Proctor en Segovia: Two Months, Too Short

Posted by Ryan Graumann


The final weeks of the fall term took the fall 2014 Proctor en Segovia group on their final excursion to Andalucía. There students were immersed in the study of the history and culture of Islamic Spain in Granada, Spanish colonialism in Cádiz, and Iberia’s Roman roots in Bolonia. We also enjoyed many of the region’s more contemporary contributions to Spanish culture, such as flamenco music and culinary delights.

Back in Segovia, students eagerly recounted their adventures in southern Spain to their host families and began to discuss their inevitable departure. However, the term and week came to a close, fittingly, with celebrations of achievement and recognition of friendship. Students and directors ate lunch with Spanish teachers María José and Rosa, and current and former host families got together one evening for tapas and lively conversation. For many, connections made in Segovia will last longer than one term, or even one high school career.

Experiential education Proctor en Segovia students explore the medieval streets of Vejer de la FronteraFriendships certainly have developed and have been strengthened over the course of a term in Spain.  Here we explore the narrow, winding, medieval streets of one of Andalucía’s pueblos blancos, Vejer de la Frontera.

Experiential education exploring Granada on foot and admiring the Alhambra
We admire one of the most splendid, and most well-known, examples of Islamic architecture in western Europe, Granada’s Alhambra (and, of course, the sunset or puesta del sol). 

Experiential education student presentations on Spanish history and culture
Nick leads us in a discussion of the history of the Roma people (Gypsies) in Spain and the city of Granada followed by a debate on whether integration of the Roma people in western Europe is possible and why they have been discriminated against (and been the victims of constant genocide and repression) over the past 500 years.

Experiential education studying the history of Islamic Spain at the Alhambra
Admiring the aesthetic beauty and analyzing the decoration and symbols of the Alhambra’s Puerta de la Justicia

Experiential education studying Islamic art and architecture inside the Alhambra
Plaster and tilework inside the Alhambra’s Nasrid Palace, Arabic calligraphy and alicatado.  

Experiential education studying Islamic art and architecture inside the Alhambra
Gazing out towards the old Arab quarter, the Albaicín, illuminated in the golden late afternoon sunlight.

Experiential education exploring the inside of the Alhambra
It was from here that the banners of the Kingdom of Castilla and the Kingdom of Aragón were raised by the forces of Isabel and Fernando in 1492, signifying the end of the reconquest. 

“In exactly one week I will be home in the U.S,” I thought to myself as the train hurtled its way toward Madrid. I would be in my house, with my family, my room, my dogs and the other things I have missed during my two months away. I felt almost giddy fantasizing about seeing my parents, my sisters and my friends. But I felt guilty giving the future so much room in my thoughts and for not being in the present, appreciating what was happening around me. I looked out the window at the green and beige farmlands, and reminded myself that I was in Spain, that I had just spent a whole week in the south of Spain instead of in a classroom, but really I just wanted to be in one of my homes right then. And so I was happily relieved when I realized I only had three hours until I was home in my host house.
I got on the plane Monday September eighth with some apprehensions about leaving the comfort of my friends, family, and the Proctor campus. The six other kids I would be spending the next two months with weren’t my best friends; some of them I didn’t really know, others were my teammates. I had no clue what my host family would be like except for the brief email I had received a couple of days earlier. And, to push me a little further out of my comfort zone, my Spanish was somewhat conversational on a good day.
But now here I am two whole months later on the very last full day in Segovia. After eight weeks of pure Spain and one day of France. After a handful of high-speed train rides. After swimming in three different major bodies of water, on three different coasts. After history lessons at the top of the Sagrada Familia. After some maddening group conversations and some other moments when I had no doubt we were best friends. After all this here I am frantically trying to figure out what it has all meant to me. “What have I gained from all these experiences?” is the only question I have asked myself the whole week.
Earlier today when I was walking to the Plaza Mayor for the last time, to take my last exam of my two months abroad, I felt a sense of comfort I didn’t know I had. I was surprised by this feeling of complete comfort; comfort in the way I looked, where I was going, what I was doing, who I was in that moment and where I was in the world. And so after a stressful history study session, a notably easy history test and some hard-core interpretive scrap booking, I walked to my host house for the last time, for the last lunch with my new mom and brothers. On the way down Calle Real, I thought hard about the comfort I had felt in the morning and realized that I had created my own comfort. I had, without knowing it, overcome the various forces that had pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had found comfort in my host mom; I knew she would always make me a snack for school, do my laundry, pack me bocadillos for long trips and feed me delicious food for dinner. I knew she would understand when I was tired and wanted to go to bed. As a member of such a small group I had pushed myself to brush off snarky comments from others, and had stopped myself from making my own snarky comments. And, at moments when we felt like our own little family, I knew it was all worth it. And, lastly, I had worked so hard to overcome the language barrier that was so frustrating at times, but now I feel a slight sliver of proficiency when I stumble through conversations.
To answer the nagging question, “what have I gained from this?”, I believe I have gained the knowledge that when I push myself far enough out of my comfort zone, it will be ok. I have found comfort where I could and built it where I couldn’t.

