San Sebastian Month 1: Weekly Recap

Monday (7/4), we took a local bus to the nearby town of Zumaia, a charming city on the sea with a quaint port and city center. But, what makes this place truly special is the surrounding nature! Zumaia is home to incredible rock formations called Flysch. They are dramatic cliffs formed by long, vertical sheets of rock that meet the sea and are surrounded by lush green hills with cows grazing.

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It was 4th of July at home, but here it was just Monday. We missed barbecues and family gatherings, but are excited about the San Fermin holiday here starting Thursday! We will take part on Friday, and head to Pamplona for what the world has come to know as the “Running of the Bulls”.

Tuesday (7/5), half the group started at the San Telmo museum & learned lots about local history and culture before getting some much desired free time. The other half of the group, having already visited the museum, got an earlier start on free time and “rebajas” (sales)! The whole month of July is sale month, and everyone is very excited to check things out!

Wednesday (7/6), we went to the nearby towns of Pasajes San Juan and Pasajes San Pedro. These tiny towns are compiled of essentially one street each, and are flanked by the river and the steep mountains rising behind them. First, we went to the albaoa museum, a space dedicated to showcasing the region’s rich history of the sea. They were known for making the best sailing vessels, and thus formed a critical part of the region and the nation’s maritime industry. We also got to see craftsman working on building an exact replica of a galleon that they will sail to Canada in a few years — it was amazing!! We then we took a small boat across to San Juan, and explored that lovely town before heading home.

Thursday (7/7), some of us enjoyed a surf class while others went to a dance lesson.

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Friday (7/8): Emotions were running high despite the early morning hour of departure, as today we were on our way to Pamplona to see the world famous Running of the Bulls! We arrived at the bull ring and took our seats up high at a safe distance, where we had a bird’s eye view of both the running though the streets (on large screens) and both runners and bulls pouring into the bull ring floor. It was exciting! After the bulls came through, we watched as 6 different smaller bulls were brought into the bull ring…participants demonstrated their bravery (or stupidity) in placing themselves in the bull’s path, trying to take a selfie with a bull, or trying to touch a bull.

Then we had breakfast together, walked the official route of the bull run, and stopped for some souvenir shopping before heading back to the bus to leave Pamplona. On the way back “home” to San Sebastian, we stopped in Guerendiain, a quaint town of only 105 residents nestled quietly in the lovely Utlzama valley. We shared a typical meal together, walked through the town, and even got to see a pasture where miniature horses were being raised!

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Saturday (7/9), we had a fun scavenger hunt/conversation activity in San Sebastian that encouraged students to dive deeper into the culture of their home town. Students were placed into small groups and given tasks to complete around town. After each task, they came back to report on what they learned before being given a new task. It was great fun, and a nice change of pace.

Monday (7/11), we went to the nearby town of Hondarribia. It is the last city on the northern coast of Spain before reaching France. This quaint city still has almost all of its original city walls! It is composed of the old part of town and the newer & modern port district, plus a cool beach with lots of crabs. We had fun exploring the streets of the old town, peeking into the parador (which was once the palace of Carlos V) and walking the paseo of the maritime district. Though it was raining in true Basque country form, the weather could not put a damper on the charm of this cute town.

A Life-changing Experience!

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.