Guest Blogger: Ali Angel, SPI Study Abroad’s 2013 Summer Blog Contest Winner

        Ali Angel, SPI Study Abroad’s 2013 Summer Blog Contest winner, recounts her cultural excursion to Spain as part of SPI’s 2013 Biarritz, France language immersion program.

Ali-SPI-Biarritz        Today, the first full day of the weekend, we went on a little road trip…to SPAIN (specifically San Sebastian)! Now, I have always wanted to go all over Europe, but I had  never put much thought specifically into Spain. And BOY, was I surprised with what I found! We took a short 30 minute bus trip over, and on the way we passed through the vast, charming fields of green and grazing cows whom were probably sunbathing their spots on this fine, sunny day. I noticed the architecture began to look different than it did  in France. As we passed through the border, it became very industrialized and more city-like, but in other parts it was very quaint and farm-like. All of the houses and buildings  were beautiful with their slightly peeling white paint and bright blue, red, and green window shutters. Spain has its own personality and style, from its delicious aromas lingering in the air to its bright blue water that carries thousands of tiny, unique boats and sails. I dream of sailing into that blue ocean! It was so strange stepping into a place where they spoke a completely new language, when I had just been getting accustomed to French, which was foreign enough for me on its own! I felt myself trying to say “pardon” to get by people and “Merci” and “Bonjour” but instead I had to say “Hola” and “Gracias” which are probably my most spoken two words in my vast five word Spanish vocabulary.
        Everyone was in a great mood today, with the sun shining. This was all we had wanted for the past week! Seeing the sparkling beach of Spain taunted us — we wished we had brought our bathing suits! I heard fun fiesta music as I strolled through the cute market on the street with some girls, admiring the cute cloths, clothes, and decorations for sale. The most disappointing part was leaving early! I thought we would have all day to explore San Sebastian, but unfortunately we only had a bit of time to shop, walk around, take pictures of the ocean and explore a beautiful cathedral. Not a bad day compared to my friends and family at home who are probably reading this with envy, but it’s not enough to even get to know an ounce about Spain itself.
Ali-SPI-Biarritz       Another bit: I think I had the best ice cream I have ever had in my life. I got one scoop of choco mente (mint chocolate chip) on a cone but it should have been titled “heaven in your mouth” because it was the most flavorful, mouth-watering ice cream I have ever encountered. I WANT MORE! France, they have a thing for macaroons and pastry shops galore, and for Spain it seems to be ice cream! Yum! Safe to say I won’t be eager to hop into a bikini any time soon….
        After Spain, we went to a very cool palace in France owned by a mad scientist! Its architecture was different than any other palace I had been to or seen in France; he used ideas and his experiences from places where he traveled, like Ethiopia and all over the world, to decorate! He had statues of snails on his house! Pretty interesting, and of course I looked for more secret passageways. I was intrigued by the fact that he was a mad scientist, and I was hoping to find clues and evidence of past murders or experiments gone wrong, but alas, I was unsuccessful. Tonight will hopefully be like last night. The music festival in Biarritz is probably the best night there is, and probably was the best night I have ever had. Ever.
        Check out Ali’s winning blog, AdventuresauFrance, for more on her time in Biarritz.

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.