~ Allie Clarke

Experiential student presentation on the importance of the olive and olive oil in an olive grove!
Andalucía is certainly within the “olive belt,” that important crop that helped bring “civilization” to the shores of southern Europe, and still, to this day, is incredibly important to Spain’s economy and cuisine.

Proctor en Segovia students explore the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe
From Granada we drove across the width of much of Andalucía through ragged mountain passes, rolling valleys, and coastal plains, arriving at the city (and peninsula) of Cádiz on the Atlantic coast, on the southwestern tip of Iberia.  Cádiz is, perhaps, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.

Experiential education learning about Americas trade in Cádiz
Cádiz, after Sevilla, became the headquarters of the Casa de Contratación in the 18th century, collecting taxes and import duties, and approving voyages of exploration and trade to the “New World.”

Proctor en Segovia in Cádiz 
Although I never thought that I would go to the skatepark and have another Spanish class, I managed to make a friend there who taught me a decent amount of Spanish (some skateboard related). Chito, my skateboarding Spanish friend, had taken a few years of English in school, but his ability to speak was rough. I'm sure, at first, that my Spanish was a lot worse than his English. During my second week in Spain we began to speak Spanglish, a combination between English and Spanish. Looking back at my friendship with Chito it's amazing how in two months I can see an evolution with my Spanish and his English. Another relationship I never expected to develop so strongly is with my host mom, María. At first, I never thought I would have the ability to even speak to her, let alone make her laugh. Everyday at lunch and dinner we always found something funny to talk about even if I was the butt end of the joke. These relationships that can be developed by studying abroad cannot be written down in an itinerary or guessed when applying to the trip.

Looking back to December I wish I could smack myself on the side of the head for thinking of traveling abroad to Spain as an easy way out of my Spanish credit. Spain is so much more than a language credit and Spain is so much more than I am aware of. Traveling abroad I went on a religious pilgrimage through the region of Galicia where I saw immaculate beauty, took more steps that I could ever count and never enjoyed a hot shower so much. I traveled to the south of Spain and saw Roman ruins spitting distance from the white sand beaches in Bolonia. The packet handed out at the start of the term is Spain does no justice to the country of Spain. No description, picture or anything else could ever capture Spain's landscapes, colors, and pure beauty.

~ Cole Bickford

Experiential education Proctor en Segovia students explore the medieval streets of Vejer de la Frontera
Working our way toward the Mediterranean, stopping for an outdoor lunch menú in Vejer de la Frontera.

Experiential education Proctor en Segovia students explore the medieval streets of Vejer de la Frontera
A typical Proctor en Segovia afternoon, pausing to sit in the sun on medieval fortifications. No threat of attack on this day.

