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Spanish students sample the American way

DeKALB – As one can imagine, there are many differences between American schools and Spanish schools. But one difference that caught Cristina Merino by surprise was the facilities.

“It’s just amazing,” Merino said. “In Spain, when you want to learn how to play an instrument, you have to go to the music hall, which is in a different music institute, which is away from the school.”

DeKalb High School Spanish teacher Amanda McCabe Avilés said schools in Spain do not teach athletics and music in the same building as academics. Merino said some students drive about 30 miles from one building to the other.

Since Monday, DHS students have hosted 20 students from I.E.S. Abdera School, a secondary school in Adra, Spain. Avilés said it’s the second time DHS students have hosted Spanish students; the first was in May 2010.

“It’s important for the students to meet face-to-face [with] students from another country their same age,” Avilés said.

By living with a host family, the students are able to experience the new culture in person.

“You get to see how people live on a day-to-day basis,” Avilés said.

Merino, an English teacher at I.E.S. Abdera, said the Spanish students’ American counterparts have been very friendly and generous.

“When we arrived here, the American kids had like posters with the names of the Spanish kids,” Merino said. “They were really happy and the Spanish kids are having a great time. ... We are learning a lot, both teachers and the students.”

By the time the visiting Spanish students leave Wednesday, they will have taken classes at DHS, eaten at Eduardo’s restaurant, relaxed at Matthiessen State Park near Starved Rock, and visited Chicago at least twice.

One Spanish student, Antonio Martín Soler, said he has enjoyed all of the different sports offered at the high school, and he plans to return to the United States at some point in the future. Senior DHS student Taylor Volk said she has had a lot of fun hosting her Spanish student.

“I love Juan [Antonio Martin Parrilla]. He’s the best thing ever,” Volk said. “He eats waffles with me in the morning and enjoys watching football.”

Avilés said students at both schools filled out hobby and interest forms and then, taking into account the restrictions from certain families, she paired them up. Avilés said she thinks everyone has gotten along very well because of similar interests.

Merino said she has learned new ways to teach her students English after watching how DHS teachers have taught their students Spanish. One example is the games American students play to help learn another language; Merino said she will adapt it for her own lessons.

In June, the roles will be reversed: Spanish students will host their DHS counterparts. Avilés said they are still signing up students for the 15-day trip.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest, but it costs a lot of money,” Avilés said, adding that the all-inclusive trip through Interact Travel, a travel agency dedicated to American-Spanish exchange trips, is about $2,300 per student.

Merino said her school applied for and received a government grant, cutting the cost of the trip in half for her students.

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