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Surprise trip to Spain? Yes, please!

Like most teachers, my summer plans are a mix of professional workshops, family vacations, and visits from folks who believe that Pinckney is “up North.”  Mid-June, this summer, I had just returned from a week of working for the College Board when an email header, “trip to Spain???” caught my eye.

The email arrived on June 17, and (long story short) I left as a chaperone to Greenhills’ Spanish trip on June 22. A colleague’s family emergency (which did, happily, quickly resolve favorably) meant that Sra. Moffat needed another teacher to join the trip, and the other Spanish speakers couldn’t leave on such short notice.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” and I agree. That’s how I ended up in Spain for 11 days of learning, bonding, growth and discovery.

The purpose of the trip was cultural immersion and language acquisition, and these goals were easily met. Some students asked Sra. Moffat to speak Spanish exclusively with them; others (patiently) did their best to teach me the Spanish that I needed to be polite and to get to my room in the hotel. Our group participated in lots of cultural activities; from learning about Flamenco dancing (in a cave) to the finer points of drinking olive oil (which is a lovely topping on chocolate ice cream, as it turns out).

But the value of the trip went far beyond the language we practiced (my French was much improved and I did pick up some Spanish!) or the sights we saw. Our group worked together to figure out the subways, to decide about which excursions we wanted to join, to problem solve any number of once-in-a-lifetime dilemmas. We learned about ourselves, about leadership, about patience, and about each other and, significantly, about the wide variety of folks we met and with whom we interacted every day. We each brought different insights to our discussions, and the group constructed new understandings every day.

For example, while we were in Madrid, we went to the Reina Sofia museum to see Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica. The evening before, Sra. Moffat gathered us together to tell us about the history of the painting. I was able to add some context based on what I remembered from a German history class way back in college. One student, a soccer fan, brought some insight about the Real Madrid football club and the Spanish Civil War while we were touring the club’s museum the following day. Another student connected the story to a painting we had seen in the royal palace the day before. Needless to say, a tour of a bullring reminded us all of The Sun Also Rises; Hemingway’s representation of the graphic carnage we had seen depicted visually in Guernica. These are separate, lonely insights in a vacuum, but the synergy of the group left us all feeling that we better understood the Spanish Civil War. Having learned about the war in a visceral way, rather than by simply hearing about it; our retention was assured.

We also appreciated the experience of seeing the Alhambra Palace, in Granada, with its magical geometry and the parabola-based and faith-filled architecture of Gaudi which we saw in Madrid. The reality of the Islamic presence in Andalusia, previously a nebulous point of discussion during a unit on the history of algebra, has been forever imprinted on my students and me. No less the deep sense of community we felt as we swam together in the Mediterranean Sea, under the watchful eye of Sra. Moffat, who had carefully and professionally planned the entire adventure.

And so, my fellow learners, whatever language you study; whatever the stated purpose of a given school trip; I highly recommend participation (if it is at all possible) in one of the many travel opportunities offered here at Greenhills. Learning happens best when it is experience-based and relationship-bound; and the relationships and experiences shared on such a trip will broaden you in ways you can barely imagine!         — by Math Department Chair Ruth Miller




Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.