Final Day in Spain

Written by Laura Read ’20, recounting March 15th 
Today was our final full day in Spain! Traveling to Madrid has been such a fulfilling and enriching experience and I can’t believe how quickly these two weeks have flown by. 
We spent our last few hours in Europe exploring the city today. Madrid is such a vivacious place; full of history, art, and dazzling landmarks. Lelia and I had already gotten a taste of the city on Sunday, when we had the day with our families, but I was so glad to get to experience it twice. It would take weeks to fully digest all that Madrid has to offer.
Lelia and I woke up bleary-eyed, but ready for our usual breakfast of pan de tostado (toast) with olive oil and salt, which is typical in Spain. We were out the door with our adorable twin host sisters in no time.
Our first stop was the Museo del Prado, which houses some of the most famous art in the world. We explored the works of Goya, Velazquez, and more, while strictly adhering to the no photo rule (well, kind of). I saw some of my favorite pieces like Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez. There is nothing quite like seeing paintings up close in real life; it never really compares to photographs.
After a quick stop for croissants, coffee, and the gift shop, we were on to our next destination: El Parque del Retiro! Famous for its stunning monuments and picturesque lake of rowboats, it made the perfect place to have our picnic lunch. It was lovely to walk through the urban park again. We basked in the sun and enjoyed our last bocadillos in the grass. Somewhere along the way we found time to buy ice cream and fake Gucci belts from vendors along the paths.
I am currently writing on my laptop while Lelia and the twins play keep away with one of Lelia’s birthday balloons around me. Every so often the balloon hits my head and they shriek with glee, “Pobre Laura!” 
I am going to miss Martina and Olivia so much. I am going to miss my host mom Olivia’s kind smile and graciousness, and my host dad Jaime’s dry sense of humor and amazing cooking. I’ll miss learning new Spanish words and phrases every day, my host family correcting my awful American consonants, and exchanging tongue twisters and idioms. I never anticipated that I could learn and grow so much in just two weeks, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have never felt more home away from home, entirely immersed in a new culture and way of living. I have learned to look forward to the unexpected, because you just might have the time of your life. 
Espero que nos veamos muy pronto, España. 
Until then, adios… for now!

Fun in the Sierras!

Written by Lelia Ottinger ’20, recounting March 14th 
Today we started bright and early by taking a bus to the outskirts of El Escorial, the town where the famous castle and monastery of Philip II is located. We picked up our tour guide and headed to the beginning of the hike we would make to the top of one of the mountains of the Sierra mountain range. We started our trek, and after about 45 minutes of making our way up the mountain we took a little break near a fountain of natural spring water and a heard of wild cows. After our break, we continued on, with the hike getting harder and steeper as we went. But when we finally made it to the top, the views were well worth the difficult hike. We spent some time at the top, then it was time to head down the other side. 
The way down proved very difficult as well, with almost all of us slipping and falling at least a couple of times, but we got to the bottom with few minor injuries and only one phone short of what we had at the start of the day. We all climbed back on the bus and napped on the way back to C.E.M.
Some of us headed to our favorite mall in Laz Rozas, Gran Plaza after school and ate an extremely late lunch and shopped for the remainder of the afternoon. It’s crazy to think this is one of the last day of the exchange and all of us are extremely sad to leave our host families and this beautiful country behind.

A Day in Segovia

Written by Alexandra Konikoff ’20, recounting March 12th

Today we went to Segovia, Spain and some of the Spaniards joined us on this excursion which made it even more fun. We started the day by seeing an ancient Roman aqueduct that is still standing, and I have never seen anything like that before. After that we broke up into small groups of three, (2 Americans and 1 Spaniard per group) we did a group scavenger hunt around the city of Segovia. Which helped us get to know the Spaniards better. During the scavenger hunt my group walked by the filming of a movie, and took some videos which was very cool to see the behind the scenes of a movie!






