Spanish exchange chance for discovery

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BreAnn, second from left, Sonia and her family get their photo taken at the aqueduct at Segovia.

VULCAN – BreAnn Wyatt may have discovered as much about herself as she did a foreign culture through Alberta Education’s International Education Exchange Program (IEEP).

The County Central High School student recently returned home to Vulcan after a 10-week visit to Spain through IEEP. There she stayed at the family home of Sonia Arévalo Migueláñez, the exchange student who visited Vulcan last year.

“You learn a lot more about yourself than you realize,” said Wyatt. “You learn maybe you’re not as independent as you thought you were, and you realize what’s important to you and what you would miss.”

Along with her friends and a glass of cold milk, the 16-year-old also missed her native tongue. Although Spanish lessons through Palliser Beyond Borders’ outreach program kicked in towards the end of her stay, Wyatt admits she was frustrated initially over difficulties in finding a simple phrase or particular tense.

“Everything you have to say, you have to think about first,” she recalled.

One of the things Wyatt discovered was she needs a little more shut-eye than her hosts. A siesta figures large in the daily routine of many Spaniards, but she wasn’t able to take advantage of the mid-day snooze.

“I tried. I can’t do it. Apparently I can’t nap,” said the Grade 11 student, with a chuckle.

She and Migueláñez would get home from school about 3 p.m. and have a big lunch, followed by a nap (or so the plan went). Several hours of studying later, they’d eat again about 9 or 10 p.m. and then the family would watch TV together for several more hours.

“I was usually in bed before they cleared the table,” she said. “They sleep a lot less than we do.”

Once she got a better grasp of the language and was able to familiarize herself with her new surroundings, Wyatt was able to relax and soak up a very different culture.

The fact Migueláñez‘s hometown of Carbonero el Mayor is about the same size of Vulcan meant once less thing to grow accustomed to. Wyatt did, however, find herself a little overwhelmed by the congestion in some of the larger cities she visited.

The school system in Spain was also a marked departure from what she is familiar with at County Central High School. With no semester system, the students in Spain carry a full-load of courses over the entire school year. Students there focus their attention on a specific strain, like languages or sciences, in Grade 9 or 10, and the mode of instruction is more similar to university than high school.

“The teachers just lecture and you go home and then you do the reading and you do all the practice,” said Wyatt, adding it’s not unusual for Spanish students to study four or five hours every night. “I prefer our (system). I like to not have to study every night, all night.”

One of the highlights of the exchange was a week-long, school trip to Italy, where the group visited many of the ancient wonders. She fondly recalls pitching in to share a gondola ride down the waterways of Venice.

Wyatt is glad to be back home but said she’d like to return to Spain one day to visit with her “other family.” While her mother had to talk her into taking advantage of the opportunity, she is certainly glad she did.

“It was nice to try that and live a different lifestyle and see the differences and compare them,” she said.

For more information on the International Education Exchange Program, go to