Ten Delano High School students and two chaperones visited Spain in February. They were (front) Meagan Maschino, Ginger Valentine, Courtney Rajewsky, Julia Egly, Allison Schaust, John and Dawn Fitzer, (back) Marleena Dieterich, Natalie Pupp, Brandi Sleypen, Mason Rodine, and Jack Ludwig.
MADRID, SPAIN – For 10 days in February, 10 Delano High School students explored the sites, experienced the culture, and ate the food of Spain while staying with host families.
Two of those students – junior Brandi Sleypen and senior Natalie Pupp – shared their experiences with the Delano Herald Journal.
Natalie Pupp is pictured in front of Puerta de Acala.
Pupp’s host family lives right in Madrid, so she began her stay with a quick tour of the city, including the train station (Estación de Madrid Atocha) and Cuesta de Moyano, which she described as a cool street.
“They have, like, little houses almost and they have all these books lined up and down the street,” Pupp said.
Throughout their stay in the area, both girls had the chance to see more of Madrid, including Puerta del Sol.
“It has the 0 kilometer mark and a bear statue that’s really popular,” Pupp said, referencing the center of the radial network of Spanish roads.
Other highlights included the Mercado de San Miguel market and “famous roundabouts.”
“They have these cool statues in the middle,” Pupp said. “For one of them, the Real Madrid soccer team is the sponsor. They have a couple of those. One is the Toledo gate, which has a big arch in the middle. You can’t go too close to them, but they look really cool.”
Pupp’s host family lives near Retiro Park.
“They have football fields, walking trails, a library, and there used to be a zoo,” Pupp said. “They still have the old pens and cages there.”
“There’s a pond where you can rent boats out,” Sleypen added.
A highlight of the park is the Cristal Palace.
“It’s a really pretty castle,” Sleypen said. “You can see through it.”
Pupp also enjoyed shopping and taking in the view from the top of a nine-story mall overlooking Puerta del Sol.
Brandi Sleypen, left, is pictured with her host sister, Claudia, overlooking Toledo.
Sleypen’s host family lives about 40 minutes from Madrid in Toledo, which she described as “a really big town with so much history and so many shops.”
Her tours included aerial views.
“I got to see Toledo during the day and during the night,” Sleypen said. “The view was really cool and it’s interesting to learn about the history.”
Pupp also toured Toledo, and noted the old, narrow, stone streets, more popular with pedestrians than motorists.
Sleypen’s favorite part of Toledo was the Toledo Cathedral, which was built in the 13th Century.
“It’s in perfect condition,” Sleypen said. “Everything is carved perfectly and it’s meticulous. There are different chapels in it for masses. It was insanely cool to see. It was a nice change of scenery. My host mom explained everything about it. There’s one part in the ceiling where you look up and there’s a hole in the ceiling. You can see statues carved into the hole . . . Also, inside the cathedral, there was a huge statue of pure gold.”
Other cities the girls toured included Segovia, Orgaz, and Canseco, which Sleypen overlooked from a Muslim watchtower with her host mother.
When Pupp met her host family, she immediately learned a bit about their cultural traditions.
“They do the kiss on the cheeks, and I wasn’t very good at it,” Pupp said.
That didn’t keep her from getting to know the family well, including her host grandmother, who lives above her host family.
“Her grandmother took me to a terrace at a museum that overlooks the city,” Pupp said. “She spoke no English at all. It was really fun to try to use what I knew to understand her. That was one of the more fun days because I really had to try to use Spanish rather than rely on my host family to know what I was talking about in English.”
She later took the train with her host sister, Cristina, to visit her host dad at work and play paddle with him.
“It’s a mixture of tennis, pickleball, and racquetball,” Pupp said.
The next day, she was immersed in Spanish as she went to a birthday party with “20 Spaniards all talking very loud. We played the game ‘telephone.’ They put me in the lineup and I’m pretty sure I messed up the sentence, but it was still really fun.”
Sleypen said her host mom is an English teacher who was able to explain a lot in English, but she spoke Spanish with her family when possible.
“It was a lot of Spanglish,” Sleypen said. “It’s intimidating when you’re with a Spanish speaker.”
“I knew the words from learning them, but I couldn’t figure out what they were saying a lot of the time because of their accents,” Pupp added. “They would slow it down and then I could understand.”
Going to school in Spain was also a culturally different experience.
“It’s weird because they stay in the same classroom the whole day and the teachers switch,” Pupp said.
While the students were in Spain, the Fiestas de Carnaval took place.
“It’s like a parade,” Sleypen said. “It’s a really big festival at the end of February all over Spain.”
Don Quixote is a cultural icon in Spain, and Sleypen’s host mom took her to the area where the story was set.
“There’s a castle and windmills, which are famous because he fought the windmills,” Sleypen said. “We got to see those up close. It was a really good day because we took in so much history and Spanish legends.”
“Every single food I tried there, I loved, which was really nice,” Sleypen said. “I never went hungry. They fed us so much.”
Sleypen enjoyed bambas, which consisted of a potato cut in half and covered with sour cream, spicy sauce, and sausages.
Even though she doesn’t typically like seafood, she was a fan of the seafood paella she tried.
Pupp got a taste of seafood, as well, when she tried toast with octopus on it at the San Miguel Market, which featured a variety of typical Spanish foods.
Pupp explained croquettes as “a mixture of meat, flour, water, and this one had mushrooms. They’re deep-fried. They’re kind of like tater tots.”
Pupp experienced her first cereal bar featuring a variety of cereals and milk.
“The weird thing about the milk is, all the time they asked if I wanted it warmed up,” Pupp said. “They don’t refrigerate it until you open it, which I thought was weird.”
Sleypen was spoiled by the students in English class, who prepared a feast with typical Spanish foods such as meat pies, sausages, and sweets.”
Other traditional foods included gazpacho – cold soup with bread – and tortilla de patatas – a potato and onion patty.
On the sweeter side of things, Sleypen’s host mother made churros with chocolate, and both Sleypen and Pupp tried marzipan.
“The one I had was like bread dough, but it’s super sweet,” Pupp said. “It’s not really the texture of bread. It’s doughy.”
‘An unbelievable experience’
“My favorite part was being able at night to sit down with the family and talk Spanish because we had time for them to translate it for me,” Pupp said. “I didn’t realize how much of an unbelievable experience it was going to be. I started to cry at the end.”
“My favorite part was being with them,” Sleypen said of her host family. “They made the trip so much better because when you’re close with your host family, it’s a totally different experience. I’m so glad I got to meet them.”
Both girls plan to stay in touch with their host families and hope to visit again.
Spanish teacher John Fitzer, who organized the trip, explained the rational of taking students to Spain.
“I want to open kids’ eyes up,” Fitzer said. “I want them to see they have the same things and same problems we do. They can look at the world differently. That’s my bigger goal, not that I don’t want them to learn the language and culture, too, but I want them to be better world citizens.”
He believes that mission was accomplished.
“I talked to all the kids when they got back from their family stays,” Fitzer said. “You can tell just by talking to them that they learned something and have a different attitude about the world.”
He thanked the American Legion and Delano Lions for donations that helped make the trip possible.