San Sebastian Summer 1 — Week 1

Arrival day came and went before we knew it!
The students were met at the airport in San Sebastián and presented with Day 1 orientation information while we waited for the bus to take us into the city. We continued with orientation activities in the Tabakalera cultural center and went for a walk in a beautiful park nearby where we saw ducks, swans, and even a pair of peacocks! Students were also taken to the nearby Buen Pastor cathedral while waiting for the second wave of students to arrive from the airport. That evening students were introduced to their host families who were very excited to greet them. They went to their respected homestays for dinner and a much needed rest.
On Sunday, the homestay families walked the students to the entrance to  school where they will be having their Spanish classes to help them begin to learn the way there.  Orientation continued with information and reminders, as well as some name-learning and team-building games to get everyone familiar with one another.  Students enjoyed a tour of the city to help them become familiar/oriented with their new surroundings, including the physical landmarks (the three mountains, the three beaches), the names of the neighborhoods, best places to find ATMs, and our four meeting points that we’ll be using when scheduling our daily activities.
Since then, we have been busy with school, activities, excursions and soaking in all San Sebastian has to offer! See our highlights and most memorable activities below:
Mini pintxo (Basque tapas) tour in the Old Town
We visitied two very popular pintxo bars: Baztan and Gandarias. We tried a variety of pintxos, such as tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelet), shrimp with crab, morcilla (Spanish blood sausage), chorizo, jamón (cured Iberian ham), grilled mushrooms with peppers, and a few desserts too! The students were adventurous in their choices and even a bit surprised that they really enjoyed some of the stranger options (such as the morcilla/blood sausage). Afterward students were free to explore before returning to their homestays for the night.
Surf lessons on Playa Zurriola (Zurriola Beach). Students who elected to participate arrived at the surf school at 5 PM where they were fitted for wetsuits and surfboards. The surf instructors then guided them down to the sand where they were taught the basics of surfing and surfing safety. They then went out to the water to put to use what they’ve learned! The students loved it and while they struggled at first to stand on the board without falling, they all eventually found some success riding a wave standing on their feet! After the surf lesson, students were free to explore for the rest of the afternoon. Students who chose not to do the surf lesson had a free afternoon to do as they pleased.
Trip to the cinema! Students were given a choice of four films to see. Ultimately they all opted for one of two films: Jurassic World or Sherlock Gnomes, both of which were dubbed into Spanish. They found it to be a very interesting experience watching an entire movie in Spanish! Afterward, students were free for the remainder of the afternoon, most of them choosing to spend it relaxing on the beach.
La Farandula Microteatro
Students enjoyed a 3-course meal (pasta bolognese or rice with egg and tomato sauce, chicken or beef with fried potatoes, and flan, natilla, or yogurt with fruit compote for dessert). The students were then entertained by the staff with an interactive mystery game in Spanish, where the students were separated into small groups, each with a “secret”, but one of them with the most important secret of all… who stole the Crown Jewels of Spain???
Basque Cooking Class
We visited the small port town of Pasaia, to attend our traditional Basque cooking class. We learned how to preparemany different foods!  With the guidance of the chefs, wemade traditional basque pintxos like “La Gilda”, fish dishes (which required a lot of fun prep from the students, like de-scaling and de-boning the fish!), duck, and vegetable dishes as well as desserts that the students decorated themselves.

We took the boat back across port to head back to San Sebastian
World Cup — Spain Games!
It has been so exciting to be in Spain during the World Cup — the Spanish are huge soccer fans!  Students enjoyed the Spain-Iran world cup game (Spain won!!) with our director, Mark, who is a huge fan!
Churros at Café Santa Lucia
We visited the famous churro spot in Old Town where students enjoyed a snack of their traditional churros con chocolate.
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.
Monte Igeldo
To reach the mountain, the students took a stroll along the beautiful promenade of the famous La Concha beach, taking a short rest on the brilliant green lawn of Miramar Palace, previously the preferred summer retreat of the Spanish Queen Maria Cristina, who believed the beautiful waters of La Concha had a healing effect on the body. The students then boarded a funicular (cable train) for the short ride up to the summit of Monte Igeldo. Atop Igeldo, students encountered stunning views of La Concha, the bay with its island (Isla Santa Clara), Monte Urgull, and the city. Also on the summit is a tiny amusement park dating back to the early 20th century. Students enjoyed its quaint antique attractions, like the “Río Misterioso” (Mysterious River) and the “Montaña Suiza” (a very small roller coaster).
Full day excursion to France! The students met with the directors at 9:30 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. Several students also followed the directors to one of their favorite lunch spots in Biarritz, a restaurant called Tandem. The students raved about the food, many of whom chose to try the directors’ favorite dish from this restaurant, fresh mussels! 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.
Stay tuned! Next week holds even more adventures for SPI!

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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.