Spanish students travel to Mexico to improve language skills

February 22, 2010 — by Christine Bancroft

This February break, while much of the student population hit the ski slopes, a group of students traveled in the opposite direction––Mexico.
On Feb. 11, 52 Spanish students and five teachers traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico, to attend Universidad Internacional. While there, they took a week of six-hour long courses and went on several excursions to Taxco, a nearby silver mine and town, and Xochicalco, the site of former Mayan pyramids. Students also took classes in salsa dancing, watched a movie in Spanish and socialized with
Mexican high school students.

The trip, organized by the Spanish language department and the university, lasted 10 days. Students lived with residents of Cuernavaca, with two to four students assigned to each family. The families prepared meals, showers, beds and a group of native Spanish speakers to hone their communication skills.

“Everyone has an opportunity to learn and speak,” said language department head Arnaldo Rodriguex, who coordinates the trips. “It´s a great opportunity to experience the culture. It also boosts student´s confidence when speaking Spanish.”

Rodriguex has been going on the trip for almost 30 years, first going in 1981. Over the years, hundreds of students have made the trip. Rarely do students return home dissatisfied and many notice an improvement in their Spanish speaking skills.

“Even on the second or third day,” said sophomore Corinne Zelanis, “I noticed how much more I could understand. My [Mexican] mother and father weren´t speaking so fast that I couldn´t understand them and I didn´t take as long to respond.”

During the week, students took classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the international university, among international and native students alike. Professors taught students grammar, vocabulary and communication skills at a five-to-one student-professor ratio.

“I think coming here opens many doors,” said Rodriguex. “They are able to communicate and say things better. You may have an A in class and speak a lot, but it’s very different when you come here and speak with local, native speakers and your families 24/7.”

In addition, students also had the chance to speak in small groups with university students, at the table with their families and on the street with Cuernavaca’s locals. They managed to keep in touch with friends and families for an hour a day in the university´s computer lab.

“I really wasn´t sure what to expect,” said Zelanis. “But I definitely want to come back. I’ve learned so much and it’s so beautiful here. I can hardly believe it. This has just been an absolutely amazing experience.”

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