Cosmopolitan connections

Foreign exchange opportunity exposes students to diverse nationalities


Along with Spanish teacher chaperones Ryan Schultz and Cindy Pak, the fourteen seniors and on the 2022-23 Spanish Exchange Trip — Mia D’Onofrio, Kiera Cullen, Wiktoria Tofilska, Isabel Klimowicz, Maia Johnson, Sara Maggio, Marina Makropoulos, Emilia Toporkiewicz, Josie Garkisch, Matthew Johnson, Kate Seyer, Ella Mitchell, Luke Wittenborn, Zach Greenwell and Adrian Marincas — pose in front of a fountain in Barcelona, Spain. Spanning from March 22-31, this year marks the first time Prospect has traveled abroad in an exchange program since the COVID-19 shutdown in March of 2020.

Justin Peabody and Ella Mitchell

Leaving the Barcelona Airport, senior Isabel Klimowicz was immediately engulfed with warm sunshine and clear blue skies, her surroundings dotted with palm trees and framed by majestic mountains towering in the distance. 

Near these mountains was where Klimowicz slept during her nine-day Spanish exchange trip over spring break. According to Klimowicz, every Prospect student lived with a Spanish student when not in Barcelona. Every day, she commuted into downtown Barcelona, where she spent time sightseeing and dining with the other AP Spanish students on the trip and Spanish teachers Ryan Schultz and Cindy Pak, who had been planning the trip since last year. 

Schultz says there were many phases and details involved in organizing the trip. He first gauged student interest and collected application essays from interested students. He then communicated with teachers in Barcelona to ensure there were enough students to partner up with the 15 Prospect students going on the trip.

 For Schultz, the meticulous planning was worth it to be able to see students interacting with native Spanish-speakers and connecting with the Spanish culture.

“All my life as an educator with respect to Spanish, I’ve wanted students to primarily understand a different perspective—different from the Mount Prospect perspective, different from the Chicagoland area perspective, different from the United States perspective,” Schultz said.

Schultz believes that an understanding of the Spanish language is best coupled with an appreciation for Spanish culture and its norms. 

A few of these norms were slightly surprising to Klimowicz. She says, for instance, that dinners were typically eaten very late in the evening, often as late as 10:30 p.m. 

In addition to discovering these differences between American and Spanish customs, Klimowicz learned quite a bit about her own Spanish-speaking abilities after having the opportunity to practice them in the real world.

At first, she was very nervous about whether she could “fit in” with Spaniards and doubted if she could speak fluently enough to communicate effectively. As days passed, she felt more relaxed, and her speaking went beyond basic conversations. Joking around with Spaniards became natural and very enjoyable for her, and she gained confidence in her language skills.

“Anytime there’s a new experience you have an opportunity to try, definitely go for it,” Klimowicz said. “…This trip helped me understand that you can do it; you just have to take the first step.” 

Klimowicz says that local people were friendly and understanding of the native language difference. She bonded with both the locals and the students she was on the trip with, many of whom she did not spend much time with otherwise.

This became obvious to her on the final day of the trip, when all 15 Prospect students spent a day on a beach. She says that by that point, everyone had become close friends with everyone else, making the overall dynamic much more fun.

“I think everyone had a good time, from both the Spanish and the American side. Everyone’s just like one big family,” Klimowicz said.