Brewster’s Global Programs are setting the gold standard for educational travel. Learn more about what students are gaining from living and learning in the ancient cities and islands of Spain, and hear from one of the program’s most ardent supporters in this feature.
Brewster students with a suitcase and a sense of adventure have incredible opportunities ahead.
Words by Suzanne Morrissey
Brewster’s global travel program has grown exponentially in the last two years, and now, when people outside our community hear about the international experiences Brewster students are having, the response we usually hear is, “They get to do all THAT? In HIGH SCHOOL!?”
Yes. Because a Brewster education encourages immersive learning that helps students embrace the larger world around them. Designed to build the skills needed to be a global citizen, the programs offered by Brewster’s Global Initiatives Office include three different trimester-long experiences and a shorter immersion trip exclusively for ninth graders. All are based in different regions of Spain, and serve as the home-away-from-home base for travels to other destinations across Europe. Each experience has a unique curricular emphasis and boosts students’ independence, self-confidence, tolerance, curiosity, and cultural awareness. With enrichments that one would expect in a college-level study abroad program, these carefully planned immersion experiences are a unique and special part of a Brewster education.
All the immersion experiences include a rigorous classroom component, and the teaching team includes faculty who travel from Wolfeboro as well as local educators who are trained in Brewster’s methods. There is also ample time to explore and absorb new landscapes, new cuisines, and new people. Spanish is not a prerequisite; in fact, students have reported enjoying the friendly pantomiming that helps them communicate with their host families. Living with a local family is a key component of the trips. The host family aspect of these experiences is sometimes the greatest cause of pre-trip nerves—nerves that are quickly soothed as soon as the families excitedly meet their temporary—and very welcome—members.
“My host family was fantastic!” one senior reported.
“I stayed with a grandmother who has been taking in exchange students for more than two decades—so she knew what she was doing. She was very hospitable, a great cook, and she was always asking how I was doing.
I think everybody was very content with their host families, especially me. So that was one of the best things about the trip, definitely.”
The fall and spring trimester immersions are based at Brewster’s European campus in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Spain’s Galicia region and part of the well-known Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. The winter trimester option is in the Canary Islands. For freshmen, there is a 10-day immersion in Cádiz. There are separate fees for these immersion experiences, ranging from $2,500 to $5,500 plus airfare.
All freshmen are invited to dip their toe in the immersive travel waters with a 10-day trip to Cádiz, Spain. Located in Spain’s southwestern coastal region, with a mix of Moorish and Christian architecture, Cádiz is almost completely surrounded by water. Designed to help the newest Bobcats share a bonding experience and get a taste of what immersion travel is all about, this trip allows students to enjoy day jaunts to Seville, Cordoba, and Granada—all short train rides from their home base in Cádiz. Asked what he was looking forward to the most on the Cádiz trip that departed in March, Archer McClain ’23 echoed what several of his classmates have said, “Exploring the city and the food!”
The Cádiz curriculum focus is language, customs, history, and the culture of Spain and Europe. Students are asked to complete an inquiry project that focuses on one aspect of culture that they are most interested in learning more about.
THE CANARY ISLANDS
It is important to note that trimester immersions are not tourist vacations—they are full academic and cultural experiences—but it’s hard not to feel that vacation glee when heading to the Canary Islands for part of the winter!
Brewster’s winter trimester immersion in Spain’s Canary Islands is based in the modern city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where we partner with Colegio La Salle San Ildefonso to provide an extraordinary learning experience. Tenerife affords our students frequent exploration of the Pico del Teide (the tallest mountain in Spain), mountain hamlets, and lesser-visited port towns. And, yes, there are breaks to enjoy the endless coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Brewster’s Communications Associate Marta Carreño joined the winter 2020 group for a few days in February. “I was able to live the student experience in the Canary Islands through my lens—literally,” she said. “Following the groups around with the camera was fun and exhausting because there was not a moment in their day when they sat still!” Carreño accompanied the group on a weekend trip to the island of Fuerteventura, where they went swimming, snorkeling, and even biked up to the top of a volcano on the island. “Through it all I could see the bonds these students had created since I had last seen them on our campus in New Hampshire, facilitated by all of these new experiences they were living together abroad.” One of her most vivid memories was listening to a conversation among students and their local guide on their sunset kayak ride back to the mainland: “The guide told them about his experience moving to the Canary Islands as a kid and students made efforts to speak Spanish to him as they shared their own backgrounds and willingness to travel and learn new languages.”
