Spanish trip exposes McAllen students to old, new worlds

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These four McAllen ISD students sit and enjoy the dining at local cafe in a Spanish cafe in this 2023 photo. They returned Friday, June 23, 2023, from a study abroad trip in Spain. (Courtesy: McAllen ISD)

Members of a 20-student delegation who returned from a two-week study abroad program in Spain last Friday described the trip as an eye-opening experience that made a significant impact on them. Students took courses at the University of Salamanca, one of the oldest universities in the world, studying language, culture and communications.

They also took trips to Toledo, Escorial and Avila, visiting cathedrals and palaces and seeing all the old world art inside them.

They ate at cafes and walked through plazas, seeming, generally, surprised to see the whole country shut down in the afternoon for a siesta and elementary school students walking alone on their own to class.

One of the students, 16-year-old senior Jose Alvarez, said he and his peers were afraid at first that they’d fly all the way to Spain just to spend their time sitting in a classroom. That wasn’t the case, but the classroom experience was, surprisingly, what made the biggest impact on Alvarez.

“It’s completely different, their method of teaching and our method of teaching here in the U.S.” he said. “For them it’s more of a collaborative type of education, so we’d work in groups a lot, we would talk with the teacher a lot. So I think that’s what mostly stuck with me, is the type of education that they gave us.”

Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Rosalba De Hoyos, who went with the group, said this different way of thinking and living struck her as well. She was shocked to see how much they embraced it, watching kids readily order rabbit and venison and remark about how good it tasted.

“The students were willing — I guess because of how comfortable they felt, how safe they felt — they were willing to step outside their comfort zone and try,” she said. “And I think that speaks volumes.”

De Hoyos said she saw the experience build confidence and expand horizons for the students.

“They have a perspective now. The world is an amazing place to live, to experience,” she said. “Some students mentioned that they didn’t want to come back, that they’d love to live there.”

Paola Garcia, a senior, was one of those students who wasn’t quite ready to come back after two weeks.

McAllen ISD students are seen in this 2023 photo outside the University of Salamanca-International Courses in Salamanca, Spain. They returned home Friday, June 23, 2023, from a study abroad trip in Spain. (Courtesy: McAllen ISD)

“A bunch of us were saying, ‘What if I just stay here? What if the plane doesn’t come to get us?’” she said.

The architecture impacted Garcia the most, learning about how different cultures and religions played a role in developing ancient cathedrals and palaces in the cities the group explored.

With help from the McAllen Education Foundation, the district made the trip possible for several students through scholarships.

Garcia said she received one of those scholarships, and extended her gratitude.

“Without them and the help of what they did, I never would have been able to go abroad or anywhere overseas,” she said.

McAllen ISD students seen in a classroom in Spain. They returned Friday, June 23, 2023, from a study abroad trip. (Courtesy: McAllen ISD)