By Isabel Flores
Imagine being told for school you had to see movies, go to the beach and experience a new culture, otherwise you’d fail. For students going on the college-sponsored trip to Spain it is not a dream but a reality.
“Culture, education, friendship and fun, how can it get any better?” asked Brian Barber, a liberal arts tudent who attended the trip last year.
Students who attend the trip to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, from July 7 to Aug. 4, 2010, may ask the same question. When they experience the culture, they are often in for a surprise.
When a person thinks of Spain, they usually think of three things: bull fighting, flamenco dancing or large cities such as Barcelona or Madrid. In Santiago de Compostela bull-fighting is illegal; they dance to Celtic music (as it is geographically closer to Ireland, than Barcelona), and it’s a college town of only 140,000 people; that is no metropolis.
Although small, the city is historically important. Legend has it that in the ninth century, Saint James, one of the Jesus’ apostles, body washed to shore in Galicia.
In the eleventh century, a cathedral was built to house his body. Today about 100,000 people visit the cathedral every year. Most of these are Christians who have just completed a three month pilgrimage on Saint James way, a trail that goes from France through most of northern Spain. According to the Catholic Church it’s one of the three places that people can still travel to gain permanent salvation. The other two places are Jerusalem and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
For students who aren’t religious, in front of the cathedral is still a great place to be. Every day dancers, singers and other entertainers perform there, celebrating the pilgrims’ successful arrival.
A more modern part of the city is home to clubs, restaurants, cyber-cafes and college sporting events, so there is nearly always something to do, no matter what you are in the mood for.
The University of Santiago de Compostela, which students will attend, has a unique experience of its own. Here students will walk on cobble stone roads and study in buildings built in 1506, more than 100 years before Harvard the oldest American school was established. They will take six credits—three in Spanish with a professor from Spain and three in Spanish cinema or culture, but it is quite manageable.
The school day is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but greater emphasis is placed on field trips. Each weekday afternoon and Saturdays various tours are given throughout the state of Galicia, in which Santiago de Compostela is located.
Tours change yearly and often consist of seeing modern Spanish movies, museums and historical tours and the tops the Cathedral or the University to get a view of the city’s historic buildings, the ocean and the forests—all at the same time.
On Saturdays the big field trips happen. Some years students will participate in “mini-pilgrimages” on the Camino de Santiago (Saint James way) to receive permanent salvation from God. On another, people go on a boat trip to the Ria de Arosa—a place where they can learn to mussels, a food local to the area. But the most popular trip is to La Coruna—a sandy beach about an hour away from the university.
In 2010, students will be given the option to take a few days to travel anywhere before flying home. One consideration is Portugal, as it is only an hour away from Santiago de Compostela.
The highlight of the trip is July 24, the night before Saint James day, which the Spaniards treat like the Fourth of July. Since Saint James is Spain’s patron saint and is buried in Santiago de Compostela, the celebration is huge. A firework show takes place in front of the cathedral, concerts of well-known Spanish singers happen, a carnival is open and even Spain’s royal family members will be there. This night the school requires people to party; something that is rare and for most people will not happen again.
While the trip is fun, it also gives students the opportunity to live away from home, likely for the first time. Here people will learn to share a room with a dorm-mate (or with a host family), budget out free time and school and live in a country, where Spanish is spoken. If someone misses home or gets sick, the school gives students Skype accounts and free cell phones, to contact friends and family, helping prepare students for when they transfer to a four year school.
The catch? For the four-week trip a student should expect to pay about $2900, if they want to share a dorm and receive two meals a day, the option most students take. While loans are available, if you’re interested you should probably consider saving up money now.
“I recommend taking at least one Spanish course before going,” said Ana Menendez, an associate professor from Suffolk’s foreign language department, who runs the program.
So while the trip may not be until next summer, it is never too early to plan for it. Spanish classes need to be registered for, money needs to be saved and people need to claim their seats for the trip—as they are expected to sell out early this year.