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Spanish exchange students get a taste of American culture

Students from Barcelona, Spain have been enjoying life in America during their two-week exchange program trip to Belmont High School. Kneeling are Paula, Alexa Robbins, and Judith. Standing (from left to right) are Irene, Rebekah Cluett, Samantha Mackes, Paula, Pau and Matt LeClair. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
October 24, 2012
BELMONT — Exchange students from Barcelona, Spain are having the time of their lives as they get a taste of life as a high school student in the United States.

The 18 boys and girls, accompanied by two of their teachers, arrived in Belmont on Oct. 19, where, after a very long journey, were greeted by their host students and families.

BHS sophomore Alexa Robbins said, "We're all getting along so well. I've made so many more friends, even here at Belmont, just having (Carla) here. It's been an amazing experience."

The Belmont students said they found they need to slow down their own speech a bit, omitting some of their slang, but were amazed at how easily they all could communicate.

"I was really surprised at how well Pau speaks English. I was worried about that, but there's been no problem since he got here," said Matt Leclair, a junior at BHS.

"Amazing" is how the Belmont students describe the visit with their new friends, but "big" is how their Spanish counterparts describe America.

"Big. Everything is big here," said Irene, with wide eyes. "Houses, cars, supermarkets, all of it. Just big."

Despite any language barriers that might crop up on occasion, there was one area of teen life where no translation was necessary.

"They love our music, so that's been easy. They listen to the same things back home," said BHS junior Sam Mackes.

Among the favorites of the Spanish students are the band One Direction and teen sensation Justin Bieber.

"Oh yeah, Justin Bieber," a few of the girls agreed with a laugh.

One student, Judith, even lost her voice singing, laughing and "screaming" in the car last week with her host family. A sure sign of all the fun she was having on her visit.

For Pau, one of the male students, it is all about American sports, and while he said he likes soccer, or 'futbol,' as it is called in Spain, basketball is his passion. At home, sports are played in town recreation leagues, and not at school, so he has enjoyed going to games at BHS. He was especially looking forward to attending a Celtics game this week.

Food was also a big topic as the Spanish students all agreed pancakes were the greatest part of their culinary experience in America. They were also amazed to see that students at BHS are able to have snacks in the classroom.

"Kids here eat a lot. We aren't allowed to eat in class at our school," said Carla.

Mackes said she has enjoyed watching her friend Paula try new foods.

Root beer was one that drew a big reaction.

"The faces they made when they tried it were really funny," she said.

Junior Rebekah Cluett is the assistant to BHS Spanish teacher Sharon Hampton, and said she and Irene have had a lot of fun together, noting differences in their cultures and foods.

"She asked for chocolate the other night, then wanted a baguette to put it on. We didn't have any, but we're going to get some so I can have it, too," Cluett said.

The Spanish girls said BHS reminded them of the Disney Channel movie, "High School Musical," with casual dress and such a relaxed atmosphere. They all attend a religious school in Barcelona where things are much more formal. They demonstrated how they must sit up straight in their chairs, pay close attention and dress well for school.

"No tank tops, no shorts. Not allowed," said Paula.

The group is looking forward to shopping while in the United States, and Irene said an upcoming trip to New York City was going to be very exciting. Besides visiting the Empire State Building and other sites, the stores are a major attraction. She wanted to purchase a pair of Ugg boots because they are much more expensive in Spain. Converse sneakers were also high on their shopping lists.

New York is not the only trip on their two-week agenda. Some have already visited Boston with their host families, and they will also tour other New England sites as a group.

Last Friday night, they enjoyed their first Halloween dance where they even dressed in costumes. In Spain only the littlest children dress up for the holiday.

Carla noted it is colder here than in Barcelona but the students felt it was also prettier here in the fall. Paula explained that in Spain the leaves turn from green to yellow, then fall.

"No orange and red leaves like you have here," she said.

The bond between both the American and Spanish students is evident. Not a one of the students felt the least bit homesick. Other than sending post cards to their families, they have just been enjoying the American culture and each other's company.

"Paula's not homesick because she loves me," teased Mackes. "It's like having another sibling for two weeks. It's been a blast. I can't wait to go see her in the spring."

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