Group Leader Reflection Verano 2019

“You will be writing these postcards to your future selves,” my co-leader, Zac, and I tell the students on our last day of the trip. After more than four weeks in a more rural areas with with the LITA group, Zac and I were curious how the students would react to the students spending the last few days of their trip in a big urban center like Sevilla. We are sitting in a peaceful area inside the Parque de Maria Luisa moments after exploring the impressive Plaza de España. It’s the perfect spot for our last reflection exercise. Zac and I will be mailing out these postcards to the students a couple months from now, so we instruct them to write something they think their future selves might want to hear. We remind them that when these postcards arrive, they will be back home in their routines and in the midst of a new school year. So, it might be nice to write about a funny memory, maybe give themselves some advice, or even a reminder to make sure to check in with their host families. We also tell them to give themselves some words of encouragement – high school can be pretty tough after all.

Students pick their postcard and they disperse to begin writing. I look around and see some pensive gazes, some smiles, and even some tears. It is hard to believe these 5 weeks have passed so quickly. I vividly remember our third day in the casa rural in the middle of Teruel province when we were all laughing about how strange it felt that we had only known each other for three days even though it felt a lot longer. The immersive nature of this program allows for such strong connections and all of us grow so close so quickly. Now, over a month later, I’m blown away by how much these kids have conquered and accomplished. They have worked in local businesses, played kickball with their host families, completed fabulous projects, all while forming incredible bonds with each other and their host families. 

As I reflect back on my own LITA experience, the part I cherish the most was my time in our host community. The sense of community we built over those three weeks was amazing and heartwarming; the personal relationships, the emotional ups and downs, and the awesome growth in our students’ Spanish was genuine and rich. We truly were members of this community, rather than just standing on the sidelines as visitors. All of the host families and internship folks were wonderful. We went on excursions with these families, ate dinner with them, and shared amazing stories with them. Even if just for a short while, we belonged to this wonderful, hospitable town. 

It was during these three weeks that I saw the most growth in the group, primarily in their Spanish level but also in their resilience. They overcame shyness, nervousness, and self-doubt. They had to adapt to new circumstances and a lot of the time, they had to adjust their ways of thinking. They worked hard in their classes and internships while being in a completely new place and solely communicating in a language they are still learning. It was during the homestay that I got to see how crucial strong relationships are in setting the foundation for profound learning. The more the students connected, the more capacity they had to better their Spanish.  It’s a lesson I will take back home with me and apply in my own classroom. I know LITA has helped me become a more connected, more adaptable educator.

Back in the plaza in Sevilla, I begin to wonder what the students are writing about, what they want their future selves to remember, and how this program has helped them grow. As we come back together after writing our reflections, the students ask me not to read their postcards (“They’re super private!” “There’s embarrassing stuff in there!”). I laugh and promise them I won’t. Besides, I don’t need to read their postcards to know this program has changed them. 

- Milagros Aburto, Group Leader, 2019


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