Brooke Barker - 2014 Program Participant 

Hiking Los Picos de Europa

At the top of Los Picos de Europa

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I had taken advanced Spanish classes throughout high school and my Spanish teacher really inspired me after sharing her experiences in Spain and Latin America. Travel has always been a big part of my life and plans for the future, so I thought why not?

What made you choose to study in Santander, Spain?

At first, San Sebastian was actually my first choice, but I am so glad I ended up in Santander. Santander is less of a tourist city and it is beautiful. It is the perfect place to connect with the locals, and not to mention the home of the best ice cream in the world: Regma. It is also very safe and right on the beach.

Why did you select SPI Study Abroad over other high school study abroad organizations?

My Spanish teacher recommended SPI Study Abroad to me because I expressed interest in going abroad. SPI had many options for dates and countries and planned everything for you. The SPI programs are a perfect fit for those who just want to get their feet wet. Two and a half weeks was the perfect time period for me, but they also have the option to stay for a month. SPI does a great job coordinating the transportation, excursions, and optional electives for the students too!

Birthday celebration

Brooke’s host mom surprised her with a chocolate cake for her 17th birthday! - Photo Courtesy of Brooke Barker

What were your housing arrangements like in Santander?

My roommate in I lived in a small three bedroom apartment with our host parents, their 18-year-old son, and their 23-year-old daughter. The dad was at work most of the time and the daughter did not live at home much, but we talked to our host mom everyday and it was so interesting to learn about their culture. We also went out with our host brother at night, and he showed us all the cool spots in town and introduced us to his friends.

Our host family was easily the best of everyone in the group, and I am so thankful for that. I think the best part was a having a teenage son in the house. It was so much easier to meet locals and find the best places in town with him helping us.

What was a normal day like as a high school student in Santander?

Classes started at 8 a.m., so my roommate and I would wake up and eat a little breakfast with our host mom, and then take our ten minute walk to school. Our classes were about an hour and a half each, and consisted of Spanish culture, conversation, and grammar with a break in between. After school, our host mom would have a full lunch prepared and we would usually take a little nap for the siesta period, or maybe take a jog by the water.

Bonfire on a beach in Spain

Brooke and friend Emma went to the festival of San Juan, where students burn their schoolwork in a bonfire on the beach in celebration of the start of summer.

In the evening the SPI directors sometimes had activities planned for us, such as Flamenco classes, surfing, etc. Other days, we would have free time to explore the city, go to the beach, or just hang out with our host family. At night, some of us would meet up and watch the World Cup games together or see a band playing at a local restaurant. We were so busy all the time, so the siesta was nice, but we definitely never got bored!

What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?

I think the biggest challenge was the language barrier. Luckily, my roommate had a little more Spanish experience than I did, so she helped a lot. I could usually understand what our family was saying, but it was harder to reply and keep the conversation going. It was scary the first few days, but I got used to it so fast, and it even felt weird speaking English when I came back to the U.S. It was so helpful to have a roommate and other SPI Study Abroad students to speak with in English and share some of our embarrassing Spanish mistakes.

Do you have any language advice for students going abroad for the first time?

For someone's first time abroad, I would recommend to just have confidence in your speaking abilities and keep a sense of humor. You sound so much better if you make mistakes here and there, but keep up your accent and speak confidently. Also, if you make a mistake or do not understand something, that is okay! Laugh it off and keep practicing. The worst thing you can do is lose confidence and not engage in conversation.

What advice would you give to other high school students interested in studying abroad with SPI?

Just do it! Honestly you will not regret it, and it is a great way to get a head start. I'm not even sure I want to continue studying Spanish, but now I know that I definitely want to study abroad in college and that I am capable of staying for a semester or even longer. I would also recommend going alone instead of with a friend from school. I originally had a girl I was planning on rooming with in Spain, but her plans fell through last minute and I ended up going alone. I am pretty outgoing, but I was a little nervous to be sharing a room with someone I did not know. Emma, my random roommate from Dallas, ended up being the perfect fit. We laughed the whole trip and had so much in common!

I would also recommend keeping a blog and taking lots of pictures. I know SPI encourages students to do this, and I am so glad I did. There are so many details you forget, and when I go back through my pictures and blog, it takes me right back.

Study abroad students at the University of Cantabria

Brooke with friends, Emma and Christina, outside the university on their last day of school

How has studying abroad in high school impacted your life?

I learned so much about myself while studying abroad. It confirmed my passion for traveling and opened my eyes to a whole new world for me. When I returned, I started looking for more opportunities to go abroad, and I came across a fully paid scholarship to go to Brazil. I recently received notice that I was chosen for the scholarship, so I will be spending six weeks in Brazil this summer!

I have created goals for myself and want to travel everywhere now. I am so thankful for the lifelong friends I have made around the country. We still keep in touch and the memories we made are irreplaceable. I put SPI Study Abroad on my college resume, and it has helped me get scholarships and has become a topic of conversation during my interviews. To say the least, my experience in Spain as a high school student has opened up so many doors for me.