SPI Sudy Abroad

Summer Leadership Team

What makes SPI such a unique program? 

Our dedicated and exceptional summer leadership team abroad! They serve as care givers, model language immersion students, 24-hour support, and as we like to call them, “international moms and dads.” We want all participants and parents to feel like they “personally know” each member of your child’s on-site team prior to departure!


Cano.Esperanza PHOTO

Esperanza CaÑo

Santander – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown: New York City, NY
Lives In: Bronx, NY
Education:  Iona College (B.A.); New York University (Madrid, Spain) (M.A.)

I have been teaching Spanish in NYC since 1987! Still love it! My favorite class to teach is on Contemporary Spain, where I focus on the culture and recent history of the country. I was born in NYC but I am Spanish and American. My family is from Galicia, Spain. I have also lived in Argentina, where I did a Fulbright teacher exchange and a sabbatical. I love traveling, and I love Spain!

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Dr. Beatriz Arias

Dr. Beatriz Arias

San Sebastian – Director

Programs: Month
Hometown: Guadalajara, Mexico
Lives In: Austin, TX
Education: Univ. of Houston (Ed.D.)

I have a B.A. in Communications from ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, Mexico where I am originally from. I taught one year at UNIVA University and then I went to the University of Houston and got a M.Ed in Foundations of Education and Bilingual Education, and a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and Bilingual Education. When I returned to Mexico for a few months, I wrote a book in Spanish based on my doctoral dissertation. I married an American and returned to Texas, but eventually we moved to California where I became a Principal in Catholic schools for nine years. I also got my second M.Ed. at the University of San Francisco. We had a son, and we raised him bilingual. Perhaps, that inspired me to teach Spanish to high school students. I have over 16 years of experience in teaching Spanish as a second language from the beginners to the upper levels, including Spanish AP and AP Literature. I also wrote a book on Methods and Techniques of Teaching a Second Language. My love for languages is what keeps me coming back each summer to inspire SPI students!

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Rebeca Gaínza Fernández

Rebeca Gaínza Fernández

Santander – Director

Programs: Summer 2, Month
Hometown: Santander, Spain
Lives In: Santander, Spain
Education: Univ. de Cantabria (B.A)

Hola, My name is Rebeca and I’m originally from Santander, Spain (a city I am deeply in love with!) I studied History and nowadays I’m a Geography and History teacher while doing research in Medieval European History at the University of Cantabria.
I love traveling because I think it’s the best way to experience another culture – firsthand. I try to go abroad whenever I can and I’ve visited several countries in Europe and the U.S. once. I can describe myself as a very active and passionate person. I love nature. I enjoy walking in the green countryside when the weather is good. Moreover, I love animals and, in fact, I have two cats. As a History teacher during the year, I’m the perfect cultural guide and I know boundless stories from my home city, Santander! And finally, I must say that I love shopping and enjoy helping our students adapt to European fashion each summer! See you soon in Santander!

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Scruggs.Terence PHOTO

Terence scruggs

San Sebastian –Director

Programs:  Month
Hometown:  Athens, GA
Lives In: La Palma, Spain
Education: Shorter University (B.A.)

Hola! I am from Athens, Georgia and I have been living in Spain for almost 4 years now. I have taught kids of all ages as well as sports and private tutoring – basically been teaching in one way or another since high school! I love kids and teaching and being adventurous! 



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Gonzalez.Jeffrey Valentin PHOTO

Jeffrey Gonzalez

San Sebastian –  Director

Programs:  Summer 2
Hometown:  San Jose, CA
Lives In:  San Sebastian, Spain
Education: San Jose State Univ. (B.S.)

I am from California but I’ve been living in San Sebastian for three years. In San Sebastian I found everything I like. There’s great surf, good fishing, rock climbing, exceptional bicycling, beautiful hiking, greenery, picturesque beaches and unbelievably good food. It has everything I love about my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, except it’s all within walking distance here. I’ve been a teacher here in Spain for four years now and love everything about the culture and atmosphere!

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Kevin Geist

Kevin Geist

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs: Month
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Lives In: La Palma, Spain
Education: James Madison University (B.A.)

I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA and have been living in Spain and teaching English for five years. I lived two years in San Sebastián, so I know the city and the surrounding area quite well, and I’m very excited to share it with you all! 

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Elena Carey

Elena Carey

Santander – Director

Programs: Summer 1
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Lives In: Galicia, Spain
Education: Saint Louis University (B.A., B.S.)

Hola! I hold a double Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain and I am currently working as a High School Spanish teacher in the Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York, teaching students between freshman and senior years. My mother, Esperanza Cano, also an AP Spanish teacher is a native of Spain and has been involved with SPI for several years. I am proud to continue her legacy in San Sebastian and assist students throughout their entire experience abroad this summer!