Brewster science faculty joined the students during Interim Studies to complete an enhanced unit on sustainability and development in the Islands—which also featured lectures from local experts on their own field research.
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
The fall and spring immersion trimesters are both anchored in Santiago de Compostela, part of Spain’s northwest region. The city is known for its medieval history and Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassicist architecture—along with rich religious affiliations (it is the culmination point of the famous ancient pilgrim route known as the Camino de Santiago).
“It was also cool being in an old historic city,” one senior recalled on the fall trip. “Santiago has about 100,000 people and it’s an UNESCO World site. The trimester immersion there gives you the opportunity to be independent and explore the city. And that just reinforces a different kind of learning…world learning.”
Brewster’s classes are held in the Monastery of San Martin Pinario, a 12th-century Benedictine monastery that is the second largest in Spain. But each trimester has a distinct focus: The fall trimester program is called “History and Ourselves” as the students fold courses on Western European history and religion into their regular curriculum. The Global Programs team gives a great deal of thought and planning to make sure the students get to take advantage of their location, going on excursions that reflect the curriculum focus. For example, “History and Ourselves” students enjoy group trips to Munich, Germany; Salzburg, Austria; and Madrid, Spain.
“For one of our Weekend Cultural Trips, we went to the Sacred Riviera of Galicia, about a two-hour drive from Santiago,” one of the juniors on the fall immersion explained. “We went to the Roman baths and hot springs in the historic Roman city of Ourense, and saw castles, monasteries, canyons, and the small village of Parada del Sil. It was really really fun…definitely one of my favorites.”
Those choosing to do the spring immersion in Santiago focus on the theme “Exploring Western Civilization,” and visit Florence and Rome, Italy, as well as Madrid.
WHY THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS?
Last summer, El País, one of Spain’s daily newspapers, published an article on the importance of studying abroad, making the bold statement that six months studying abroad equals four years in a traditional classroom. “In an increasingly global world,” the author concluded, “the revolution of university education is irreversible: It is time to take a passport and live the student experience that will change your life. It is leaving everything to go for more.” Brewster’s Ricardo Carreño, Assistant Head of School for Global Initiatives, agrees, but says this kind of immersion learning is even more important for high school-age students.
“For those of us who have been preaching for decades the transformational effects of immersive experiences abroad that are thoughtfully built into our youth’s education, this article sounded like music to our ears,” Carreño says, adding that while education abroad has been happening in colleges and universities around the world for the last three decades, we now know that the real transformation happens while students are immersed at some point during their high school years.
“At this age our brains are much more receptive to the thousands of new experiential learning impacts we are receiving for being out of our ‘comfort zone,’ and we also know that the imprint that it leaves in our youth is much more powerful when experienced at high school ages,” he says.
One of the seniors on the fall Santiago trip quickly realized the value of an immersion experience, very soon after signing up: “If anyone is considering doing the trimester immersion, I would say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this in high school. When I told people over the summer that I was going to Spain, they said, ‘Oh, you can do that in high school?’ And, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I go to Brewster. Of course I can.’ It just gives you great insight on the world. It made me more comfortable with
“There is a reason why more and more high school students around the world embark in these experiences every year,” Carreño says, “and will be the competition that our own students are going to face for college acceptances and professional life in our globalized era.”
Q&A WITH BREWSTER GLOBAL’S BIGGEST ADVOCATE
Global learning at Brewster has an enthusiastic advocate in Trustee Art Coviello. His decades of executive management experience include serving as chief executive officer of RSA, the security division of Dell Technologies. Recognized as leader in his field, he was a regular speaker at conferences and forums around the world, which gave Coviello a unique perspective on the benefits of cultural understanding and global citizenship—and sparked his passion for making sure Brewster students have paths to both.
