DANBURY, Conn. -- 15-year-old Julia Bauer just returned home to Danbury from a two-week trip to Valladolid and Madrid in Spain — her first time abroad — as part of an international education exchange program.
A total of 24 teenagers from across the U.S. participated in the Global Prep trip, which is part of AFS-USA, a nonprofit organization.
While in Valladolid, every morning she would walk to a local school, "where we would learn Spanish for about four hours from native speakers," said Julia, who will be a 10th-grader at Wooster School in the fall.
While attending classes, Julia lived with a host family in the area.
Although she has been studying Spanish since the sixth grade, she said she greatly improved her ability to understand the spoken language on her trip. "The teachers spoke only Spanish in the classroom. However, the majority of the Spanish I learned was from my host sister, Sandra, who spoke fluently in both languages, as well as from Sandra's friends and my host parents."
Every afternoon, Julia would return to her host family's home for siesta -- the Spanish mid-day nap -- and for lunch. "All the stores in the area closed every day at this time," she said.
Later, she would head back into the center of town for an afternoon activity. "This could range from going to a science museum with refugee children from the Western Sahara to touring the city center, she said.
Julia spent the last three days of her trip in Madrid, in a dormitory at the University of Chaminade.
"The idea of the trip was not only spending time in the classroom with the Spanish teens but spending the day with them and going on sightseeing trips as well," she said.
One of the best parts of her trip was a visit to the Prado Museum. "We saw very old and famous works. I saw art from Italy, Greece, Germany and Spain. Visiting this museum and seeing all the artwork makes me want to take art history classes in school," she said.
Another highlight was a visit to the region of Peñafiel, where she saw an old castle in the shape of a boat. "When you get to the top of the castle -- about four or five levels up -- you can see a the top of the city. The view was spectacular. We were told that it took 80 to 100 years to build the castle."
The trip offered a chance for personal growth. "While I did get homesick, I realized it's OK to feel this way. Even though I might feel sad, it's all right.
"It was a transformative experience for me," she said.
For more information on AFS-USA, click here.