My SPI Story: A Week of Firsts in Santander

Zach Orig attended SPI’s Santander, Spain Summer 2 session in summer 2015. To read more about Zach’s adventures during his time in Santander, check out his blog, Zach Orig Abroad.

¿Hablas Español?

We arrived at la Universidad de Cantabria International Campus to meet our homestay on Sunday night. Curious and sort of nervous, my roommate and I both wondered who our homestay parent would be for the next 2 weeks.

As we heard several names being called, we finally had ours called and met our homestay mother: Pilar! With typical Spanish greeting, we exchanged kisses on the cheek and were on our way to our home for the next 2 weeks!

Nuestra casa is a beautiful quaint home situated close to several hotels and a casino right next to the Sardinero beach. As we later found out, we are most likely the farthest ones from school (28 minute walk) but the closest ones to the beach (3 min walk)! It’s a trade-off I’m willing to accept! My favorite beach is definitely la playa del Camello for its unique rock formations right off the shore.

Starting Monday, we began class with a placement test. Following a lot of writing in Spanish and an oral conversation, we were released for an hour. We decided to go across the street to a beautiful seating area with a great view of the mountains across the bay. While we were there, we introduced ourselves to the Summer Month students that had already been in Santander for 2 weeks prior. Following a few more hours of class after break, we headed home to eat lunch with Pilar. En España, usually, kids will head home following morning classes to eat lunch and take a nap until they have to head back to school for a few more hours of afternoon class. Fortunately, we didn’t have afternoon class. Instead, we met in the town square (ayuntamiento) of Santander and explored the city with the Summer Month students. I couldn’t help but bring my film camera to catch some stunning shots of the beautiful city that Santander truly is!

The rest of the week followed a similar schedule. We woke up around 7:30-8, ate breakfast, and then walked to school. After our classes, we would head back home to eat lunch/take a nap, then head to our afternoon activity with the group. On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to surf for the first time! On Wednesday, we toured a maritime museum/aquarium and went shopping! On Thursday, we went zip-lining in a beautiful forest not too far from my homestay! On Friday, we toured a Conserva Emilia, a fish manufacturing plant that’s considerably important in the economy of Cantabria. Then, we toured centuries-old forts in a city not too far from Santander!


All in all, we kept busy all week. There was never a moment when I found myself bored. In between classes during our breaks, we played cards or ordered a small sandwich (bocadillo, en español) or pastry! At night, I often went on runs or took the bus to get some ice cream with others in my group!

I have been having so much fun in this city. I see it as my second home. The people are amazing, the scenery is stunning, and my Spanish is improving at an exponential rate. Our homestay mother speaks ZERO English – what better way to improve Spanish than having a temporary Spanish mom, who by the way is an AMAZING cook? I can’t wait to see how this second week goes. I never want to leave. My eyes have been filled with wonder, from the beautiful beaches we see on our walk to school to the fantastic night runs through Santander. I surfed for the first time ever in my life and even stood up. I went zip-lining in the rain while hanging on for dear life. I struggled eating a huge scoop of ice cream off a cone late at night, and I’ve shared all of these moments with people I have already gotten so close to. I am enjoying every second of my time here. How can it get any better?


A Life-changing Experience!

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

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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.