Experiential education students cook a gourmet dinner in our rented home
Students cook yet another gourmet meal in our rented casa rural near Bolonia, Andalucía.  Cole’s family recipe of homemade meatballs and one of Allie’s signature salads.

Now that we have unfortunately reached the last week of the term, it seems surreal to even think about living in the United States once again. I know that I have two weeks left in Spain, but I can’t help mourning my last day. I am on a whole different planet in Spain, one that I never want to leave. I will miss my long walks in the morning to school, my trips to the cafes for a snack and, of course, I will miss the person I am in Spain. For some unknown reason, I feel as if once I am back in the United States, my view on life will change. I am more carefree, grateful and observant in Spain than in the United States. Back at Proctor, I sit in my room for hours perfecting my homework and stressing about my grades. In Segovia, I feel as if a weight has been lifted off me. I am not saying that the courses offered over here aren’t challenging; I am saying that I have realized that I should be appreciating and enjoying my time in high school. Everything will work out in the end, and there is no need to constantly criticize myself based on artificial things such as grades. As of right now, I consider Segovia my second home, somewhere I can find the comforts of home without physically being back in Massachusetts. I can not comprehend the fact that in less than five days, the term will come to an end and we will all have to go our separate ways. This particular group is very close, therefore, I believe that we will continue to have strong relationships even on campus. Segovia will forever be in my heart, as will the adventure I have shared with my classmates.
~ Paris Healey

Experiential education Proctor students hike and climb in the mountains behind our rented home
We awoke to a beautiful morning on the Costa de la Luz and, after breakfast, hiked and climbed in the coastal mountains overlooking the beginning of the Strait of Gibraltar and Morocco beyond!

Hiking in coastal mountains overlooking Morocco and Africa
The area around Tarifa, Spain, because of the almost constant windy conditions, is also home to countless wind farms, sometimes encompassing entire valleys.

Experiential history class student presentations on Roman Iberia
The setting for Cole’s history class presentation on Roman and Greek influence in the southern Iberian peninsula, the beach at Bolonia.  This was an important Roman port city, linking Hispania with Tangier in North Africa, and producing salted fish and other preserved fish products.

Students explore the southern coast with the continent of Africa visible in the distance
Looking out at Tarifa and Morocco beyond!

Students experience a vision of rural Andalucía
A local horse comes out to bid the group farewell (and with its eyes set on the apples in a grocery bag).

Student artwork: Metal arts afternoon activity projects are complete
Allie proudly displays her completed final project for metal arts class, a beautifully engraved and finished box, a fusion of wood and metal media.

8:30 AM and Segovia is waking up. Outside, the streets are full of life. People walking from place to place, the busy footsteps of a unique culture. Feeling the warm Spanish weather of late October, it becomes impossible to feel annoyed by what a wonderful place this is. Catching a whiff of the freshly baked bread is the most uplifting part of my morning. Navigating around the cargo vans that somehow intricately weave through Segovia’s narrow, winding streets, I find myself hugging the walls of different shops so as to not get ran over. It is just another early morning, walking to school. At the Plaza Mayor, the day is just getting started. Thursday is market day and dozens of vans sell everything from cheap clothing to fresh fruit. The murmurs of people talking with various venders forms a meditative melody. Wandering into the tiny elevator at the school, the door quickly shuts and the tiny box hums it’s way up two floors. Leaning out the school’s balcony I wave at my incoming classmates and look across the plaza.

~ Stuart Hull

 Student artwork: Metal arts afternoon activity projects are complete


Final week of Proctor en Segovia students say goodbyes to teachers
Back in Segovia at the end of their final week in Spain, students say their goodbyes to Jesús de la Cruz, metal arts instructor.

Final week of Proctor en Segovia students say goodbyes to teachers
Rosa’s Spanish class. Rather than goodbye forever, hasta luego is much more appropriate.

