MEDFORD — Students in Medford’s Spanish department traveled to Spain in June to immerse themselves in local culture, learn the country’s illustrious history, and, of course, practice their language skills.

“The highlight for me was watching kids making connections between what we do in class” and what they experienced in Spain, said Amanda Lannoye, Medford’s Spanish instructor. Students discovered “a newfound sense of purpose for the language,” and several mentioned they’d like to study abroad as Lannoye did while she was in college at Winona State University.

“It was cool to see places we’d talked about in class,” said rising senior Kaylin Hanson. For example, during classes, “we talked about how plazas in Spain” are similar and different from American downtowns, and then the group was standing in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, which was “surreal.”

“I got to see and learn about so many places,” and “you just don’t get the same experience in a classroom setting,” said Izzy Reuvers, a rising senior. “It was easily one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had.”

Lannoye spent six months in Granada in 2009, so “it was super-fun to go back on the 10-year anniversary,” she said. In Granada, “I felt like I was home.”

Even better, she shared this trip with her own high school Spanish teacher, Sara Lynch, who brought her students from Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School to Spain. Lynch was the one who first “transferred her deep passion for Spain to me” when she was a teacher at United South Central High School and Lannoye was a student, and “I love Spain.”

Lannoye is “even more grateful for the overall experience” of Spain now than she was as a student a decade ago, she said. “In our youth, sometimes we take things for granted.”

The Medford contingent of 17 students and nine adults departed the U.S. June 13 and landed in Madrid, the country’s capital and largest city, Lannoye said. From there, “we went all over,” including “a beach day on the Mediterranean.”

That day, in Marbella, served as “a nice break about halfway through the trip,” Hanson said. “We had a whole day free to do what we wanted.”

Madrid, conversely, was “so busy” as to be “overwhelming,” but Toledo, a fortress city “built on a hill with a river that surrounds it,” proved popular, Lannoye said. Toledo, known as the “City of the Three Cultures” due to the historic influence of Christians, Muslims and Jews, is “really, really pretty.”

“Madrid was not my favorite,” because “it was a little too large and very busy,” Hanson said. Toledo, however, she loved, because it’s “like a town out of a fairy tale.”

Toledo was “by far my favorite city,” echoed Izzy Reuvers. Toledo offers “old-town charm” with “magnificent landscapes and architecture.”

The feelings or Reuvers and Hanson regarding Toledo were shared by the larger group, Lannoye said. “They preferred the more quaint and authentic cities where you can really feel the culture,” such as Toledo, Segovia — with its lengthy ancient Roman aqueduct — and the royal site of El Escorial, and their group benefited from the knowledge of local guides in each city.

Food was also delicious, although Lannoye is in no hurry to eat ham anytime soon, she said. “They have over 150 different types of ham in Spain.”

Obviously, practicing the language was paramount on the adventure, but both students and adults were awed by the history in the country, as well as Spain’s global impact over the centuries, Lannoye said. For example, while touring the Alhambra, a palace/fortress in Granada, “we stood in the same room” where Isabella I and Christopher Columbus discussed his journey to the New World.

Hanson was especially intrigued by Spain’s history, she said. In southern Spain, particularly, Muslim and Jewish influences were still apparent, and “we walked through quarters where Jews and Muslims lived.”

For Reuvers, the litany of astounding views during the trip will remain seared in her memory.

“The gorgeous city-scapes and amazing architecture were unbelievable,” said Reuvers, who had two years of Spanish study under her belt prior to the trip. “How they preserve their buildings and artifacts is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Time in Spain “definitely” helped Reuvers with the language, she said. “Learning that not every city speaks the exact same way was so very interesting and something I would never have thought about had I not been there to experience it.”

Hanson plans to take a third year of Spanish this year, and she’s thankful she decided to study the language.

“You can communicate with more people in everyday life,” she said. “It really opens up your world.”

Like Hanson, Reuvers hadn’t been outside America prior to this trip.

“I would 100% recommend (other) students do it,” Reuvers said. “It’s such an incredible and mind-blowing experience that helps you understand another culture and pushes you out of your comfort zone.”

Reach Reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @randerson_ryan.

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