Freshman Experience in Cádiz Creates Taste for Travel

Freshman Experience in Cádiz Creates Taste for Travel
Kara McDuffee

For Finn Boston ’25, his trip to Spain didn’t start on the smoothest note. As his Brewster classmates gathered their luggage from the Sevilla Airport conveyor belt, he found himself waiting in a long line for “Baggage Claims.” The airline couldn’t find his bag—and it didn’t turn up for the entirety of the trip.

But not even a major baggage snafu could ruin this Bobcat’s immersion trip with his peers in oceanside Cádiz, Spain, where 30 students and their six chaperones spent 11 days exploring, learning, and bonding. So, armed with a combination of borrowed and newly purchased necessities, Finn was on his way to a global experience—and a valuable lesson: “Always remember that you never know what can happen.” 

Brewster’s Freshman Experience in Cádiz––open to sophomores this year because of the pandemic––took place from May 29 to June 8. Designed to introduce foreign travel to Brewster students, the program includes a rich itinerary and curriculum that encourages students to immerse themselves in a new country. Brewster faculty collaborate with their peer school, K2 Internacional School, to provide this diverse learning experience for their students. 

A typical day included a classroom lesson, authentic group exploration and discovery, and guided free time. Excursions were made to the cities of Granada, Córdoba, and Sevilla, as well as to the small coastal towns to the south of Cádiz.  

A day excursion to Córdoba, Spain

And the learning didn’t stop during there––students spent their nights and afternoon “siestas” with their host families, whom they endearingly called their “mamas'' and “papas.” Every day they ate home-cooked Spanish meals in their homestays. 

“I’m usually more of a picky food eater, and I usually like what I like,” said Maggie Doyle ’24. “In homestays, whatever they made us we had to try, and 99% of the time I loved what they gave us.” Many of the students echoed Maggie’s sentiments. Eating in their homestays caused them to try new foods, ultimately leading to some pleasant discoveries.

Another discovery they had to make? Communicating with their host families almost entirely in Spanish.

“The biggest challenge, at least for me, was the language barrier,” said Logan Cliche ’25, one of Brewster’s Curvey Scholars. “The barrier taught me the importance of gestures in a conversation, along with the fact that you don’t need to speak the same language to understand each other.”

Some students had years of Spanish classes under their belts, others none at all. However, being in many interactions with a Spanish-only speaker forced them to get out of their comfort zone and learn how to communicate. They spent part of their mornings in leveled Spanish classes taught by teachers at the K2 Internacional School; often, the other part of their morning tasked them with applying those Spanish skills in real situations.

Students learning on a rooftop classroom at K2 Internacional School

One of these real-world language lessons included a trip to the Mercado Central Cádiz. Led by K2 faculty, the students had to create a list of ingredients, inquire about the prices of specific items, and purchase them from the vendors––all in Spanish. 

Not surprisingly, the real-world conversations triggered some nerves. As Will Dumont ’25 waited for his turn to speak to a vegetable vendor, Mia Drury ’25 asked him, “On a scale of one to 10, how nervous are you?”

“A 10!” Will said with a smile. A minute later, the pair shared a high-five as Will reported that the carrots cost “One-eighty per kilo.”

These moments, while seemingly small, helped build a powerful cumulative impression for the students. Randall Preston ’25 shared how much pride the interactions could invoke.

“It’s such a great feeling when talking with a homestay parent or a vendor and I can understand them,” Randall said. “It’s an awesome feeling to know, ‘This is a language that I haven't been speaking for the last 14 years, and I'm actually having a conversation with this person and getting something useful out of this conversation.’ It’s definitely inspired me to learn Spanish more and maybe look into other languages, too.”

Creating opportunities for authentic, meaningful conversations in Spanish was a large emphasis of the trip. After the excursion to the market, the students used those ingredients to cook paella together on the K2 school rooftop. As students shared the work of slicing ingredients, mixing spices, and stirring the giant paella pan, they also enjoyed games, music, and dancing inspired by the K2 faculty. 

While the rooftop gathering ended with a fun, mini “graduation” ceremony for their completed Spanish classes, it also highlighted several other meaningful elements of the Cádiz experience. 

First, it reinforced a primary purpose of the trip: for the students to bond with each other. Throughout the 11 days, different students mingled, forming new bonds and creating friendships that will transcend their time in Spain. 

“I’ve gotten to know some people really well who I probably never would have if we hadn’t gone on this trip together,” said Maggie Doyle ’25. “It makes me excited to be able to share something with them when we’re back at Brewster.”

