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ABOUT SPI STUDY ABROAD

Transforming Lives Through Language

Globalizing Thousands of Students' Lives Since 1996

Studying abroad will be a defining period in your educational experience – a journey that will transform you into becoming a global citizen with international perspectives that puts you ahead of your peers. On SPI Study Abroad programs, the traditional classroom takes a back seat to exciting activities around the city, conversations with locals, and weekend journeys to places where history, art, and culture all come to life! All SPI programs are designed to provide full cultural and language immersion for students by placing them in safe and easy-to-manage cities with caring homestays or fully-supported student residences. Students gain self confidence, independence, and maturity, as well as increased fluency in a foreign language — skills that enrich their lives forever.

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OUR Mission

SPI is an international education organization with over 30 years of experience directed by passionate educators, parents and study abroad advocates. We believe students who study abroad in high school develop empowering, lifelong skills as they build fluency in another language and gain global perspectives. Our primary goal is for students to return home with a heightened sense of self-awareness and confidence through a unique, authentic and meaningful experience abroad. In-depth language immersion is our primary focus as multilingual graduates increase their future opportunities for both professional and personal enrichment in today’s fast growing globalized world.

Because Reputation Matters...

Thousands of students’ lives have been changed through SPI Study Abroad programs over the past three decades. Our impeccable safety record and strong reputation for maintaining high impact, global immersion experiences for high school students is second to none.

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Meet Our Founders

Rose Potter

Position:  Co-Founder
Hometown:  Powers, Michigan
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  Auburn University (B.A.), Univ. of N. Iowa (M.A.)

Rose Potter has been a Master Teacher for over 40 years and an advocate for international education her entire career as an educator. In 1984 she led her first tour in Spain. This “educational tour” proved to be nothing more than a 15 day whirlwind sight-seeing tour for her students. She wanted to see them use their emerging language skills and learn culture through observation and experience, not through a glass window. Language immersion study abroad for college credit was the answer – not the tours.

A Teacher’s Purpose

A Need to Globalize Students Outside the Classroom…

Rose sought a well-rounded, college-level summer study abroad experience in which her high school-aged students would interact within the local community, immerse with a local homestay, and take intensive language courses. With no such program in sight, she decided to craft and run her own immersion program! Her first program’s success was simply outstanding. Students returned home speaking the language, appreciating another culture and recounting their invaluable memories from abroad.  It was truly music to her ears and food for her soul.

A Lasting Impact…

Soon after, Rose left her job in the classroom and began organizing language immersion travel full time. She helped found LPI (Learning Programs International) in its initial stages, before starting her own company in 1996, PATA (Programs Abroad Travel Alternatives.) After PATA became a nationally-recognized high school study abroad program, Rose handed the keys over to PATA alumnus, Jeremy Goodwin, to continue her mission. Since SPI’s inception, there have been thousands of students whose lives have been impacted by meaningful international experiences.

Proudly, Rose’s mission continues today!

Rose Potter is currently an international World Language Education Consultant.

Guy & Diane Goodwin

Position:  Co-Founders
Hometown:  (Guy) San Antonio, TX & (Diane), Quebec, Canada
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas

Parents have been an integral part of SPI’s success from the beginning. As young world travelers in the 1970’s, Guy & Diane Goodwin met and soon later married while traveling throughout Central & South America. They returned home from their travels understanding the great importance that foreign language immersion and deep cultural understanding has on young people. They knew they would instill these values and experiences in their children.

A Parent’s Perspective

A Need for Language…

Guy and Diane Goodwin’s commitment to international education took root in the 1970’s when they met while traveling in Central America. Diane, a native of Quebec, Canada, used her nursing degree to provide medical services in rural Canadian communities and later in Central and South America. When the couple returned to Austin, Texas where they started their family, they knew from an early point that instilling the lifelong values of international living to their children would be fundamental. All three of their children studied abroad in high school and each of them have had their lives positively impacted from their experiences.

The Investment that Pays Back Big

Like most American parents are forced to ask themselves, “Why has my child taken so many years of foreign language and they still can’t speak the language?” Sending their children to live with a homestay family and be totally immersed into the language and culture was the answer AND the best investment.

“Showing our children the bigger world outside the one we created for them, has been the greatest investment and gift for their futures. Our advice: “Don’t let your child graduate without studying abroad. It is truly a priceless experience.”

Letter from Guy Goodwin to Prospective Parents

From Guy Goodwin

In the fall of 1997, my son came home from school with a flyer announcing a meeting about a summer study abroad experience with his Spanish teacher. He gracefully threw it on the counter with no mention or interest of it. I found that flyer and decided we needed to attend the meeting to find out more about what seemed to be a truly unique opportunity for my children.

We attended the meeting led by SPI founder, Rose Potter, a master teacher who preached the importance foreign language and culture would have on our kids. They would enter college with credit, graduate early, save parents money (and even become trilingual) by the time college ended. All of this seemed too good to be true…

We enrolled our son into the Santander program and months later he was on his way to Spain. The entire time he was abroad we heard from him infrequently, only to hear how much Spanish he was learning, how much he loved his homestay family, and how much he was learning about the world and himself. At that moment I understood everything Rose advocated in her meeting. But it gets better…

My son then studied abroad a second time between his junior and senior year, and went on to enter university (his first choice) with 25 hours of college credit through the AP exams and his study abroad. Almost an entire semester of college! He continued to study Spanish in college and soon after began studying French, his third language.

