The Spanish Exchange from a Spanish Teacher's Perspective (By Aitor Arrondo, Spanish Instructor)

For the past three years, St. Michael’s Catholic Academy has had an exchange program with Highlands School from Madrid. This year, 14 students came to Austin to spend three thrilling weeks together in America. I really enjoy their presence at the school because they are from my country, and I have the chance to talk to them. I also take advantage of the opportunity to invite them to several of my classes so that they can help me explain to my students the differences between Spanish and American cultures.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite classes of the year! You have to see the 30 students all together in the same classroom, the Americans on the left on their usual seats and the Spanish at the front of the class, both sides facing each other as if they were two teams in a debate competition, but in a very informal and friendly atmosphere. They are all smiling, and both sides are intrigued about the opposite culture. The students from Madrid have already been in Austin for two weeks and have had a taste of American culture.

In Spanish (or Spanglish), Spanish students say, for example, that American food is not very healthy, that people eat healthier in Spain. But, another Spanish student jumped in saying the St. Michael’s lunch is much better than the Highlands’ lunch, and all Spanish students agreed with no doubt while all the Americans proudly smile. Another Spanish student says that the cars here in Austin are huge like tanks, and an American student who has a Hummer says that it's because Americans love to have so much space. Then, a Spanish student says with envy that it is awesome that you can drive when you are 16 years old as they have to be 18 to drive in Spain. Another Spanish student says that Americans totally depend on the car; but in Madrid, on the other hand, they are free to go anywhere with the great public transportation.

The contrast and comparisons continue: Americans live in houses, Spanish in apartments; Americans have lunch at 12 and dinner at 7, Spanish at 3 and at 10; American students are freaking out about college already, Spaniards haven’t even thought about it yet. But at the end, the most important aspect is that the Spanish students are very happy in Austin, they love their American families, they like St. Michael’s and are having an awesome time in Austin, Texas. They said they are sad because they are going back to Madrid in two days, but happy to get home at the same time because they have spent three weeks away from their families and friends. I hope our students enjoy their upcoming Madrid experience during Winter Term as much as the Highlands students have enjoyed their time in Austin.

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