This was a busy day of arrivals, with students arriving in San Sebastian throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening. Day 1 orientation information was presented. Students who had arrived by early afternoon were taken on a boat tour of La Concha Bay while they waited for their fellow students to arrive. By the end of the day, all students were introduced to their host families and given an opportunity to see where they would be living and settle-in/unpack.
The host families escorted the students to their meeting point for the day, the school entrance, to help the students learn how to get to the school for when their classes start on Monday. Day 2 orientation information was presented. The students were then escorted to a nearby restaurant for a 3-course meal together. After the meal, the restaurant treated them to a mystery game to discover who “stole the Crown Jewels of Spain”! Then the students were guided by the SPI directors on a tour of San Sebastián to give them an opportunity to orient themselves in the city and learn about its different neighborhoods, beaches, river, and mountains, as well as learning the four meeting points that would be used to meet before activities throughout the remainder of the program. The walking tour ended with a stop at Café Santa Lucía where the students were treated to their famous churros and chocolate! Students were then escorted home once again by their host families to continue to help them learn how to get home to their homestays.
The first day of classes! After being escorted by their host families to the school one last time, students were given a placement test to evaluate their level of Spanish and place them into the appropriate classes. After school, the SPI directors guided the students on a pintxo tour in the neighborhood known as La Parte Vieja (the Old Town) which is famous for being dotted with countless pintxo bars. Students were treated to all kinds of pintxos, such as the traditional tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelet) and even some more exotic options like sea urchin, which turned out to be a favorite! After the pintxo tour the students were given free time until curfew to explore their new surroundings.
After school, the SPI directors led the students on a walk up Monte Urgull, one of the three mountains in San Sebastián. It is located in the center of the city with an impressive statue of Jesus Christ on top, overlooking the city. The directors led the students on a tour of this soothing pocket of nature in the middle of the city with its chirping birds, soft ocean waves, and green canopy. Students marveled at the views of the city and beaches from the various lookout points on the mountain, taking photographs from the ruins of the centuries old fort that once stood on Monte Urgull, protecting the city from its enemies. After the tour of Monte Urgull, students were free to explore and return to their homestays for dinner.
Wednesday, 4 July
Happy Independence Day! After classes, the students met up with the SPI directors for a visit the San Sebastián Aquarium. Students first passed through the non-living part of the aquarium which detailed the Basque Country’s long and storied relationship with the sea, including detailed ship models, descriptions of life at sea, artifacts from the history of Basque whalers, and various other relics like boarding sabers, daggers, axes, and other such things that bring to mind images of pirates and treasure! Next the students entered the living part of the aquarium where they were able to see everything from tiny bobbing jellyfish to massive bull sharks which swam overhead as the students wandered directly through the tanks in a glass underwater tunnel which offered a 360-degree experience!
Thursday, 5 July
The afternoon activity for today was an optional activity. Students could choose between having the afternoon free or taking a 90-minute surf lesson with one of the local surf schools. A majority of the students opted for the surf lesson. After changing into their wetsuits and receiving their surfboards, students were guided to the Zurriola Beach to first go over the basics of surfing and safety on the sand before entering the water, such as how to paddle and how to properly stand up on the board. They then entered the water to receive further instructions and make their first attempts at surfing! Many of the students were successful at standing up at least once as an SPI director remained on shore to watch and take photos. Many of the students who chose not to do the surf lesson were gathered on the beach to relax and watch their peers.
Friday, 6 July
This afternoon students were given a list of tasks to complete as part of a scavenger hunt! After meeting in the center of town at Plaza Gipuzkoa, the students were broken into teams of 4 and given several tasks. The teams to complete the most tasks, to complete the tasks in the most detail, or to show the most effort would be awarded prizes. Tasks such as “how do you get a driver’s license in Spain”, “how has San Sebastián changed in the last several decades”, “how and where do you mail a postcard and buy a stamp”, etc., encouraged students to explore the city and interact with locals in Spanish.
Saturday, 7 July
Saturday, no school today! The students met with the directors at 9:55 AM for a bus trip across the nearby French border to the towns of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz, both of which are located on the coast of French Basque Country. The students found it very interesting to see the same Basque culture they had become familiar with in San Sebastián, but in a French setting rather than a Spanish one. Saint-Jean-de-Luz’s cathedral was once the site of a royal wedding between King Louis XIV of France and the King of Spain’s daughter, Maria Theresa, which forged an alliance between the two countries. Saint-Jean-de-Luz was chosen as the site of the royal wedding because it is roughly halfway between Madrid and Paris. Students were free to explore this quaint seaside town with its colorful white and red buildings. Many of them bought macaroons, a famous sweet delicacy from this region. Students then re-boarded the bus to continue on to Biarritz, which was once a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous, such as Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Students were free to explore this beautiful coastal city, and several students opted to join the directors on a stroll along its craggy coast with views of the famous beaches and fancy buildings. Students spent the afternoon exploring, shopping, tasting ice-cream, and buying some other famous treats like Gateau Basque, a traditional Basque pie filled with custard or, as is typical in the French part of Basque Country, black cherries which grow in this region. Everyone then boarded the bus one last time for the trip back to San Sebastián where they were free to enjoy the remainder of their evening and have dinner with their host families.
Sunday, 8 July
Sunday Funday! No classes today, and no planned activities. The students have the full day to explore, eat, shop, sunbathe, and swim as they like. But back to school on Monday!