Not only did the study abroad investment pay me back, it paid my son back for the rest of his life. My advice: DON’T LET YOUR CHILD GRADUATE WITHOUT STUDY ABROAD.

Jeremy Goodwin

Position:  Co-Founder
Hometown:  Austin, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Utah (b.A.), Auburn Univ (M.A.-In Progress)

In the nineteen-nineties, Jeremy’s high school Spanish teacher, Gloria Munguia, presented him with the opportunity to participate on an SPI Spain program. The flyer he brought home to his parents read:  “Change your life this summer in Spain!” Those words soon became reality — Jeremy’s study abroad experience proved itself to be absolutely life-changing.

A Student’s Transformation

A Life-Changing Experience…

“My whole childhood I was a reserved, well-behaved and studious kid.  My parents occasionally recounted their stories of living in other countries, but the thought of me actually going out abroad was far outside my comfort zone.  After attending a meeting held by Rose Potter, my interest sparked and I “agreed” to go to Spain to improve my Spanish and hopefully earn college credit.  My Spanish improved greatly and I earned college credit, but the best part was that the experience transformed me into a completely different person.  When I returned, I gained a new perspective on the “important things in life” and saw new meaning in the bubble of a world I lived in. Those simple yet profound life lessons, along with all the other tangible life skills that study abroad provided me, contributed to the most influential period of my life.”

Continuing Rose’s Mission…

Study abroad soon became an integral part of his educational career and life. After participating on several other study abroad experiences in Mexico, Argentina, and France, Jeremy gained high levels of fluency in Spanish and French. Because of these pivotal language immersion endeavors and study abroad experiences, he knew that it would become his life mission to facilitate similar life-changing experiences for young people.

Jeremy has served as SPI’s Executive Director since 2004.

Senior Leadership

Megan Zaal

Position:  Program Director
Hometown:  San Francisco, CA
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Colorado (B.A)

Megan grew up in San Francisco where she was a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and exposed to many different cultures on a day to day basis. At the age of 18, she was given the opportunity to spend a summer in France and Italy and there she fell in love with cultural immersion. She then spent countless hours studying the food of Europe, Asia and South America. Post college, she enrolled in a small French culinary school where she continued to indulge in the delicacies of Europe. It was then she realized how important it is for a young person to spend time living abroad and truly engaging in another culture, on their soil. In 2016, Megan joined SPI Study Abroad as the Admissions Director to help students and parents in their study abroad journey.

Parent & Teacher Coordinators

Rebecca Smith

Position:  Program Specialist
Hometown:  Los Gatos, CA
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  Texas A&M Univ. (M.Ed.)

Rebecca Smith has worked with SPI programs since 2005. She assists teachers, parents and students each summer on our Latin American programs. International travel has been a part of Rebecca’s life forever as her parents are from England and South Africa. While earning her Masters in Special Education at Texas A&M University, Rebecca studied Spanish in Costa Rica and also earned a full scholarship to perform service work in rural Honduras. Her vast international travel experiences and her love of other cultures make her a perfect match with SPI’s mission and goals for each program.

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Julie Teague

Position:  Senior Parent Advisor
Hometown:  Kerrville, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas (M.A.)

Julie Teague has been a foreign language educator for over 15 years. She has lived and traveled in numerous Spanish-speaking countries and has taught Spanish at both the university and high school levels. While working on her Masters from the University of Texas in Foreign Language Education, Julie received a grant to do research on Mexican Folk Culture in Mexico City. This opportunity captivated her interests in the language and culture while exposing her to the importance of living in a foreign country.

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Betsy Arnold

Position:  Teacher Advisor
Hometown:  Venezuela & Ohio
Lives In:  Houston, TX
Education:  Bowling Green St. (M.Ed.)

Betsy Arnold has been teaching AP Spanish Language & Literature in Houston, TX for over 35 years. After being raised in Argentina and Venezuela, the Spanish language became not only her passion, but also a skill that would shape her entire life. Since the beginning of her career, she has traveled nearly every summer with students to Spain or Latin America. As an AP Spanish teacher, Betsy attests to the impact summer immersion has on her students academic and personal preparation for college and life beyond.

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Betty Wangler

Position:  Parent Advisor
Hometown:  San Antonio, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas (B.S.)

After sending her children abroad in high school from 2004-2006, Betty realized the positive impact that SPI programs had on their lives, both academically and emotionally. Betty joins the SPI team as a strong advocate for study abroad at the high school level, and enjoys working with parents throughout the study abroad process. Betty likes to tell parents, “Study abroad is the gift that keeps on giving. You simply cannot afford to let your child graduate without study abroad!”

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partner institutions & standards of good practice

*Please note the above organizations are not affiliated with SPI. SPI adheres to these organizations’ Standards of Good Practice and Ethics, which most universities use to organize and manage study abroad programs.

*Please note the above organizations work in partnership with SPI to help facilitate certain elements of our programs abroad. These institutions are approved by the Ministry of Education in each country.

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.

HOMESTAY EXPECTATIONS

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!

HOMESTAY EXPECTATIONS
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.