We walked around in our groups for about an hour, and after the scavenger hunt we re-convened as a large group outside of the Alcázar de Segovia castle before entering. Once inside the castle we had a tour of the interior, and there were two groups, one tour in English and one in Spanish, and some of my friends and I chose the Spanish group so that we could better our Spanish and take the tour in all Spanish. We took a tour of the all of the beautiful rooms in the castle such as the bedroom, dining room, common area, weapon room, and the balcony. Each room in the castle was decorated with gold on the ceilings and and had beautiful tapestries hanging from the walls. After the two groups finished their respective tours we met up again and all climbed up the 156 stairs to the top of the castle together to look at the magnificent view and take lots of pictures.

We were all very tiered after the stairs so we had a siesta in a field and had the lunch that C.E.M provided us and relaxed. Señor Bunn also taught a yoga class for those that were interested. Our siesta lasted for about an hour and then after that it was time to head back to C.E.M for the day.

Sunday “Funday” with Host Families

Written by Julia Duarte ’20, recounting March 10th

On Sunday, many of us spent the day with our host families, visiting different places and eating amazing food. I woke up at 9:30, drowsy, but ready for the adventure that awaited ahead. In my mind, I realized that I have been in Spain for one whole week. One whole week of creating memories, cultivating friendships, and experiencing a new version of life. After a quick shower, my host family and I hopped into the car and drove up to Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (as Elaina did yesterday!). The car ride there was filled with singing at the top of our lungs and laughing at countless jokes. I won’t go into the details of El Escorial because you’ve already read about the facts from the previous blog post, but rather, I’ll recount all of the small, special moments from this day. First of all, my host sister, Martina, and I bonded over the fact that we adore ‘80s music.

So far, this trip has taught me that communication is one of the most challenging, yet when achieved, extremely rewarding things in life. Only a mere week ago, I was taking this crucial skill for granted; however, these past few days have opened my eyes to its importance and difficulty. Whether it be through music or fragments of Spanish, the ability to communicate with someone so different yet so similar to you is something to be cherished.

In the afternoon, once we ate a small “aperitivo” (appetizer) at a nearby restaurant, more songs, both in Spanish and English, carried us home to the jardín (garden) where soon we would eat paella. After setting the table, Jaime, Martina, and I played around with a soccer ball. We shot the ball through a makeshift goal, played keepaway, and tried to meg each other. Towards the end of our antics, I was overcome with a burst of pure happiness and fell to the ground with laughter with Martina when we accidentally tripped over the ball at the same time. Soccer, the form of communication so prevalent in Spanish culture, proved to do just that for the two of us. Following our small one-on-one match, we renewed our efforts to relate to each other and began to talk about more than just our plans for the following day at school, which I am extremely thankful for.

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A Saturday in Madrid

Written by Elaina Tenfelde ’20, recounting March 9th

Hola! Today was our first, and only, full Saturday that we will have in Madrid. Therefore, the pressure was on to see and experience as many things as possible before the end of the day. I began my day at 8 a.m. when I woke up with the sun in my face and some birds singing outside. Not a bad way to start the morning. At 11:00 Gonzalo and I ventured over to Torrelodones to pick up Ashleigh and Alvaro. From there we drove to the Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Madrid. Built in the 16th century on the orders of King Felipe II, the Sitio serves as an extremely popular tourist destination due to its breathtaking views and rich historical significance.

Once we arrived, we decided to go into the Monastery of El Escorial and take the self-guided tour. Looking back, I am so glad that we decided this because the monastery was BEAUTIFUL: gorgeous murals, majestic stone archways, and one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen.

Personally, my favorite part of the tour was the artwork. The intricacy and style mimicked that on the Sistine Chapel (I think, I’ve never actually been) and the coloring was spectacular. There was on staircase that had biblical images all up the walls and covering the entire ceiling, so that you were completely surrounded by a rainbow of religion as you walked up it.

About 15 minutes later, we walked down to the lower levels, where the monks and nuns are laid to rest. While the marble and brass detailing was impressive, it was hard to escape that fact that you were surrounded by dead bodies. However, it was pretty cool to see the burial place for the kings and queens of the houses of Austria and Bourbon.

Holy Toledo!

