Leave it to Garrison Forest to put its own unique spin on the traditional summer abroad trip for high school students. From June 19 to July 12, Joan Hurley, GFS Chair of the Modern Languages Department and Upper School Spanish teacher, led her fifth GFS Homestay Academic Summer Program in Spain for 11 Garrison Girls. The GFS contingent was joined by three students from City College High School (Baltimore) and Liz Cullen, who teaches at City and has served as the trip’s assistant teacher for two years. Señora’s nephew and his friend, both high school students from Cleveland, Ohio, also joined the trip, which marked Señora Hurley's 40th trip to Spain in her lifetime.
The students immersed themselves in the sights, sounds and tastes of Spain through excursions to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia and a variety of cities throughout Castilla-La Mancha, Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia. It was in the coastal city of Gijón, though, where travel took a transformative turn.
In Gijón, the students lived with Spanish host families and attended two hours of class a day in language, history and culture, which are taught by Señora Hurley, who organizes the entire trip. “By living with families, just one student to a family, students are forced to speak the language on a daily basis in order to improve their listening and speaking skills as much as possible over the 23-day period,” she explains.
Señora Hurley modeled the GFS Homestay Academic Summer Program in Spain after a similar program offered by Choate, where she used to teach. According to Señora Hurley, it is rare to find high school programs from the U.S. that include extensive travel within Spain, a homestay experience and classes. While there are other types of travel abroad programs, to the best of her knowledge, no other high school in Baltimore offers a homestay academic program.
Then there’s the Garrison Forest spirit. The trip doesn’t leave home without it. “This trip program was created for GFS students, so we have a home-made, home-grown feel and bond,” notes Señora Hurley. “We all know and trust each other and are like family, compared to an individual signing up for a program where no one knows each other. We are all equally invested and are a family. This truly makes for a very unique and awesome experience."
To ensure the program’s success, she preps and teaches classes, makes trips arrangements, matches students with their homestay families, handles banking for the students and is the unofficial photographer.
Check out Senora Hurley’s photos (right) and explore the numerous shots on her Shutterfly album.
Ashley Keffer ’14 signed up for the program because she wanted to improve her language listening and speaking skills. “My communication skills definitely improved a lot by the end of the program,” she says. “I also wanted to learn about the culture and live away from home for a while. My favorite part was the independence.”
Enjoy other students’ reflections on the trip of a lifetime:
Kat Pardoe ‘14: “It was absolutely valuable to spend the first three nights in Madrid. It allowed us time to get used to Spain and the lifestyle with the support of our peers. The cultural visits (el Parque del Retiro, La Plaza Mayor, el Palacio Real, el Museo del Prado) were all beautiful. Everything I learned was new; I had no prior knowledge of these places.”
Gracie Colston ’15: “The time in Madrid helped with settling into the different language and culture. I really loved the hotel and the location. The cultural visits were great because they helped to create conversation later with our families.”
On the Excursions:
Jackie Ivey ‘14: “I loved visiting Toledo and Segovia! I liked how we got to see so many different parts of Spain.”
On the Gijón Homestay:
Kendall Shriver ‘15: “The homestay really had a positive impact on me because my family was always willing to help, and I learned so much from them. Without the homestay, I would never have learned as much Spanish.”
Molly Givens ’14: “Adjusting to living with my family wasn’t as hard or nearly as frightening as I thought it would be. It was a bit of a challenge sometimes to get around words I didn’t know, but I think that mostly added to the experience.”
On the Classes in Gijón:
Lena Warrak ’14: “I now know much more about Spanish culture than I ever knew, and I feel like the things we learned were important.”
Courtney Mullin ‘13: “I really enjoyed our classes. I have learned a plethora of new things about Spanish History and Culture that I am really excited to know.”