Real world learning takes MLHS students to Spain

What better way to learn Spanish than to spend some time in Spain?

That was the mission of MLHS Spanish teacher Kim Fynboh when she and a group of chaperones escorted 16 of her students to Spain for nine days over spring break.

The group of travelers included Heather Wurm, Emily Norell, Ashley Spolarich, Tammy Wenzel, Christine Schaefers, Ashley Hill, Erika Wold, Kyrra Meier, Aimee Paumen, Elyse Malherek, Ed Elfmann, Chelsie Ritter, Katie Haegele, Maggie Muller, Tricia Uecker, teacher Kim Fynboh and chaperones Brenda Malherek, Barbara Anderson, Karen Norell and Alfred and Catherine Wurm.

“It’s always been a goal of mine to take kids overseas,” Fynboh said. “And I feel that I should since I’m a Spanish teacher, which is all about learning about other cultures and their language.

“I had hoped the kids would be able to compare cultural differences between the U.S. and Spanish families, to be able to learn the language, and be able to travel because some of them might not have the opportunity to travel again.”

However, the timing of the trip coincided with the start of the war in Iraq, causing concerns about the safety of traveling overseas.

“At first, I was questioning whether we should go,” Fynboh said. “But after talking to my program coordinator at Intercultural Student Experiences (based in Eden Prairie), I heard that other groups on trips weren’t having any problems.  “But I left it up to the parents to decide and it turned out to be a good thing because we had no problems with it whatsoever.”

It also happened that Spain was one of the few European countries offering strong support for the war with Iraq, but also experiencing peace protests similar to those in the U.S.

“Spain is supporting the U.S.,” Fynboh said. “And the little bit of protesting we did see was against the war in general and not against Americans.”

So an excited group of adults and students left for Spain on March 20, embarking on a journey that included three flights, with a layover in Detroit and an eight hour layover in Amsterdam before a two-hour flight to Madrid. So not only were members of the group tired, but anti-war protests in the city made some students feel ill at ease.

“It was kind of scary walking around Madrid because you knew you stuck out,” said junior Christine Schaefers.

But senior Ed Elfmann found the mix of people amazing.  “The first night, I talked to American, British, French and Spanish people,” he said. “It was neat how there’s so much culture there.”

From there, it was on to the northern city of Laguna de Duero where students would embark on a five day stay with Spanish families.

“We pulled into a big parking lot and there were all these people,” Schaefers said. “And all of these families were waiting for us.”

Senior Erika Wold she was a little apprehensive at first.  “I was nervous because I didn’t think I’d be able to communicate,” she said. “But now, even Mrs. Fynboh has noticed that I’ve improved a lot.”

And the Spanish proved to be a bit more affectionate than the more reserved Americans.  “Whey they greeted their friends, they kissed both cheeks, basically two air kisses,” Wold laughed. “And you did that to everyone you met. We got used to it and it wasn’t that bad.”

Staying with those families gave the Maple Lake Spanish students a kind of education they could never get in Minnesota.  “It was just like the kids jumped into a pool of water,” Fynboh said. “They were immersed in the Spanish culture and language. It was all around them.”

The students attended a public Spanish high school with their family members, went shopping, exploring and building a relationship with their host families.

“I stayed in a room with my Spanish sister, Paula,” Schaefers said. “It was a huge, beautiful and very colorful room.”  Schaefers said Paula’s father was an architect and Paula was in the process of trying out for the Spanish version of “American Idol.”

Senior Aimee Paumen said she was surprised at the poor quality of the school facilities.  “People think that our school isn’t the greatest,” she said. “But their facilities really looked old. It was really run-down inside and on the outside, it was covered in graffitti.”

Fynboh said all the students attended the same high school, so the Maple Lake students could keep in touch with each other and get to know each other’s Spanish families.  “When I had to pick them up on Thursday after they were done with their family stays, a lot of them had tears in their eyes,” she said.

“They were really nice to me,” said Elfmann of his host family. He said it was a family of four with a boy, Pablo, his age, and an older daughter in college studying to be a doctor.

“Pablo was really fun to hang out with,” Elfmann said. “I learned a lot of Spanish. I can actually speak Spanish now. Before, I had a sense of it, but not like I do now.”

Paumen said she intends to keep in touch with her host family and agreed that the experience was a great way to learn the Spanish language.  “This trip showed what the last four years of Spanish has done for me,” she said. “I learned what my ability was.

“I didn’t expect to do well and it was difficult to communicate at first, but you made it through every day.”

After the Maple Lake students reunited, there was time to play tourist.  The castle at Segovia which became the model for Disney’s Cinderella Castle was a favorite for Wold.

“I’ve never seen a castle before, so it was really neat,” she said. “The walls were really amazing–all that gold. It was the kind of stuff you see in movies and not in real life.”

During the layover in Amsterdam, there was also time to visit Ann Frank’s house.  “I thought it was amazing to see her room exactly as she left it,” Wold said. “And we even got to walk behind the secret bookcase to the attic.”

Paumen said a highlight for her was the Prado Museum.  “I really enjoyed the Prado,” she said. “We had seen the paintings in Spanish class and it was fun to see them in real life.”

Fynboh said it is her plan to take her Spanish students to Spain every two years, with the next trip coming in the spring of 2005.

And the students said the experience is definitely worth the fund-raising and planning it took to get there.  “We learned about a whole different culture,” Schaefers said. “And it’s so different to go somewhere so far away. It makes you appreciate what we have here, but you also learn so much about life in other places.”

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