Written by Michael Hostutler ’20, recounting March 8th

About an hour south of Madrid lies the ancient city of Toledo. Rich in history, the city of Toledo has a deep and rich culture influenced by the presence of three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Conquered and ruled by the Romans in 193 BC, many of the structures the romans built still stand today. Later, following the decline of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths ruled the city of Toledo until the year 712. Following the defeat of the Visigoths, the Umayyad caliphate would rule over Toledo for another 300 years bringing Islamic culture to the region. Eventually, Toledo came under Christian rule following the capture of the city by King Alfonso VI in 1085, but still remained a center for cultural fusion between the three religions. Fast forwarding to the modern era, King Charles I of Spain’s court was set in Toledo, however, his son Philip II would later move the Spanish court to the current capital city of Madrid. 

Leaving from Colegio de Europeo de Madrid around 9:00, we had no idea what to expect of Toledo. Upon arriving, we met our tour guide for the day, Ricardo. In true cultural exchange fashion, our entire tour was in español. At first, it was difficult to comprehend everything Ricardo was explaining, but we quickly caught on. After we picked up Ricardo, we rode the bus up the highway to a scenic stop called Mirador del Valle, which faces the Tagus river and the entire “ancient” city of Toledo. The beautiful overlook was a perfect way to start the excursion. It was then time to enter the city. The first place Ricardo showed us was the walls of the city themselves. While many parts of the wall were built by different rulers of the city, the walls we explored were built by the muslims who once ruled Toledo. After we climbed up the large walls, Ricardo explained to us the importance of the walls and other fortifications of the city. After climbing down the wall, with only one person slipping, we began heading deeper into the city. Passing multiple churches and convents including la Iglesia de Santa Leocadia and el Convento de Santo Domingo El Antiguo. Ricardo explained how the convents served as education centers in Toledo for centuries, making Toledo a center for learning and academics. We then walked through the Toledo Jewish Quarter passing the Synagogue of El Transito. Ricardo explained the importance of the Jewish heritage and culture on the influence of Toledo.

Stopping to eat lunch in Paseo del Transito overlooking the river, we had another chance to take in the beautiful landscape of Toledo. After we ate, we began walking towards the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, one of the three 13th century Gothic cathedrals in Spain. While walking to the cathedral, we stopped to explore an old underground part of the old water system in Toledo. Ricardo explained that the Tagus river is very polluted and therefore many people get their drinking water from rainwater collection systems on their own houses. He also explained the Roman’s construction of aqueducts to transport water from over 30 kilometers away. Once we arrived at Santa Iglesia Catedral, we saw a gathering of people marching for international women’s day. In fact, there were marches all over Spain and the rest of the world today. Passing the large group of people, we walked towards the main center of the city, Plaza de Zocodover, where we concluded our tour. After saying our goodbyes to our amazing tour guide, Ricardo, we were given three hours to roam around the center of Toledo. Many of us walked around shopping, dining, and enjoying the beautiful views of the Spanish countryside. 

The culture of Toledo surprised me, along with the rest of the group. The mixture of the many different cultures and religions, all living in relative peace for centuries, produced an amazing and very interesting city, in both physical architecture, food, and social culture. My favorite part of the excursion was the excited feeling I got every time I understood exactly what our tour guide was saying. By the end of the tour, I think we were all comfortably understanding Ricardo’s español. Quite simply, our tour was the best, most interactive listening comprehension activity I had ever experienced. For me, today was a turning point for my ability to understand spoken spanish. This was really the first day I felt confident comprehending the language.

 We arrived back at the school around 17:00, tired and exhausted from the large hills and many stairs of Toledo, but we were in good spirits. The whole group is excited for this weekend and to spend more time with their host families. I know I am, however, I am most excited to sleep in. 

Colegio de Madrid!

