GoAbroad Interview

Beatriz Arias - Spain Assistant Director

Beatriz Arias - Spain Assistant Director

Beatriz was born and raised in México. She has a B.A. in Communications from ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, an M.Ed. in Foundations of Education and Bilingual Education from the University of Houston, and a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and Bilingual Education. Beatriz has over 15 years of experience teaching all levels of Spanish. She is currently writing a book on Methods and Techniques of teaching a second language.

Candido in Sevilla, Spain

Beatriz in Sevilla.

How did you get connected with SPI?

As a teacher, I was looking for study abroad opportunities for my Spanish high school students. When I saw SPI’s programs available in Santander and San Sebastian on the web, I immediately knew that I found what I was looking for.

What does a typical day as the Spain Assistant Director look like?

In the morning, I arrive to the school before the students. I see them during their class break and engage them in Spanish conversations. I also talk to them after school. I go with the students to all the afternoon and weekend organized activities and make sure they are using their Spanish.

What makes Santander and San Sebastian so special when compared to other Spanish cities?

Santander and San Sebastian are two of the most beautiful cities in Spain. Made famous by the royal families in the 18th and 19th centuries, both are close to Medieval towns, amazing castles, and magnificent beaches where surfing is practiced the entire year.

What sets SPI’s program in Spain apart from other high school programs in Spain?

Students attend language classes with teachers that use the natural approach to learn Spanish. Classes have many interactive activities and role plays that are relevant, fun, and essential to master the language. In the afternoons, SPI tutors take the students to different enriching activities such as surfing, sailing, cooking, and hiking. In addition, they also attend dance lessons, and art classes in Spanish, all of which reinforce their speaking abilities.

Woman in Bilbao Spain

Beatriz in Bilbao.

SPI offers activities as part of the study abroad experience, cooking, surfing, etc.  What is the most popular activity and how do you make sure students are immersing themselves in the local culture?

Students enjoy having a variety of activities and like to try everything. Perhaps one of the activities that they enjoyed the most was a social gathering with local high school students.  First, they played volleyball in the beach and then we went to have churros with chocolate at an authentic churreria. The first 30 minutes they used Spanish, and the last 30 minutes they used English since the Spanish students were also interested to try a new language. Both groups were formed by students who had in common the motivation to use another language in real settings. 

You have been a Spanish teacher for over 15 years, what is the most challenging part about the language for students, and how do you go about helping them work through it?

A reluctance/nervousness to speak is the main problem. After a few days, however, students realize that they are able to effectively communicate with others, even though they have limitations in what they want to say. While in Spain they will use the language in several real life situations--when they go to the market, a store, a restaurant, and also to communicate with their host families. I simply encourage them to speak as often as possible and help them pronounce the words like native speakers. 

What is the most important piece of advice you would share with students preparing to head abroad to Spain for the first time?

I would say to the students that their parents have given them the opportunity to travel to another country to practice a language that will open the door to new opportunities in life. I will also remind them that they will earn college credit, and most importantly, they will learn more about history, art, culture, music ,and other fields while using Spanish.

View of San Sebastian, Spain

Beatriz in San Sebastián.

What has been your biggest accomplishment as a Spain Assistant Director?

It is rewarding seeing the students participating in a life-changing study abroad program.  Students grow in self-confidence and are more appreciative of their own parents. They also become aware of things that they took for granted while living at home. As an SPI on site Assistant Director and Spanish tutor, I get to constantly use Spanish with them when we tour sites, when we play games, or when we travel by bus to different villages and towns.

What is the most fulfilling part of working for SPI Study Abroad?

Seeing the students interacting with others in Spanish and telling me that they have enjoyed so much the experience to study abroad. I also enjoy the times that I hear the students telling their parents that the trip was one of the best things they ever did. I have to admit that all the students were polite, well-behaved, and followed the rules. Amazing!!!