A Student’s Perspective: What I’ve Learned

Here at the SPI office, we’ve been getting some great posts from our Global Ambassadors on why they’re excited to study abroad this summer. We’re especially thrilled to publish this great post from one of our Global Ambassadors, Sara, who is no stranger to travel and cultural immersion.

Born and raised in Colorado, Sara’s past travels include Asia, Australia, and Europe, and have provided her with a mindset that knows no borders. She plays the Viola with the Greater Boulder Youth Orchestra and is finishing up her Junior year of high school. This summer, Sara will be in Biarritz, France and is looking forward to sharing new experiences and making great memories as she is immersed in the French language & culture. 

I’ve spent a lot of time out of the country, traveling with friends and family. And every time I’ve been amazed with what I’ve experienced. For the past three years, I’ve spent my summers abroad, in Korea, Australia, England, and France.

In all these countries, I was exposed to a completely new world and, in all these countries, I was able to enjoy an unparalleled understanding of cultures around the world and, I believe, ultimately leads to greater sophistication in their lives back home.

Spending time in a country that speaks a different language is one of the most important ways to gain knowledge of the world through some else’s shoes. It prompts one to experiment with different modes of communication and helps one indulge themselves into this unknown world. While I was in Korea, I must have looked ridiculous. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the customs of their society. I would frantically wave at something I saw on a shelf to show the shopkeeper what I was interested in, count on my fingers to indicate prices, and perform creative gestures to ask for either food or or the bathroom. This was a constant occurrence since I happen to be staying with a family who also did not share a language with me.

Sara and her friend using creative gestures to express themselves.
Sara and her friend performing creative gestures on the River Cam.

While one might find an experience like this to be inconvenient or taxing, I found it to be one of the most important experiences I could have had.

Instead of having short conversations, repeating phrases and hearing the same remark over and over again, I was able to interact with the people in this new culture and create a lasting impact on myself, and perhaps even the befuddled shopkeeper. However, communicating like this, through body language, also helped me learn little bits of the language. I was able to learn slang and more dialectic phrases, something learning in the classroom or from a book can’t offer. Constant immersion gave rise to constant learning.

Going to France this summer, I intend to use the skills I already have speaking in French to help me learn more personal aspects of their culture and community. I want to experience everything this foreign destination has to offer. I want to wake every morning knowing that the day will transform into an unforeseen adventure. Friends, destinations, languages, and knowledge transform a person to be a wise participant in the world.

I only hope the sign read "drinking water"
I only hope the sign read “drinking water”

On point, Sara! Thanks for the great post! We can’t wait for you to study abroad with us in Biarritz this summer. Pretty soon, you’ll be walking along the plage and strolling through jardins, perfecting your accent and meeting new people from around the world. 

À bientôt!

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.

Please Share This:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Leave a Reply

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.