This brings me to my next point: how much Español I have learned over the duration of this trip. Through the hard work and dedication of my fantastic Spanish teacher, Rosa, I have managed to gather and retain an incredible amount of Spanish. I can confidently say that my Spanish has at least tripled in terms of overall skills, after being here for just two months. To be completely honest, I didn’t think I would learn that much Spanish here. As soon as I stepped foot in Segovia, I realized that my host parents spoke literally no English, and soon thereafter I figured out that, for the most part, the majority of Segovians also don't speak English. Everyday interactions consist mainly of Spanish and or Spanglish (English and Spanish).

It's crazy that I'm writing this with less than four days to go in this adventure. I feel content and whole with it coming to an end, and, on one hand, I'm ready to go home. On the other hand, I want to stay here for the next term. And the term after that, and after that. Basically, I can't get enough.

~ Nicholas Takahashi

Final week of Proctor en Segovia students say goodbyes to teachers 
María José’s Spanish class poses after a final “goodbye” lunch with the entire group.

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Nicholas T. poses with his host mother, Ana.

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Allie with host mother Conchi and host brothers Ruben and Alejandro

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Nick S. with his host mother Carmen

I remember that first day clearly; I choked out whatever Spanish I could remember to Carmen, my new host mother. Every other sentence I could understand, and she mumbled pretty much everything making it extremely difficult to comprehend. Her pace would speed up if I understood anything and I would immediately begin to lose her. Santiago, my host father would speak more slowly and using easier words, but he wouldn't speak to me as much. He is a clever dude who would often make jokes with me. As the term went on I would slowly grasp the same things they would ask me everyday. How are you? Is it cold out? What time are you going to school tomorrow?

At the present time, fast forwarding to the end of the term, I am able to understand almost everything. Just now I had a full conversation with Santiago about soccer, how Barcelona had beat Madrid and how disappointed he was. I also went in depth about Ebola and the weather for the next couple days with Carmen. My comprehension is so strong that I never would have believed myself if I was told I would be able to understand Spanish being spoken this fast. For someone who took Spanish 1 four times and had pretty much barely passed the class every time, I am in awe with my own ability. Sometimes when responding I don't even have to think through what I'm about to say.

~ Nick Sawaya

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Cole and host parents María Ángeles and Cecilio

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Paris and host father Mario

Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families

Here we are now at the bitter end, with four short days left. I have settled into the culture and life with my host family so much that, besides the language factor and not being fully fluent, I feel as if I have been living here for a year. Every night at dinner now, Paqui keeps reminding me how short the time is that we have left together and how the months went by too fast. Last night at dinner she told me that she was going to adopt me and that I wasn’t allowed to go back to the United States. When I was FaceTiming with my dad for his birthday, I told him exactly that, and he asked if I was ever going to come back. I replied, “Probably not.” We laughed, but in the back of my mind, I was serious. I miss my family at home and all my friends, but once I step onto that plane on Saturday, I’m officially gone. I won’t wake up every morning, waiting for Antonio to get out of the bathroom so that I can shower and not be late for school anymore; I also won’t be getting up to sing and dance the macarena randomly at the dinner table. I don’t want to believe that this Saturday is the day that we leave and, that by this time next week, I will be at my house, recovering from serious knee surgery.

Along with my host family, being here with seven friends has made my experience even better. Experiencing living in a foreign country for two months, has helped us all get to know each other better. Within these last two months, I have become a part of the Spanish culture and developed a different perspective on my own culture. I have also developed the ability to understand a foreign speaker, and I am now capable of continuing a conversation and even joking around with my host family. It is such a great achievement because it shows that I am one step closer to being fluent. My desire to return and study here has now increased, and I look forward to the time when I do. This may be my second time in Spain, but it certainly isn’t my last.

~ Colby Near
Language and cultural immersion Proctor students live with host families
Proctor en Segovia fall 2014 students, come back and visit Segovia soon.  You are missed!
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