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Spanish Cultural Exchange

Earlier in June of this year, three current 5th year students (Craig McCarthy, Daniel McDonnell and Pedro Matute) participated in a cultural exchange programme in Spain with Play & Say (an Educational Services Company specializing in Youth Programmes).

Here Pedro Matute gives a beautiful account of his cultural exchange experience...

Spain, often said to be the charm in southwestern Europe, leaves a grand mark, where every corner seems to tell a story. Truly a place that steals the hearts of travellers from around the globe.

This article embarks on my story. A 17-year-old student far from home who journeyed his way through the northern region of Cantabria, Spain. Who lived Spain’s rich culture, customs, breath-taking landscapes, and the unique experiences it offered. Revealing a captivating story full of life, wonder and its incredible diversities.

On an early Irish morning in July, I could feel my visions clouding over me, I knew there was no turning back. Little did I know these lurking mysteries would be nothing compared to the loving memories I’d soon ought to make.

In the previous month of May towards the end of another semester, Chanel College was first introduced to a creative enterprise called ‘Play and Say’ by the Spanish Ministry of Education. They certainly had a lot to show.

Designed for both Irish and Spanish young enthusiasts from the age of 16, this intercultural program mixes customs and language which these two cultures have long shared. Occurring every year during summer, students from across Ireland make up a total of 200 to 300 participants. It offers four fantastic destinations in Spain. Depending on your alternative, this summer camp with all costs included (except flights) can last two to four weeks.

Having the privilege of being invited, I decided to turn my direction towards the headquarters Alto Campoo, Cantabria, which welcomed between 20 to 30 Irish students from the 2nd to the 29th of July.

The other participants of the program and I arrived in the small airport of Santander and received a warm welcome with open arms from our mentors. Really opening our hearts to embrace that warm, relaxed, carefree way of living.

We finally made it to Alto Campoo after a one-hour drive by bus. Located along the tall mountains and the high altitudes of the north-eastern region of Spain we had a lush of wilderness. I no longer saw the world as it was but rather looked at it horizontally, high, and above the clouds.

These words can only attempt to capture the essence and qualities of Spain’s northern region. My impression of people in Spain is that they are incredibly friendly. I have nothing but the outmost respect for these kind-hearted people. They have a moderate way of life, making it easy to feel comfortable around them.

One thing I found entertaining was their remarkable use of vocabulary. Depending on where you are in Spain, there are a variety of different ways of expressing the same thing. I heard a friend of mine say the word ‘chacho’ which comes from the Canary Islands, as opposed to ‘chaval’ which is commonly used in central parts of Spain. Both mean a young lad in informal/slang language. Their expressive hand gestures and the different use of words from neighbouring groups were animated and filled with passion.

Living amongst the people of Spain and with other Irish people from outside of Dublin was truly an unforgettable experience, I saw an old picture in a new way! Everyone was so open and so in touch with themselves, it was hard not being part of their conversations.

As I observed the charming cities of Alto Campoo, Camillas and a few others, I saw glimpses of old Spanish roots involving different architectural heritages. That brought light to an ancestral influential mix between Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities that are seen in today’s different landscapes, monuments, and its delectable cuisine. The small town of Camillas is a place that provokes excitement to embark on life’s mysteries. To explore its enchanting streets and immerse yourself in its festivals.

As incredible as it sounds, we kept up our productivity on project work and respected the rules during our stay. Within these 30 days I have lived a completely new, different life to what I am used to. You could say it was refreshing, warm and vivacious.

I had the chance to meet all sorts of people from across Spain. I was in touch with different stories, backgrounds, influences etc. We have shared fantastic moments together, had outgoing conversations, each one more unique than the last. Cherishing them with our laughter and tears, truly making memories that would last us a lifetime.

Pedro Matute

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