Ever since my first French class in seventh grade, I looked forward to the day when I could visit France. I enjoyed going to the class everyday throughout high school because I would learn a new aspect of the French language and their ways of life. I even started to become interested in learning about other European cultures, such as Spanish and Italian, on my own. When I heard an announcement in tenth grade about a school trip to Spain and France, I pleaded with my parents to let me go and, in the summer of 2008, I spent two memorable weeks in Europe. Learning about European cultures in a classroom is one thing, but being immersed in it was a life-changing experience that I will never forget.
Our trip started in Spain and I thought that, since I hadn’t learned as much about the Spanish language and customs, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as France. However, as our week in Madrid concluded, I found Spain to be one of the most interesting countries as I learned more and more about their culture. My friends who took Spanish in school took the time to teach me the basics of the language and our tour guide taught us about the food and the community life in Spain. One of the most fascinating aspects of life in Spain was the peoples’ sense of tradition. For example, when we traveled to Pamplona, we walked the streets where they run the bulls each year and I was astonished to learn that, even though it started many years ago, the Spanish still keep the tradition going in their lives, despite the obvious dangers. Another example of this sense of tradition was when we toured La Sagrada Familia, a church that has been under construction since the 1800’s. This dedication to their past made a great impression on me. As I learned about their ways of life, it made it easier for me to connect with the people and history of Spain.
As we moved on to France, I was very excited about taking everything I learned from four years of French class and putting it to use. Even though I didn’t understand some of the words used in the conversation, I still enjoyed having the experience of conversing with someone in French. It was something completely different from receiving a speaking situation in class and having to act it out. In addition to experiencing the language first-hand, I also found it interesting to see the famous monuments and places that I had only seen pictures of before. Standing in front of the EiffelTower and walking through the Palace of Versailles were some of the highlights of my stay in France. I had learned so much about them in school yet seeing the history in person made it seem much more real. The most surprising part of my trip was visiting the Dune of Pyla in France. Seeing the sand dunes brought a whole new image of France into my mind that didn’t include the EiffelTower. So many people only see France as a place of historical monuments but I got to experience a totally different dimension of the country.
My trip to Europe was an incredible learning and social experience. In addition to understanding the different cultures, I met new friends and strengthened existing bonds with old friends. As I kept an open mind throughout the trip, my knowledge of foreign ways of life, tradition, history and geography grew immensely. I look forward to the day when I can visit Europe again!
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