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Maria Hernandez Oliver

Maria Hernandez Oliver

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3
Hometown: Valencia, Spain
Lives In: San Sebastian, Spain
Education: Universidad de Navarra (B.A)

Hi! I am María, I am from the Valencia region of Spain originally but I fell in love with San Sebastián years ago and that’s why I decided to move my entire life here. I love cycling (near the Pyrenees mountains!), walking on the beach, horseback riding, endless chats on terraces (it’s Europe!) and watching our beautiful sunsets over the Concha beach. I can’t wait to share my paradise with you this summer!

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Mark Hochberg

Mark Hochberg

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Lives In: San Diego, CA
Education: Chico State University (B.A.)

This will be my 4th summer working as an On-Site Director with SPI in Northern Spain and I am as excited as ever! As a language educator, I sincerely enjoy the cultural and authentic immersion that SPI programs offer to students. My wife, two children, and I live in San Diego, CA and I am currently in my 15th year as a teacher with the San Diego Unified School District. I teach French, Spanish and coach freshman football. I look forward to providing my leadership and guidance to everyone participating in these life-changing programs!

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Isabelle Charbonneau

Isabelle Charbonneau

Biarritz – On-Site Supervisor

Programs: Summer 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Paris, France
Lives In: Biarritz, France
Education: Université Paris-Sorbonne (B.A)

Salut a tous! My name is Isabelle and my partner Philippe and I manage the BLCI Language school in Biarritz, France. Together we help facilitate all aspects of the SPI French immersion each summer. I work closely with all the homestays and teachers during the program. I look forward to welcoming you to France this summer!

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Dr. Sarah Du Plessis

Dr. Sarah du Plessis

Biarritz – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Fredricksburg, VA
Lives In: New Haven, CT
Education: Virginia Tech University (Ph.D)

I have been teaching French for 21 years! During all of these years, I have frequently traveled with students to France and Quebec to expose them directly to the culture and language that they study in the classroom. I also worked for 5 years for a similar organization as SPI (two years in Montpelier and three years in Paris.) Traveling and working with students in a hands-on and experience rich environment are very exciting to me. I love to see it all come together and experience it through their eyes!

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Beatrice Abadie

Beatrice Abadie

Biarritz – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Biarritz, France
Lives In: Biarritz, France

Bonjour! I am Béatrice Abadie, a former professional interior decorator, now working in the education field in Biarritz, France. I still work part-time designing interiors for some of Southwestern France’s beautiful and unique homes (which will always be my passion!) I studied English for 3 years while living in London and also worked in Portugal for 17 years prior to returning to Biarritz (chez-moi.) I am so happy to be working with young people who wish to learn our French culture and language.

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Costa Rica

Gabrielle Mattes

Gabrielle Mattes

Costa Rica – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Lives In:  Chicago, IL
Education: University of Dayton (B.A, B.S.E)

I’m from Chicago and went to college at University of Dayton to earn my degree in Spanish Education. I fell in love with Spanish culture during my first study abroad trip in Costa Rica! This experience really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. After graduation, I moved to Toledo, Spain to teach English. I have served as an on-site program coordinate in the past for Those were two of the best years of my life filled with new places, new friends, and learning more about myself. Now I’m back in Chicago teaching Spanish full-time and sharing everything I learned abroad with my students. I love helping young people discover the many doors knowing another language opens!

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Jonle Sedar

Jonle Sedar

Costa Rica – On-Site Supervisor

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown:  Coopersburg, PA
Lives In:  Monteverde, CR

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Arelys Badilla

Arelys Badilla

Costa Rica – Program Coordinator

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown:  Santa Elena, CR
Lives In:  Monteverde, CR

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Di Pietro.Antonietta PHOTO

Antonietta Di Pietro

Siena – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 2
Hometown: Rome, Italy
Lives In: Miami, FL
Education:  (Ph.D.)

Ciao a tutti!  My name is Antonietta Di Pietro, Ph.D. in Atlantic History and a native of Rome, Italy.  I moved to the US in 1999 and hold two Master’s degrees –  the first in History, and the second one in Italian Pedagogy. I am  active as a certified ACTFL OPI and OPIc tester, and act as President of the Florida Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Italian (FATI). I am College Board Consultant, co-chair of the AP Italian Language and Culture Development Committee and a member of the Osservatorio della Lingua Italiana at the Consulate General of Italy in Miami.

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Enzo Morano

Enzo Morano

Siena – Director

Programs: Summer 2 & Immersion Extension
Hometown: Italy
Lives In: Siena, Italy
Education:  University of Siena (B.A.)

Ciao! I am a native of Italy and have lived in Siena for nearly 30 years! I look forward to sharing my culture and language with you!

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Interested in Working for SPI?

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.