Despite arriving late to school due to a forgotten iPad, we had a great day at Colegio Madrid. Our day commenced with some minding bending puzzles provided by math teacher, Ishmael. Amongst the exercises were fractions, multiplication, and word problems. Following this mental warm up, we attended Spanish, where we engaged in a group building activity in which we recited a myriad of facts in Spanish about one of our classmates, and then surmised the author. From there we split into two groups, the first attending Matematicas, the second, Lengua. While difficult to understand, we were able to decipher enough clues to comprehend the gist of the lesson on subordinate clauses. The class concluded with group poetry presentations before we departed for a break. Outside at the courts, our Spanish friends taught us a new volleyball game: A, E, I, O, U. To summarize, participants pass the ball and recite the next vowel. When it gets to U, the person spikes the ball, and if you are hit, you are out.

At 12, we made our way to grammar, where the Spaniards and Americans split, each creating a Kahoot of their native languages. While the Spanish were far more versed in American idioms, we were able to add many of theirs to our vocabulary: Es pan comido–  it is easy, hablando del Rey de Rama– speak of the devil, montar un pollo– get crazy. Next we made our way to lunch, where we dined on pasta, lentils, and fish. Following our post-lunch respite was PE, where we played basketball, futbol, and volleyball. We concluded our school day with a lab in which we dissected a pig heart, learning all about the ventricles, atria, and arteries.








Later in the evening, most of the group put our gymnastic skills to the test at the trampoline park. Many flips and wipeouts later, we disbanded and headed home for dinner. Zoe and I enjoyed burgers, as well as raclette, a popular Swiss dish, consisting of melted Alpine cheese, with which we garnished our potatoes. To culminate our delectable dinner, we devoured mandarins from Valencia, in addition to fresh fresas, or strawberries. Now it is time to get a good night’s sleep for Toledo tomorrow!

Exploring the City

Written by Allison Comess ’20, recounting March 6th

Hola! Today we went on an excursion to Madrid! It was really rainy for most of the day but we still had a great time! First we visited the Templo Debod, which is an Egyptian temple. I would say that the Templo Debod was my favorite site today because of the intriguing history behind it.

Then, we walked to Jardines Sabatini, which are gardens that are a part of the Royal Palace. The gardens were beautiful! Next, we went to the Palacio Real, or the Royal Palace. It was amazing!! After this, we went onto the Catedral, which was beautiful. We went inside of the Catedral, where we saw a lot of stained glass windows. 

Then we went to the Mercado San Miguel to get lunch. There were so many food options in there, such as empanadas, tacos, and ice cream! After we went to the market we went to  the Plaza Mayor, which is a public space located in the center of Madrid. Lastly, we went to El Cortes Ingles, which is like a shopping mall. Then we walked to the train station and went back to Colegio de Europea de Madrid!

Getting to Know Our Host Families and First Day of School!

Written by Alexis Blackwell ’20

Today we met with our families and became more familiar with our neighborhoods. Alex and I both were so excited to met our host Candela and all of her beautiful gatos (cats), perros (dogs), and caballos (horses). After becoming more comfortable we were able to have some time to relax. We then as a group met for dinner in Las Rozas. We then tried our best to get a good night’s sleep.

Written by Ashleigh Ackaway ’20, recounting March 5th

Today was our first day of school. We started by meeting in the library to meet the headmistress and talk about our day. Then we ate a typical spanish breakfast, churros with chocolate. We were taken on a tour around the whole school and once we were done we finally got to relax and talk in a group about our experience so far. We learned more about Spain and played kahoot to see who remembered more. Then it was time for lunch! We had soup, bread, potatoes, and bananas. After that we learned how to fence and went to a hip hop class. Overall, it was a fun day and I can’t wait to learn and experience more!


Learning Our Way Around Madrid

Written by Alexis Sisino, ’20, recounting March 4th

Today was a holiday, so we had the pleasure of spending the day with our host families. Although a lot of us got a late start to the day because of the time difference, we had loads of fun hanging out and speaking Spanish with our families while being completely immersed in the culture.

Most of us met up in Madrid for the day. We went to Gran Via which my host brother, Alex, calls the “Time Square of Madrid.” All of us took a bus and the metro to get there which was a hectic and new experience to say the least! We spent most of our time walking around and taking in everything that the city has to offer.

Despite getting lost a few times and walking in circles, we were all laughing and having a good time with each other.

It was a great day in Madrid, and I cannot wait to keep embracing this experience!