10 Years of the Spanish Exchange

During one of Withington’s three virtual Assemblies last week, Head of Spanish Ms Lopez reviewed the history and benefits of our Exchange Programme with La Vall School in Barcelona. The second part of the Exchange, when the students from La Vall were scheduled to visit Withington, has had to be postponed until later in the year, but it was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the incredible benefits of this long partnership.

Ms Lopez explained:

“The Spanish Exchange dates back to 2010 when by chance a governor of La Vall School came to WGS to look at best teaching practices as part of a UK tour. Completely inexperienced in Exchange Programmes I was lucky that Withington’s Head of French, Mrs Menzies, kindly offered to accompany me to Spain to meet with La Vall’s Headmistress, Teresa Martinez, in Bellaterra, north west of Barcelona, and experience the school.

We were there for two days, attended various lessons and had the benefit of quite a lengthy meeting with the Headmistress where we talked about the values of single sex education (extremely rare in Spain), our duty to develop our pupils’ moral and spiritual foundation and our responsibility to build the confidence in our girls to become the leaders of their generation in years to come. I found the meeting inspirational and loved the whole experience. The school reminded me of the one I went to in Caracas as a child and I wanted the girls at WGS to experience first-hand something similar to what I had lived through during my childhood.

That was ten years ago in 2010 and I can now say, 10 Exchanges later, that our relationship with La Vall has delivered everything I expected and more. La Vall is a tight-knit group of teachers and parents who truly care about their families and school community. Every year, they welcome our WGS pupils into their homes and families with wonderful warmth and generosity. Girls often call their partners’ parents ‘my Spanish mum or dad’ and the bond that they develop with their partners in only one week, and how torn they are to leave each other on the date of departure only six days from the day they arrived, never ceases to amaze me.

The Spanish Exchange, or any other Exchange for that matter, doesn’t just give us the opportunity to develop the language of the host country. Whilst this is an important part of the experience, it is more meaningful in my mind to have the privilege of sharing special time with a family from a different culture. Through this, pupils learn new and wonderful ways of approaching everyday life as they witness how in this new environment people relate and interact with each other.

Daily routines can be vastly different, customs are invariably interesting and diverse and it is all a journey of discovery! In La Vall, our pupils have stayed with families of up to nine children were clearly the dynamics have to be different from a family of four. WGS pupils have been welcomed by drawings made by younger siblings of their exchange partner to make their newly arrived English sister feel more at home. By the end of their stay it is customary to see our girls in photographs with their Spanish hosts as just another member of the family and it is not unusual to see either pupils or parents shed a tear as their experience is drawing to a close. This is not something anyone can quantify and every year, when as teachers we experience it with our pupils, it continually reinforces that this experience is worth pursuing.

A lot of these relationships, even ones that started in 2011, are still ongoing. Our girls continue to see their Spanish counterparts through university and beyond and it is always rewarding to hear tales of their longstanding relationships which make this trip far beyond an academic one.”

Ms Lopez concluded her Assembly by thanking her colleagues in the Spanish Department for their commitment to the Exchange Programme and also expressed her deep appreciation to their counterparts in La Vall, “with whom we have developed longstanding friendships … and who clearly value the Exchanges experience as much as we do”.

Read about the first half of our most recent Exchange