A different language. A different place. A different pace.
“People are a little different when they’re at home,” nodded Lauren Finaldi, a Spanish instructor and the moderator of National Spanish Honor Society and Student Exchange. “When you have the opportunity to see your students living and speaking in this type of environment, it gives you more of a full picture.”
From April 5 to 18, 14 students from Joliet Catholic Academy’s Spanish Foreign Exchange Club viewed that picture in Vilanova, Spain, a suburb of Barcelona. JCA hosted the same families from Sept. 4 to 15.
“That gave us a certain comfort level,” Finaldi said. “Vilanova is a half-hour drive from Barcelona — like Joliet to Chicago, the same kind of distance. The kids were impressed that, even though it was a city setting, they could walk everywhere or they could ride bikes. We did a ton of walking over there.
“It’s a very nice lifestyle. Most of the kids either walked or rode their bikes to school, picking up their friends along the way, and you can’t drive in Spain until you are 18. A lot of the kids won’t drive even when they turn 18 because it’s not really necessary. Anywhere that you have to go, you can walk.”
Traveling during the school’s Spring Break to Spain from JCA were seniors Anne Schmig (Joliet), Brittany Rosales (Joliet), Jasmine Smith (Joliet), Nick Humbles (Wilmington), Alessa Smith () and Marissa Cardenas (Plainfield); juniors Carolyn Hall (Plainfield), Madeline Mutz (Joliet), Taylor Madlener (Plainfield), James Hunter Warning (Shorewood) and Michael Kaminski (Joliet); sophomores Alexis Rotnicki (Shorewood) and Cesar Mireles (Joliet); and freshman Nataly Cardenas (Plainfield).
Also along as a chaperone with Finaldi (Naperville) was Katie Drabik (Joliet), who teaches Spanish at JCA. And as educators, Finaldi and Drabik were thrilled to witness the classroom coming alive in real time.
“It was so gratifying to hear the students,” Finaldi said. “There are things you teach in class — the language, obviously. But there are other things you may have told them or tried to teach them.
“Until they go there and they live it, it’s different. Then you hear them talking to each other and they’re saying something like they have discovered it for the first time, and it is amazing how it sinks in.”
For her part, Finaldi considered the trip the realization of a dream and thanked Jeffrey Budz, JCA’s Principal/CEO, for approving the trip. Finaldi went on student-exchange trips in high school and college.
“I have done this many times, so I know the value of it,” Finaldi said. “I went and we hosted students when I was in high school, I went as a college student and I spent a semester there as a grad student.
“I have always dreamed of doing this because I know how much it has shaped my life. It’s the reason I became a Spanish teacher. And for our kids, they will make friends from Spain that can last a lifetime.”