It was a blazing, summer afternoon in Andalucía as I looked around a circle of students totally engrossed in a taller de flamenco that overlooked a forest of cork trees. As a LITA group leader, it was one of the highlights of my year. We were at that point in the trip where students were really growing in confidence, both linguistically and personally. As the students learned the proper “palmas” technique and unique rhythms of flamenco, I reflected on the personal familiarity of this exact moment. I was recently a student in that same circle, admiring the fast-paced nature of flamenco and the utter composure of the trio of musicians in front of us. They worked in perfect harmony and nailed every single detail of their performance - it was incredible. In a way, that is exactly how I felt about the experience of being a student on a LITA program. Every single moment - down to each activity and meal had been tailored to the interests of the group. It was an integral part of what made the LITA experience so magical. 

The fun on any LITA trip comes naturally, but the personal growth piece takes dedication from each member of the group. As I reflect back on my summers with LITA, not only were they filled with some of my fondest memories, but they also marked a critical period of personal growth. Committing to staying in Spanish at all times and not falling back on English, especially in challenging moments was by no means easy, but pushing through in these hard moments was when I made the most progress with my Spanish. Knowing that I was never alone and that I had the support of my peers and group leaders was not only comforting but encouraged me to press on. My group bonded over our collective struggles when we couldn’t remember a word in Spanish, or someone made a funny mistake - it made us all feel more confident taking risks. I was never worried about making a mistake or being judged and I found comfort in knowing that all LITA students are in the same vulnerable position.

One of the most nerve-racking but exciting circles for students to enter is that of the host community. As the bus pulls up to a circle of giddy host families, students are immediately embraced by hugs and warm smiles. This moment is, without question, one of the most beautiful moments of the trip, especially knowing that in just a few weeks, students would leave this community with lasting, lifelong connections, often in tears, overcome by emotion. While the process of adjusting to a new culture isn't always easy, in a second language no less, the homestay is when students experience the most growth. Whether it's the experience of waking up in an unfamiliar setting, spending every hour of every day speaking and thinking in Spanish, or struggling with feelings of culture shock or homesickness, everyone experiences the homestay in their own way. What personally comforted me in my moments of struggle was knowing that amidst these challenges, my Spanish was growing tremendously, and I was making real, authentic connections with people from such a different background. Not only was my fluency growing each day, but knowing that I could always talk to my peers who were also facing similar struggles, was an important source of personal comfort during the homestay. Students walk away from this experience with new perspectives, new friendships, and a new understanding of what they are capable of. In my experience, it is one of the most empowering and rewarding experiences students will ever have. 

All LITA trips end the same way they start, in a circle. Our closing activity provides students the opportunity to (anonymously) acknowledge the ways in which their peers have supported them throughout this challenging program. Tears are shed, laughs are shared, and above all else, it provides a moment for students to reflect on all of the people they have met, all of the challenges they have overcome, all of the progress they have made with their Spanish, and the memories that will last them a lifetime. In my experience as a student, having the opportunity to acknowledge the ways in which my peers supported me was one of the best ways to cap off the trip before parting our separate ways in the airport the next day. 

I think about the circles of LITA a lot. I think about starting a trip in a circle of similarly nervous students, or the circle of host families waiting to greet us as we arrive in a host town, and probably the most impactful one, the closing circle where I'm surrounded by my closest friends.

Addy, Former LITA Student & Group Leader 2023


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