My SPI Story: Last Days in San Sebastian

Julia Axtell attended SPI’s San Sebastian, Spain Month program in summer 2015. To read more about Julia’s adventures in San Sebastian, check out her blog, Thoughts by Julia.

July 10, 2015

Today was my last official day in San Sebastián, and as you can imagine, I am so upset that I have to say goodbye. This has been the most incredible month of my life and I would give anything to relive it again. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible (especially my parents!!!) and to all of those who have followed my journey through my blog! Words will never describe the experience I had here and San Sebastián will forever be a home for me. I will miss it so much; I cannot even imagine the homesickness I will feel for San Sebastián when I get back to New Jersey. I could not have asked for a better homestay family, nor could I have asked for a better experience. Mertxe and Martín [my homestay family] will always have a place in my heart and a place in New Jersey to live if they ever want to visit!

Last night was another sleepless night, so classes were impossible. I was super bored largely from exhaustion. I am not sorry school is over, but I am sad that my Spanish immersion is coming to a close. Lacunza did an excellent job teaching me and I hope to return as an adult someday! Instead of a project, Caroline, Eva, and I walked all the way over to the Lacunza school in Gros, where all the other SPI students are, with the assistance of Ignacio. We had to wait for a while before the other kids returned and today was yet another scalding day. Once the other kids arrived, we received our certificates stating that we completed our classes and therefore receive some form of college credit.

We were too far from our home and the heat was unbearable, so Caroline and I took the bus home instead of walking. For lunch, we had Mertxe’s delicious pizza (for the last time), which was amazing as always.

After lunch, Mertxe was kind enough to sit down with me and explain how to make her salsa de españa, paella, and her pizza dough. She was kind enough to even give me some of her recipe packets, as well. I can’t wait to cook Spanish feasts for everyone back home!

I had barely finished speaking with Mertxe when we had to meet the group at La Perla for our final beach day together. The bus got stuck in traffic, so we ended up being a little late (even though we practically ran from Boulevard to La Perla) but it was fine because we weren’t even the last ones there.

While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, we played a trivia game for prizes. I got the first question right (How do you say hi in Basque? Caixo!) and got a minion peep as a prize. After the trivia game, we all went to the beach. I was so ready to lie out in the sun, and I think we waited maybe ten minutes before leaving because the wind was so strong and was attacking everyone with sand. Since we couldn’t go kayaking, Maya [my program director] decided to treat us all to ice cream instead. I’m sorry to say that was the last Boulevard I’ll have on this trip. Of course I had chocolate!

After hanging around and saying our goodbyes to Lettie (which was truly hard), Caroline and I went shopping to pick out gifts for our host mom. We got her a box of chocolates from an artisanal store and begonias from the market (as recommended by the florist). I also stopped by Massimo Dutti to pick up a jacket I’ve been looking at for the past week. Then I hauled it back home to pack before dinner.

Packing flustered me so I ended up just shoving everything in my suitcase and hoping it fit. Luckily everything has a place – it’s just a matter of weight at this point. Mertxe doesn’t have a scale so I’m not sure if I’m over the airline limit, but I might try repacking in Madrid.

I showered after packing and before dinner, Caroline, Martín, Mertxe, and I took a lot of photos together to have forever. Unfortunately, my hair was still wet from my shower, but I will forever treasure these photos.

For dinner we had our last tortilla de patatas and we all reminisced on the wonderful times we had together. It was so sad to have our last dinner together; none of us could believe how fast this month went by.

After dinner, Caroline still had to pack, but I met up with my friends at McDonald’s (she came out a bit later). It was so fun spending our last night together but also incredibly sad. I can’t believe that we’ll never all be in San Sebastián together ever again. This trip has afforded me wonderful experiences and the rare opportunity to meet insanely cool people. I’m grateful for everything and I hope this is only the beginning of my future of traveling!!!









A Life-changing Experience!

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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.