Second, the rooftop showed off the sheer beauty of Cádiz, overlooking the Plaza Mentidero. And by that point in the trip, the students could point in any direction and tell you other notable landscapes and impressive architecture. In one direction, an historic fort beside a beautiful beach, only a 10-minute walk away. In the other direction, the Plaza de San Antonio and entrance to the main central street filled with shops and restaurants. A slight turn, and you’d be standing in front of the Catedral de Cádiz, the main cathedral beside the water. Or you might be standing up higher, in its bell tower, overlooking the city and the ocean.

“My favorite thing and experience on this trip was seeing the views of Cádiz from the tallest tower and the cathedral’s bell tower,” Mia ’25 said in her reflection. “The view of the ocean and the city was absolutely gorgeous.”

Choosing Cádiz as the destination for the trip was not by chance. The city is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. Surrounded almost entirely by water, and easy to navigate by foot, the city provides the perfect location for students to experience travel, culture, food, art, architecture, tradition, and a deep-rooted history.

Which is why Brewster faculty crafted intentional lessons to help the students dive into these features in and out of the classroom. With days tailored around the theme of senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch), students learned and then experienced what they learned firsthand. Throughout their time in Cádiz, they discovered different styles of architecture, the art of flamenco dancing, and the history of the Carnival Festival, to name a few.

One of Brewster’s art faculty members and chaperones on the trip, Alicia Childers, cherished the opportunity to see and discuss building designs. “It was an incredible experience to see how the architecture changed based on religion and time period. The Roman influences that are still visible and functioning were unreal,” she said. “Showing students how art perseveres in culture and society was a real highlight. I loved how many students asked, ‘What will people remember about our future? What will people visit in the future?’”

The students didn’t lack opportunities to see these amazing displays of history and architecture. In Cádiz, they explored the Catedral de Cádiz, built between 1722 and 1838. On a day trip to Granada, they spent an afternoon at The Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex that is considered one of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture. The group also spent a day in Córdoba, a city layered in religious history and buildings and most known for La Mezquita, an enormous mosque dating from 784 A.D. 

And this lineup doesn’t even include the trips to Sevilla, Tarifa, or the small coastal towns of Bolonia and Vejer de la Frontera. They walked around ancient palaces, toured remarkable mosques and cathedrals, explored ruins, and even stepped foot in the Plaza de Toros, where bull fights still take place every spring in Sevilla, Spain.

With so many opportunities, it would be impossible for the students not to absorb the Spanish culture––and many students reflected on how much this cultural exploration helped them.

“I allowed myself to try different things and other people’s culture, and I really saw myself grow as a person and as a traveler,” Charrise Darsaw ’25 said. “If you keep to one culture, you only know that one thing. You get different experiences embracing someone else’s culture.”

Logan shared this sentiment. “I believe that I grew as a result of this trip by becoming more conscious of what I do, where I am, and how other cultures may differ from my own,” he said. “My favorite thing that I experienced on this trip is the true immersion that it offered me. As a citizen of the United States, I have never really had any exposure to different ways of living. However, spending some time in Spain has allowed me to see things outside of my traditional worldview.”

Laura Cooper, a veteran Freshman Team Leader and primary planner of the Cádiz trip, loved seeing how much students were willing to immersive themselves. “I was so impressed by the group's eagerness and curiosity to experience and learn about a new culture, language, customs, foods, and history,” she said. “My favorite moments are noticing the visible awe and wonder of our students as they take in a new culture.” Many of the students’ reflections mentioned this awe, as well as what it inspired in them for the future.

“During the trip, my patience grew and I learned to be a little more curious about the world,” Cole Butcher ’25 shared. “It inspired me to learn more about Europe and its culture.”

Laura Cooper also noted the confidence behind this newfound curiosity. “Beyond the concrete memories of food, sights, language, and the like, I think each of our students returned with heightened confidence about being able to live abroad for 11 days,” she said.

As the days went on, you could see their confidence grow as they learned to navigate the city, roll with the punches, and face any opportunity with an open mind. 

“This trip helped me become more independent,” Maverick Bennett ’25 said, sharing how much he enjoyed the fact that the students had the opportunity to walk around the city without always being with the whole group. “I’ve always liked doing stuff on my own, and this trip helped me become even more comfortable with it.”

With increased cultural awareness, curiosity, comfort, and confidence, many students shared their excitement to take another trip. 

Finn '25 (in gray t-shirt) and friends give thumbs up as they walk through the city

As for Finn, the student who started his trip without any belongings? At the end of the 11-day trip, during which his bag was never found, Finn admitted he was ready to come home to Wolfeboro, but quickly added, “But now I wish I could go back, because I miss it so much! This trip inspired me to travel more and see more of the world.”

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