoza’s Roman ruins and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. During their final days together, Colegio Inglés hosted a party for Crossroads students and their host families in celebration of the close-knit bonds developed over the course of the trip.
“The most beautiful part, which always brings tears to my eyes, is the connections they make,” said Upper School Dean of School Life Stephanie Simon. “Everyone’s crying on the last day… Students really come out of their comfort zone and feel that comfort with their host families.”
Before flying back to Los Angeles, Upper Schoolers spent two days in Madrid where they visited museums (including the Reina Sofía Museum and Museo del Prado), saw a live flamenco show and toured the city’s Bernabéu Stadium. In both cities, students developed confidence speaking in another language, navigating a new country and developing relationships with people from different cultures. For many Crossroads students, the experience was life-changing.
“My takeaway would be that no matter where you are, you should always try—whether that’s using body language or signals—to communicate with people who are new to you and people from different countries,” said Yasu. “It might seem hard at first, but it’s not as hard as you think if you really put in the effort.”