MFL: Year 8 Spanish Trip to Cantabria
Bede’s seems to bring sunshine to Cantabria.
On each of our visits - and this was our fourth - we have experienced warm, calm days that have allowed us to benefit from all this beautiful region of Spain has to offer.
This time, as we arrived in our ‘home town’ of Comillas, the weather allowed us to head straight to the beach where everyone was able to unwind after a long journey.
We spent the following morning in Santander, at the Salesianos School, meeting up with pupils we had shared a day of linguistic and cultural interaction with in Brighton last March. Activities included a lesson in flamenco and a lively game of football, as well as lots of chatting in Spanish and English.
In the afternoon, Ana and Piedad, our Spanish teachers, were waiting for us at the stunning, modernised neo-classical building we call ‘school’ in Comillas, to take the first in a series of three extended language lessons. That evening, the ancient town, a series of three town squares, linked by cobbled streets, played host to the now famous treasure hunt, with the usual frenetic decoding of clues in Spanish.
Day Two was spent at lessons and, in the afternoon, at Cabárceno, the stunning wildlife park that provides respite in semi-freedom to injured and rescued animals. The children were able to practise and extend the vocabulary for animals and birds that had been the focus of their morning lessons, and were fascinated by all they saw.
They were delighted as much by the gorilla family as by Lucia, their expert keeper, who taught us how to speak a bit of ‘gorilla’ as well as develop our Spanish.
Day Three focused on the art of the paleolithic cave-dwellers of the region, both at Altamira and at El Castillo. The latter are authentic caves where we saw paintings of bison dating back over twenty thousand years, scattered in amongst incredible stalagmite sculptures.
We learnt about the production of weapons and tried out some spear-throwing ourselves, in the company of school children from a school in nearby Vioño with whom we have made links in the past. The day was topped off with a round of ‘churros con chocolate’ back in Comillas and then a deal was struck that completing the day’s workbook exercise meant a dip in the hotel pool!
Our final day was spent in Bilbao where we took in the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Guggenheim, focusing on one untitled piece. Our discussion around the painting was predicated on the validity of each individual’s personal response to the work.
The children’s imaginations were fired enough that they asked to look at all the other works of this artist in the temporary exhibition. They went on to spend time experiencing the architectural interest of some huge curved titanium structures that produce echoes and a sense of complete disorientation, before heading into the old quarter of Bilbao.
There we tried ‘pintxos’, the Basque version of tapas, and the children ended up dancing to the music of an accordeon player, much to the delight of the local people and passers-by.
This fortunate group of eighteen children not only practised the, albeit limited, Spanish they know, but were also regularly bathed in a flow of fast, fluent, native-speaker Spanish.
All the powerful and magical experiences they had in Cantabria will not be quickly forgotten, and the children’s identities as language learners will, I hope, be fundamentally linked to those memories for the rest of their lives.