O'Connell's Cultural Exchange Program enriches student experience

Students from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington took on the world in early October. Two groups of O’Connell students traveled to Europe as part of a nine-day exchange program. One group went to Reims, France, and the other to Barcelona, Spain.

The students departed together from Dulles Airport on a direct flight to France. From there, students traveled by bus to Reims, while others took a connecting flight to Barcelona.

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O'Connell students Jess Seager (left) and Christina Fomunyoh try their hand behind the camera at the Barcelona University television studio. COURTESY 

Two teachers led the exchange program. Whitney Webb was in charge of the French students and Maria Rubio was the Spanish moderator. They helped students keep in touch with their exchange students and informed students of what activities they would participate in while in Europe.

Students stayed with host families and immersed themselves in European culture. In Reims and Barcelona, students went sightseeing, attended school and practiced their Spanish or French. Last year, O’Connell students hosted students from Reims and Barcelona in their homes.

“I think my favorite part of the trip was getting close to the students from O’Connell and the students from the school in Spain,” said sophomore Sofia Perez-Rubio.

The host school in Spain is called Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, or Colegio SIL for short. This translates to St. Ignatius of Loyola School.

In Spain, O’Connell students visited many places as a group and some individually. Students visited Montserrat, Park Güell and the city of Tarragona as a group. In Montserrat, students enjoyed a beautiful mountain view with a visit to a church in the mountains. Montserrat is a monastery where priests and seminarians go to study. There also is a boys’ choir at the school.

Another stop was Park Güell, a famous park in Barcelona designed by architect Antonio Gaudi, with amazing views and fantastic architecture. Park Güell is located in the higher elevation of the city and the students had to walk up many steep streets.

“The walk to Park Güell wasn’t easy, but it was completely worth it at the end,” said senior Kim Nguyen. 

The students were also treated to a special outing two hours from Barcelona — the ancient Roman city of Tarragona. This historic walled city is located on the Mediterranean and also boasts beautiful beaches.

In addition to the group tours, students enjoyed individual experiences with their host families. Many students had the opportunity to visit the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, or the Basilica of the Holy Family, which has been under construction for more than 100 years. Another popular spot was Camp Nou, where legendary soccer team FC Barcelona plays.

“I felt enriched by the culture,” said junior Caroline Young, who called this a life-changing experience. “The families were so nice to all of us, and I made amazing friendships.”

Many other students felt the same passion for Spain and France, citing the opportunities for education and developing enduring friendships across the Atlantic.

“Our Spanish and French exchange programs aim to promote mutual understanding through language and culture,” said Rubio. “I can honestly say that this objective was fully accomplished. At the same time, our students have made wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime. I am extremely proud to be a part of this unforgettable experience.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017