For the past seven years, Heather Espeso has brought students from Spain to the United States to stay with host families for a month and immerse them in the English language.
On Thursday, 30 students and three monitors returned to Valladolid, Spain, taking with them the memories and experiences of living abroad.
Ranging from 11 to 18 years old, the students have been staying with host families and participating in American family life. Espeso said that it isn’t a tourist trip for the students; it is about learning with families.
The group arrived in Warren at 3:30 a.m. on the Fourth of July, two days later than expected because of Hurricane Arthur. Espeso said they were bused in from Philadelphia because of flight cancellations “with no suitcases. Some of us didn’t get our luggage for a week.”
She said the trip, coupled with a lack of sleep, caused some minor homesickness with a few, but it didn’t last long.
Javier Gurpegui, 14, said he enjoyed the Fourth of July Parade after their arrival. “It was pretty fun. There were a lot of trucks and ambulances,” he said.
One of the differences between Warren and Spain, 13-year-old Ana Pastor said, is how all the houses are separated from each other. In Spain, homes are mostly condominiums, connected together.
Gurpegui said that the population of Valladolid is around 300,000, similar to Pittsburgh, although because of the tall buildings it is more compact, making it easy to walk across town.
Ana Rodriguez, 12, said what she noticed most about the Warren area were the trees. “Everything is green,” she said, explaining that the part of Spain where she lives is very dry and brown.
Her host mother, Sarah Korchak, added that the family spent the first week they were here at the Girl Scout day camp at Chapman State Park. “She loves nature,” Korchak said.
Another difference she noticed is that people here don’t eat all of their food. Korchak said they stopped one day for an ice cream cone, and even though Rodriguez had a small cone, it was too much. “I finally told her she didn’t have to finish it, but she was determined to eat it all,” Korchak said.
Espeso added that in Spain, portions are smaller, people order amounts that they will eat and no one asks for a “doggie bag.” Even if they did, Rodriguez said, restaurants don’t have them.
The students managed to do a bit of travelling while they were here.
Espeso said one student went for a cross-country trip to San Fransisco with his host family in a RV. Gurpegui said he visited Washington, D.C. “We saw the monuments for George Washington, World War II and the Lincoln Memorial. We went to the Air and Space Museum in the Smithsonian,” he said.
Pastor said they visited Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls, from the Canadian side. Rodriguez also went to Niagara Falls, although it was the American side she saw.
Her host family, the Dahls, also took her to Kinzua Bridge, Hearts Content and on a cruise in the Erie Canal.
Gurpegui said he went to Waldameer, and Korchak added that they visited Splash Lagoon in
Erie on Monday.
The Dahls’ niece, Caralyne Tengowski, said of having Pastor stay with them for a month, “It was cool. It’s like having a sister from another country,” although she added she didn’t get along as well with her real sister as she did with Ana.
Rodriguez said after visiting Niagara Falls, they stopped at Galleria Mall in Buffalo. Espeso added that the girls, at least, loved shopping. “Everything is so much cheaper here. In Spain, a pair of Levis costs more than $100,” Espeso said.
Jeff Dahl added that Pastor liked garage sales.
“I really liked garage sales. Everything is so cheap,” Espeso said, adding that they had to be careful of how much they purchased, because overweight and excess baggage fees get expensive, quickly.
Gurpegui said that even though he isn’t a big sports fan, they followed the World Cup soccer competition, and he bought sports hats and t-shirts as gifts for family back home. Rodriguez did the same, plus some magnets for her mother’s collection.
When asked about American food, everyone laughed, and it seemed the foods that made the biggest impression were sweets.
Rodriguez said, “The food is very good, and different. I like cookies and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Pastor said she likes Razzles, but she doesn’t care for peanut butter.
Asked what the first thing they will do when they get back home, Rodriguez said, “I will hug my dog. And my family.” Pastor said she will be happy to see her parents, her bedroom and her friends. Gurpegui said his friends will be interested in his trip. “I will tell them what I’ve done,” he said.
Caralyne Tengowski asked Pastor, “Will you miss me?”
“Nah… yes,” she joked.
All three said they would like to repeat the trip.
Rodriguez said, “It was awesome,” and Pastor added, “I would love to repeat it if I have a chance.” Gurpegui said, “It was real fun. I would like to come back.”
Pastor and Gurpegui have been to the U.S. before, and Rodriguez said she had been to summer camp in England, but she’s never been this far away before.
Language immersion experiences seem to have worked with the three, and Rodriguez, at the age of 12, speaks Spanish, English, French and is learning Chinese.
Gurpegui said that in addition to speaking English, he and Pastor are learning German at the same school in Valladolid.
As a footnote, Espeso said there is a 45-year-old Spanish engineer staying in Warren for six weeks, learning English so he can get a job back home. Unemployment rates are high in Europe, and speaking English is mandatory to work in the European Union. Speaking other European languages is also highly desirable for employers.