Going abroad

By on May 7, 2010

43 KHS students hone language skills while seeing Europe
by Paula Coughlan
Last fall, Kaneland High School Spanish teacher Michelle Jurcenko approached then-principal Tony Valente and the School Board with an idea of taking a group of students on a trip to Spain and France. Jurcenko spent three years in Copenhagen, Denmark and traveled to Europe several times besides living and teaching in Ohio, from where she twice led groups to Europe. She found these trips were a wonderful opportunity for students to use the language skills she had taught in class.

Despite concern that with the state of the economy there might not be much of a response, Jurcenko met with parents in February this year, and within five days, 43 students had filled the trip to capacity, with more on a waiting list.

Pre-trip meetings took place once a month so that the students could learn the ways of the cultures they would be visiting. For example, Jurcenko told them that although Americans are used to taking large slices of bread and buttering them, in European cultures people take small pieces and often there is no butter present on the table at all. The students also were taught how to navigate the European metro transportation system and were told what they would see.

Three weeks before the trip, Jurcenko met with the parents to give them the final details. They were told there would be a phone message system on which she would leave daily updates about the trip. A few of the students obtained international service on their cell phones so they could call home.

Each student had a laminated card with Jurcenko’s cell phone number and their hotel and tour-guide information; and they were told if they were separated from the group to get in a cab and go back to their hotel. On the back of the card was the exchange rate for American money and Euros so students could refer to it when buying something. Prior to the trip, the students were told to have $50 converted into Euros and to bring a debit or credit card that had the Visa or MasterCard logo.

Leaving on March 25, the first leg of the nine-day journey for the students and six school staff members was an eight-hour flight to Zurich, then a two-hour flight to Madrid. Most of the students had flown before, and a few had taken long overseas flights, although many were glad to get off of the last plane after a bumpy ride.

A typical day involved a tour in the morning, then two hours for lunch and free time, after which there might be another tour or time spent walking around the city. Students were always directed to meet at a certain spot after free time, and Jurcenko suggested that they take a picture of the meeting area including the street signs, so if they got lost they could show it to someone for directions.

In Madrid, Spain, the group visited cathedrals and the Prado Art Museum. Some students took an optional side trip to the medieval town of Segovia. There, they had a chance to see the Palm Sunday parade, which senior student Haley Johnson said was one of the most memorable parts of her trip. The students also met a visiting men’s Japanese indoor soccer team and had pictures taken with the team.

All the students visited Toledo, where they toured cathedrals and watched swordmaking.

In Madrid, the students stopped at a park called Retiro (parque de buen retiro). There, several of the girls from Kaneland’s soccer team saw some Spanish girls playing soccer and asked if they could play with them. The girls surprised their Kaneland coach, Scott Parillo, with a phone call to tell him they had just won a soccer game in Madrid: Maple Park 4, Madrid 1.

The next four days were spent in Paris after a 14-hour train trip during which they slept four to a small cabin. Half an hour outside of Paris, the students toured the famous Palace at Versailles. The palace has 2,000 rooms, so they were able to see only a few of them. They saw the famous gardens around the palace and visited the cathedral at Notre Dame and the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.

At the Louvre, they saw the modern pyramid entrance to the museum, recognized by everyone who’d read “The DaVinci Code.”

Their guide had to cancel an outside tour on a rainy day in Paris, but found an indoor perfume-making demonstration instead. On a drier day, some students decided to take a cruise on the Seine River, embarking near the Eiffel Tower. They went to the top of the Eiffel Tower both during the day and on a 2-1/2 hour night trip which included a laser light show.

Breakfasts were at the hotels, but lunch and dinner were at local restaurants. The food in both Spain and France wasn’t a lot different from back home, they said. A common item at breakfast was croissants. Other meals in Spain featured egg and potato omelets and pasta. Some of the students decided to be adventuresome in France and ate snails and squid. There was also a medieval band at one of the Madrid restaurants, where the students danced the macarena.

Senior Megan Cline said it was difficult to understand some of the people in Spain because of how fast they spoke, but that she liked to challenge herself by speaking in complete sentences rather than just one-word responses. Haley Johnson said it was exciting for her to be immersed in the language that she has spent four years studying, adding that everyone she encountered was nice about letting her practice.

Junior Lindsay Jurcenko felt it was an awesome experience to use the language for the first time without textbooks or worksheets. She said she gained a much better understanding of the Spanish language. Johnson also said that through the trip, she gained the desire and knowledge she needed to go back to Europe on her own.

A favorite excursion for the students was the visit to the Eiffel Tower at night. All in all though, they seemed to enjoy Madrid most for its smaller, old-town quaintness.

Megan summed up the students’ feelings by saying that she realized after this trip that it is important to learn about the culture and languages of other countries.

“There is so much going on in the world outside of our small town, and it’s important to know what’s happening in the world, or you might miss out on something you’d love,” Megan said.

Future trips planned
Kaneland High School Spanish teacher Michelle Jurcenko hopes to lead a trip abroad every two years, varying the destinations each time. The first trip she coordinated at Kaneland
was to Europe this spring, through E. F. Educational Tours.

The company charges an average of $2,500 per person, which covers everything except lunch and gifts and a few of the side excursions. A 12-month payment plan is available. Sophomores, juniors and seniors are eligible and do not have to be language students to go.
Parents or students who would like to inquire about the next trip may contact Jurcenko at Michelle.Jurcenko@kaneland.org.