High-schoolers see the world

This summer, six Brown County High School students spent six weeks in Spain and France through the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages, living with host families and speaking only that country’s language.

Four of them spoke with the Brown County Democrat about their experiences abroad.

Wylie Poling
Wylie Poling

Wylie Poling, Ciudad Real, Spain

Q: How would you describe your trip?

A: My trip this summer was absolutely incredible. There were times that were harder than others such as the first couple days, but overall it was just incredible. Every day I learned something new and amazing to me and that is an experience you just can’t have if I had stayed in the United States this summer and studied Spanish. The sites we saw and the culture we all learned during the IUHPFL program were completely unforgettable. The experience for every student was different depending on how dedicated they were to learning the language and what their relationship with their host family was, but overall I’m confident that just about all 32 of the students who lived in Ciudad Real this summer for six weeks would all agree that the experience was unforgettable and indescribable. There is nothing to compare a total immersion program like this, too.

Q: Did you face challenges living in a foreign country?

A: It was very hard at times living in Spain completely immersed in the language and almost completely cut off from all of those you know and love in the U.S. The first day or two were the absolute hardest for me because everything was different and I was alone with a family I didn’t know, with a language I was — and am still — learning. Of course, it was difficult, but after a few days when I got settled in and got to know my family it all got much easier and the whole trip went way too fast. I learned that when something seems hard, or impossible even, that you have to try your hardest and it will get better and easier. There was a learning curve for sure, but with help from my Spanish family and my classmates there, I overcame the learning curve and it all worked out for the best.

Q: Would you do it again?

A: Absolutely! I had the most amazing experience. I had and will always have an amazing Spanish family I lived with. Kids who didn’t have as good of families as I did would probably feel differently about doing it again, but I wouldn’t hesitate. My family truly took me in as their own and treated me like a real daughter and sister. We still message and Snapchat everyday. They didn’t do a bunch of “extra” things like take me on big vacations or trips, but they showed me the culture and gave me memories and experiences I will never forget.

Abe Oliver
Abe Oliver

Abe Oliver, Ciudad Real, Spain

Q: Did you face challenges living in a foreign country?

A: The language was a very ominous initial challenge for me. It was sometimes difficult to get across what I was trying to say with zero English. That challenge was overcome by the end, however. By week three we could understand movies, TV shows and tour guides as well as if they were in English. Also, the amount of alone time and time away from my family and longtime friends was hard for me. I ended up thinking a lot about who I was and who I wanted to be. I came back to the United States with a much different outlook than I had before.

Q: What did you enjoy most about your trip?

A: I honestly enjoyed the language more than anything else. I enjoyed learning new grammar concepts and new phrases and using them in conversation. I am a firm believer that there are constructs in Spanish that we need to bring to English because we simply don’t have a good way of saying them. Sometimes I will have the urge to use a Spanish word while speaking at school because I can convey in one Spanish word what would take six English words.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you got off the plane in America after your trip?

A: After I hugged my parents, I tried transitioning back to English after six weeks of only Spanish. It took about two days to stop switching back to Spanish mode every other word. To this day it is difficult to transition back to English after Spanish class!

Autumn Bryant
Autumn Bryant

Autumn Bryant, Ciudad Real, Spain

Q: How would you describe your trip?

A: I would describe my summer as extraordinary. IUHPFL placed me in the perfect city and with the perfect host family in which I was able to connect with little effort. I could not have asked for a better summer.

Q: Did you face challenges living in a foreign country?

A: The difference in culture between Spain and Indiana is very drastic. I believe I went through culture shock for the first day or two. One thing I learned that really stuck with me is that in my Spanish family, no matter how big of a fight someone had with another family member, they always made up within a few days.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you got off the plane in America after your trip?

A: When I got off the plane I went to P.F. Chang’s in the Atlanta airport. When I got to Indiana I found my mom in the crowd of parents and we went to Denny’s and had breakfast at about 1 a.m. I got home and went to bed.

Mary Skirvin
Mary Skirvin

Mary Skirvin, Saint-Brieuc, France

Q: Did you face challenges living in a foreign country?

A: Yes. There’s the language commitment and also it was the first time a lot of us had to use public transit. They have a bus system and then they have a combination bus-taxi you can preorder. It’s kind of strange. I learned a lot about speech development, that’s for sure. Speaking in a different language kind of changes the way you think about things. It kind of makes people happier. You don’t know many words to get upset with. It’s kind of interesting being in this class of mostly honor kids who are talking like 5-year-olds. Another thing about French culture is they are a lot heavier on water conservation. The lady I was with had been hosting students for 10 years before me and their biggest problem with students is that students will take five-minute-plus showers, whereas French people are very quick about that kind of thing. They never leave the water running.

Q: Would you do it again? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I would really like to, particularly with another language, just to see the different ways that separate languages progress and the differences between cultures. I’m in Spanish classes now at the high school.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you got off the plane in America after your tip?

A: I think the first thing on everyone’s mind was to get home and sleep because there were massive delays. After that the first thing I wanted to do was sing because we hadn’t been able to sing English songs for over a month.