My SPI Story: San Sebastian Photo Essay

A visual trip through the best two weeks of my life…because a picture is worth a thousand words and I couldn’t find the right ones to describe my expectation-exceeding trip with SPI Study Abroad to San Sebastián, España.


SPI Spain


This is a wonderful photo of my favorite program director, John Foster, leading us through the busy streets of Madrid, taken just before we entered Puerta Del Sol and observed Kilometro Zero. I like this photo because it captures the moments where we first experienced the signature John Foster catchphrase (“Cuidado chicos! Hay coche!”) that was said whenever a car approached the group: something I was very grateful for at the time in my extremely jet-lagged state.



This photo is probably one of my favorite photos from the trip. Here, my roommate Leah and I are posing before the aqueduct of Segovia, something I learned about way back in school when I was 12 years old. I was in awe when I saw the incredible structure that I had only been able to imagine previously to this trip. Also, I was so happy because my roommate and I had clicked right off the bat — it was one day in and we were already so close. So, serious props to SPI for their roommate pairing because we were so alike and understood each other so well from the beginning of the experience.


SPI San Sebastian

On our first full day in San Sebastián, Leah and I spent the evening getting to know our homestay sister, Anna. Anna was a teenager just like us, around the same age as us. We loved Anna so much and she felt like a real sister to us by the end of the trip. I’m still in touch with her to this day. This is Leah and Anna outside our homestay on that first evening!


SPI Spain Beach

On our second day after school, we spent the day on Zurriola beach. But, then an infamous San Sebastián galerna swept in so we decided to check out the old town and look at La Concha beach (which we had heard so much about but only glimpsed). Once there, we took a photo with our new friends in front of the bay as the storm swept in.


SPI Study Abroad Spain


After our second day of school and new classes, the group walked from the Kursaal all the way down the Boulevard, around La Concha, and then stopped to rest on the hill in front of Miramar Palace. The view of La Bahía de La Concha, el Monte Igueldo, el Monte Urgull and la Isla Santa Clara were incredible. We took this photo on the hill before taking the funicular up to the top of Monte Igueldo, where we could see the entire city of San Sebastián.


SPI Spain

This day was spent opting out of the set-up activities (such as surfing or cooking class) and instead exploring the city and sightseeing, while making sure to take lots of photos.


SPI Spain

This Friday was spent on La Concha in the sun and swimming out to the floating docks in the bay. Which, in retrospect, was not a good idea since we had to then climb to the top of Monte Urgull (which is a very steep climb). The view was almost worth it, but the artsy pictures definitely made it worth the trek.


SPI France


Today, we visited Biarritz in France and it was gorgeous! It was super cool to not only spend the 4th of July in one foreign country, but two!


SPI Spain

Since it was Sunday, we had the whole day to ourselves. So, after sleeping in and having brunch with our homestay, Leah and I took the bus into town to meet up with our friends. It was a pretty cloudy and windy day, so we decided swimming was not something we wanted to do. Instead, we browsed through cafes all over the town. Then, when we felt tired and lazy from all the walking, we grabbed some towels and headed down to the beach. We put all the towels together into a gigantic beach blanket and just all sat together and talked for hours. This is when I realized that the people I had met had become such close friends to me.


SPI San Sebastian


After school, we took an excursion to the nearby town of Zumaia. My friends and I opted to go on a hike instead of spending the entire time at the beach. The hike was definitely better than the beach would have been. We got to stand on the edge of a cliff with outstanding views and then go down to a kind of beach quarry and swim. It was amazing.


SPI Surf

This photo is from right before my first-ever surf lesson! The surfboard was like double my size and I really struggled with carrying it. I dove into the waves, excited to try it out, only to realize that the waves were gigantic and that my limited surfing abilities would not do well. After many wipe outs and a lot of saltwater in my eyes and nose, I managed to stand up for the whole ride!!!


SPI Spain


This has to be my favorite photo that I’ve taken on the trip. After an excursion to Pasajes de San Juan, my friends and I decided to head down to Zurriola and watch the sunset. Suddenly, the sun broke through the clouds, creating beautiful beams of light on the ocean, and my friend Adam was standing in the perfect place for me to catch his silhouette in front of the picturesque scene.


SPI San Sebastian


The second-to-last day in San Sebastián was spent in the water and on the beach 🙂


SPI San Sebastian


This graceful photo was taken on Isla Santa Clara during the photo scavenger hunt on the last day in San Sebastián.


SPI San Sebastian


This is the “Spain Squad” last photo. This was taken the morning in San Sebastián before the bus with the Summer Two students left, and the Immersion Extension kids were left behind — a very tough goodbye.


SPI San Sebastian


This was my very emotional goodbye to my roommate, Leah, in Madrid. We both cried because after spending roughly 20 hours a day together for 15 days, we had such a hard time thinking of being apart. We became so close after connecting on that first day, and we were so alike and so happy to have found each other. I miss her a lot but we hope to visit each other soon.



About the Author: Annie Sullivan-Crowley studied abroad with SPI in San Sebastian, Spain in 2015.  







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.