Ms Tharsis, SJBC’s Head of Modern Foreign Languages, said their students enjoyed sharing lessons with their visitors in the mornings, and everyone had great fun when the Spanish students made delicious tortillas in the school kitchen with two classes of Year 10s.
Ms Tharsis said the time in school also included a workshop focusing on the value of learning other languages. This featured presentations from some SJBC teachers whose first language is not English, and provided the opportunity to hear first-hand experiences of the difficulties of settling in a new country without knowing the language. One of the teachers accompanying the group, Cristina López Rogel, said this part of the visit was especially important for her students, as “they have met Spanish speakers who moved to UK without knowing English, and they had hard times because they could not rely on other people. These kind of experiences told by teenagers made our students appreciate the opportunities they have to learn English every day at school.”
Ms López Rogel said, “The main objective of this trip was to practice the English language, to learn the English culture and enrich the coexistence of our students. Also, to take advantage of the opportunity to be in a Salesian school in a different country, where the values and the daily routines are very similar to ours.”
El Pilar has been bringing a group of students from 3º ESO (14-15 years olds) to Battersea for four years, and plan to continue the relationship. “We really enjoy sharing the same familiar environment as in our Salesian school in Spain. For the students, it is such a great feeling to know that Don Bosco is the same all around the world and that they have the opportunity to experience it,” said Ms López Rogel.
For both sets of students, this was a valuable and enjoyable opportunity to practice their language skills and learn more about each other’s cultures, and for the Spanish group, there was time for outings in the afternoons, to get a full flavour of London. “Our students loved the animals and dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, although we didn’t have a lot of time to spend there. They enjoyed very much walking along the banks of the Thames and visiting the Tower of London, Big Ben and Westminster Palace. Of course, they loved going shopping in Camden Town and Piccadilly as well.”
The sightseeing trips also had an educational aim. “The students worked in groups of 6 people. Every day they had some riddles to solve related to places that we were going to visit around the city. Therefore, they had to pay attention and watch the things and monuments carefully, because they will get points by solving the riddles and clues,” Ms López Rogel explained.
The exchange experience is also interesting for the staff involved. Rediscovering the city with their students and seeing how they enjoyed learning new things was a great joy for the teachers accompanying them. Ms López Rogel said, “The main difference we find is in the educational system. I teach Science and I could say that in the UK you have better materials and more laboratories than us. This allows you to teach Science in a more practical way than in the Spanish system. A fact that draws my attention was the laboratory assistant in the school. It is something that we don’t have in Spain and it is a clear example of this difference of investment.”
Ms Tharsis is also enthusiastic about the value of such exchanges, and hopes to take a group of SJBC students to Spain soon, and the visit from El Pilar has fired enthusiasm from students to be involved in that. Back at El Pilar, this year’s group will give talks to younger students, to motivate them in their learning, and to inspire the next group, who will visit in June 2020.
Ms López Rogel summed up the importance of exchange visits: “I think they are very enriching activities for all of us. Students enjoyed it a lot, became more responsible, got more self-sufficiency and learnt to share with the group. For teachers, although this kind of trip is exhausting because we are together 24/7, it helps to create a very different relationship with your students that in a classroom will be impossible.”
Meanwhile, in Madrid ... Salesian College Farnborough students spent a wonderful week at El Pilar! The Lower Sixth Spanish language students attended lessons and worked with their El Pilar peers on various projects. The students stayed with families, which created a total immersion experience in the Spanish language and culture, and they enjoyed visits to Toledo and Madrid.
By Clare Lewis