The Journey: Freedom to Be

Posted by Brian Thomas


The day I met up with our students and program leaders who study and reside in Spain, I experienced what many of our students must feel when they come to Segovia for the first time. 



It was mid-January, just a few weeks ago – a fairly temperate day as mid-winter days go. As I made my way about town, the language washed over me like waves breaking over an ocean beach right before they hit the shore. After all, Proctor’s trimester-long language program in Spain is different from the one in France, which is more of an immersive art and art history experience. For languages, many experts say that immersing oneself in the language, culture, habits, sights, and sounds of another country, community, and people is the best way to get at the heart of language study, which is to understand the beauty and richness of the people and their language while expanding your own thinking about others and one’s self.


Meeting our students at the Chamartin Train Station, one of the two stations in Madrid, was like finding long lost friends, after being away from many of them since the end of November 2022. What I saw surprised me. Here were the same students who worked with and even led other students back home in Andover, standing ready and open to be led while making their way through the bustling and sophisticated city in Europe. Madrid felt more like New York City with its pounding rhythm and street cred, but Madrid also had the big shoulders-feel and discernable distinctive architecture like Chicago’s downtown. Both Madrid, and later Segovia, were both a far cry away from the sleepy little city - Aix in Provence -  where I had just arrived a few hours before. 


As we made our way down the Metro’s stairs, Spain’s state of the art subway system, our program leaders – Ellie and Luis Mendoza – were captivating in telling us about the City of Madrid and their family’s connection to what we were seeing. Both were expert at handing us tidbits of information throughout our journey, so much so that students would use the information later on in classes–or perhaps on other excursions that they would make during their travels away from Segovia. For instance, Luis pointed to a kiosk-sized poster of men from the earlier part of last century with big mustaches surrounded by a man whose eyes were closed. Luis said, “That man right there (pointing to a man next to the man with his eyes closed) is my great grandfather, who helped to build this subway system. And the man next to him with his eyes closed was the King of Spain at the time.” Both men were quite close to each other, even after the revolution that ushered out the monarchy. As Luis talked about his great grandfather, all of us came in for a closer look at the two men, as well as at those who surrounded them. “My grandfather was one of the engineers and architects who helped build the system, and he cherished a letter that the King had written to him.” Our connection to Spain, and the people who created it, just got a little tighter with Luis’s forefather.


In Madrid and Segovia, the most important attributes that the Spain program resonated with was the mix of the modern with the new, freedom with responsibility, centuries old charm with cutting edge sensibilities. Looking everywhere in Madrid, it was hard to see where some of the newer buildings began and the older ones ended. The skyline had us all gawking up at ornate windows and balconies that encouraged those folks behind the windows to gaze back out upon the world they inhabited. 


After spending the morning at the former home and current museum of the great Valencian painter, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, where the abundant and prolific painters greatest work resides, our group left the museum to munch on Spanish burritos, to take a walk about in the thrumming City, and later to take a fast train traveling up to 193 miles an hour to Segovia. What normally takes 90 minutes by car was less than 25 minutes on the train. We were in Luis’s great grandfather’s brave new world, one beyond imagination.


What a prolific universe that our students inhabited! Although our students were split on whether they loved the big city of Madrid better than the sleepiness of Segovia, the charm and other-world variety of Segovia was like being whisked back to the Romans. Segovia spirals up like an ornate staircase with some of the most impressive views imaginable. Modern shops butt up against old world castles and cathedrals. 

Our Proctor kids loved getting to know the city on their own, exploring the museums, cafes, and soccer clubs. Eric E. ‘23 and Tony H. ‘23 both joined the local soccer clubs that had them playing the game they - and seemingly everybody else - lost their minds over. Other students spent time getting to know their host families and the culture they shared, while other students enjoyed being with each other, as they readied themselves for the school work. 


In addition to Luis and Ellie, our students also had an immersive Spanish class on the day that I visited with Maria Jose and Rosa, giving oral presentations at the aqueduct. The students were excited to explain to me how the Romans built the aqueduct and how drinking water rain off the stone water way. While Rosa and Maria Jose stood like proud parents of their Proctor brood.

By the end of my visit, I felt like I saw the two things that mattered most: How well cared for our students are by all of their teachers and how much more confident and happy they all seemed being independent learners and thinkers.


Everywhere our Proctor students are in the world, so is Proctor. They understand that their job is to explore the heights of their imagination. In Spain, the Proctor crew wanted to show me what was the essence of their time in a country that is at once new and ancient. Their eyes light up when discussing their favorite new dishes or something that they bonded with at their homestays. Before our eyes, they have become people who understand and appreciate what they have been given and the experiences and memories they continue to make each day. What more could you want from your education–at any level or time in your life? 


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

The great thing about travel is expanding one’s musical tastes. Listening to flamenco music, a rumba, with incredible rhythms and wistful melodies, is like returning to Spain without traveling. Jesse Cook does a great rendition of “Azul,” which you can listen to: HERE.


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