Q. Why is global education, specifically the trimester immersion trips, important to you? Why are you such a strong supporter of the global program for Brewster?
A. From a trustee perspective, I applaud the fact that we are incorporating elements of global education in our program and in the Brewster Model. We are living in an interdependent world, and it is critically important to expand our aperture and teach our students that the world doesn’t begin and end at the U.S. border. With 20% of our students coming from more than 20 countries, we are already well positioned to give all of our students a perspective they couldn’t receive in a public school environment. The trimester abroad offering deepens that opportunity as the students experience life immersed in a different culture. Not only do they return enriched from the time abroad, but they are also more sensitive to the international students who are immersed in ours and they share their experiences with all of the other students.
Q. You’ve joined our students in Santiago de Compostela, Spain during their trimester immersion. What were your observations during your time with them?
A. I came away jealous that I never experienced school in a medieval city in a 500-year-old monastery. I was impressed with the versatility of the teaching staff and how disciplined the school day was while the students also became more independent and self-sufficient living with the host families.
Q. What would you like Brewster’s families and alumni to know about the school’s commitment to global education?
A. For the families of students, I believe this reinforces that you and your child made the right choice, and for alums, you should be proud that the Brewster Model continues to evolve to meet the needs of today’s students. Global Education is another key element to the Brewster Model and educational experience.
BOBCATS IN THE WORLD
From its inception decades ago, the Brewster Model set out to educate students in a way that engaged their curiosities and built on their strengths. As we’ve evolved into a school that is driven by our mission to prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose, a well-rounded global education has become part and parcel of that promise. Students on the Fall Immersion in Santiago de Compostela had a visit from Head of School Craig Gemmell, who interviewed the kids for his Diverse Thinkers podcast. He asked what they thought travel was teaching them about themselves.
One student spoke to the bravery an adventure like this requires, “Being on this trip you have no choice but to be out of your comfort zone. You have no choice but to discover who you are and to grow from it, and that is how you learn.”
Craig also asked about the appendage most teenagers cannot imagine being without: smart phones. “There are so many cultures here. We are sitting in a building that is perhaps 800 years old,” he asked. “Have you been thinking a lot about Snapchat?”
“Definitely no,” Reese Richmond ’21 said. “I picked up my phone to take some photos, to text my parents. It is a relief to not have to feel like I have to keep everyone informed about how great my life is.”
CALLING ALL GAPPERS
The most recent addition to Brewster’s slate of travel options is “Gap Year-Brewster Global.” More and more students across the country are pressing pause on college to take a year after high school to work, volunteer, or travel. According to the most recent Gap Year Association survey, those “gappers” report that the year of experiential learning and travel helped them with personal development, increased their maturity and self-confidence, and taught them how to better communicate with people from other cultures. (And here’s a little trivia that caught our eye: Students who take a gap year and travel abroad not only earn higher GPAs in college, they are also more likely to be engaged in civic matters. 63% of students who traveled during their gap year reported voting in national elections, which tops the national average by almost 10%!)
A gap year of travel is also a trend college and university admission offices value, knowing that the student they are considering welcoming into their school has a worldly view and equipped themselves with new tools to contribute to their college community.
Brewster’s program is uniquely set up for students looking for a meaningful gap year experience, with the fall trimester in Wolfeboro to enjoy campus life, prepare for their upcoming immersion programs, complete their standardized testing requirements, and work with the College Office on their college application process. For the winter trimester, they head to the Canary Islands followed by Santiago de Compostela in the spring. Coursework is tailored to each student’s specific goals and requirements in preparation for their college transition.
A SPECIAL NOTE
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily suspended these amazing travel opportunities for Brewster students, the Global Initiatives Office is ready to welcome students back into these immersion trips as soon as international travel is deemed safe again. Until then, if you have any questions, contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.