Review: U6 Spanish Exchange

Spain is a hugely varied country, at times seeming like a loose alliance of mini-states. Linguistically, culturally and climatologically, the north-western region of Galicia – where nine Marlburians enjoyed a week-long exchange straddling January and February – has more in common with Brittany or Cornwall than Andalucia or the Balearic Islands. 

Were our pupils surprised to encounter so much ‘weather’ in midwinter? Perhaps they might have taken heed of the fact that Galician – the local language – has over 70 words for different types of rain, including poetic terms such as froallo, babuña, battuere, torbón, patiñeira and sarabiada.

Our welcome, however, could not have been warmer. Greeted off the bus from A Coruña airport, each was whisked away by their partner’s family to experience authentic Spanish home life, from unfamiliar foods to very, very late nights. Most of all, this provided an immersive linguistic experience for our pupils to hone their listening and speaking skills, this last especially flourishing as the days went by.

The Marlburians spent Tuesday and Thursday at our partner school, the Colegio Peleteiro, where they were hugely impressed by the standard of English of all the pupils. Even in the infant school, some “non-language” lessons are conducted entirely in English. The experiences were not merely linguistic however; there was an energetic Latin dance class one afternoon, and a fascinating talk about Galician culture which ended with the entire group on their feet and dancing to traditional muñeira rhythms.

When not at school, we explored local cities, starting with the twisting granite streets of Santiago de Compostela and its extraordinary cathedral, home to the mortal remains of the apostle St James. This was not for the faint-hearted as the tour included clambering all over the ancient stone roof. Mid-week we visited the coastal city of A Coruña and climbed its magnificent Torre de Hercules, built in the 2nd century and therefore the oldest Roman lighthouse still in use today. On Friday, we took the waters at Ourense, hot natural springs that have been enjoyed since Roman times.

The pupils’ visit ended on day trips with their host families, and night time house parties with Peleteiro students – a final taste of the glorious Galician landscape and its inhabitants’ love of a good shindig. There were many fond farewells as we left the school for the last time, but excellent memories and friendships will remain.

Alex de Trafford
Head of Spanish

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