Spain cultural immersion trip creates unforgettable experience, breaks barriers

Through+the+shared+experience+of+navigating+a+new+environment+largely+independent+of+adult+support%2C+I+learned+to+be+a+strong+traveler+and+how+to+move+around+and+live+with+a+tight-knit+group+of+peers.+

Photo by Nicole Giuliani, math teacher

Through the shared experience of navigating a new environment largely independent of adult support, I learned to be a strong traveler and how to move around and live with a tight-knit group of peers.

To return to school on the Monday morning after a vacation and be greeted by 20 more familiar faces than when you left a week before is not something many students can say they’ve experienced. Yet, when I strolled back into the cafeteria at 7:30am, I immediately rushed to hug a group of seniors that I had just spent the past 11 days getting to know, as though I hadn’t seen them in years.

Over the 2022 April vacation, world language department head Maria Zachery led a group of 29 students and five teacher chaperones on a trip to Spain. In almost a two-week period of city-hopping, nonstop activity and one too many butchered “por favor’s,” I returned to Westport with incredible new friendships and an unforgettable experience. 

Let’s put this trip into perspective, shall we? 

Two dozen kids from different grades, largely strangers, with different interests and experiences, from all corners of the Staples community, shoved into planes and trains and museums and buses and cathedrals and hotels together for almost two weeks. It was not dissimilar to college, except with a 10:30 curfew. For me, there was no better way to break down barriers between kids who might not have glanced twice at one another back in the school hallways. 

Together, my peers and I waited in airports, played carpool karaoke, learned some Flamenco moves, danced to the Macarena, ate copious amounts of bread and potato tortilla, cooked traditional meals (and stole some burgers in our free time), stumbled through our spanish, biked around cities, roared at soccer games and became comfortable roommates. 

Through the shared experience of navigating a different environment largely independent of typical adult support, we learned more about one another and about ourselves. We learned how to look out for each other and travel as a tight-knit group, rather than as individuals. I ended up finding common ground and strong friendships with people whose faces had been completely unfamiliar to me a week before. 

In this new environment, I also saw my teachers in a completely forbidden state—sweatpants and pajamas. Who knew teachers even owned pajamas? 

I ended up finding common ground and strong friendships with people whose faces had been completely unfamiliar to me a week before. ”

— Allison Gillman '23

But seriously. While enjoying their own little vacation, this group of adults was dedicated, understanding, patient and endlessly fun to be with on what was undoubtedly a logistically dizzying undertaking. They worked to no avail to provide a stress-free and inclusive environment for us, while also chiding us with constant reminders that “you actually have to use my last name when we get back to school.” The experience was a reminder of how easy it can be to eliminate communicative and cooperative barriers between teachers and students

I am a traveling fanatic. But for me, this trip wasn’t only about the fact that I went to Europe and was able to explore a beautiful country. It was an unforgettable experience because of the ways I grew as an individual—having more pressing responsibilities and being disciplined and organized with money—as well as the new relationships I formed by being pushed out of my comfort zone. 

At present, the world language department plans to host two more trips like this one, and if all goes well, to continue with more in the future. I would recommend this experience to any student in a heartbeat. If we can work to eliminate financial barriers to travel and publicize the trips in an appealing and inclusive way, it has the potential to become a meaningful and long-lasting Staples tradition.