Senior Ella Gebke spent six weeks in Oviedo, Spain this past summer, where she lived with a host family, immersed herself in the Spanish language and culture, took a variety of classes, and traveled around the country with other high school students. Learn more about her unique experience below!

How did you initially get connected with the IU Honors Program?

I heard about the IU Honors Program from alumni of the program. These students all recommended the program to me, but it was the presentation at Brebeuf that finally convinced me to apply.

Tell us about your experience with the IU Honors Program. (Where did you travel, how long, etc.)

This summer, I lived with a host family in the northern region of Spain in a city called Oviedo. I lived in an apartment with a Spanish mom, dad, and four-year old brother. In our 800-square-foot apartment, I really got a taste for the “close-quarters” that are standard throughout most of Europe. We attended school Monday through Thursday, where we took classes covering culture, Spanish grammar, linguistics, and literature. On Fridays, the program took mini-excursions to places like Santiago de Compostela and the Lakes of Covadonga. The program in Oviedo lasted five weeks, but the sixth week of the trip, our group traveled to the tourist cities Segovia and Madrid.

What was your favorite part of this experience?

A castle at Covodonga- a very popular tourist destination in Northern Spain.

My favorite part of this experience was getting a taste for European “life on the street.” We spent very little time in our respective apartments, but rather spent our free time chatting in cafes, relaxing in parks, shopping at street markets, or simply walking through town.

What is unique about this program?

This program is unique in that there is a strict honor code by which all students are expected to abide. Once we landed in Spain, we were not allowed to speak any English. If we didn’t know a word in Spanish, we either “acted the word out” or used circumlocution. The purpose of this rule is to fully immerse ourselves in both the language and culture in Spain. By the end of the program, I was thinking and even dreaming in Spanish. When we were finally allowed to speak English again, we all struggled immensely and couldn’t speak in real sentences for the first few hours of being reacclimated to the U.S. In the airport, I actually forgot how to say the number “three” in English and could only muster up the word “tres.”

Additionally, the instructors took our cell phones upon landing in Spain. We were prohibited from making any calls home, but were given one hour of internet use each week to email our families and friends! I was grateful for the phone detox because it allowed me to always be present in the moment and not worry about what was happening back home.

Would you recommend it to others?

Ella and a friend standing in the town hall of her host city, Oviedo.

I would definitely recommend IU Honors to other Brebeuf students. My Spanish classes freshman through junior year at Brebeuf prepared me very well for the program. This summer, I finally made use of three year’s worth of extensive grammar units! I would encourage all other students to take this leap of faith and immerse themselves in a new country because the opportunities for growth and inspiration are endless!

Tell us one favorite memory from your trip.

My host family owned a few family cabin rental properties in the mountains about two hours away from the city. One weekend, my family drove up to the mountains while two other visiting families were renting out rooms. We gathered in the common area outside and began talking to the visitors. As it turns out, there were girls around my age from Belgium and Germany. They mustered up all the Spanish they knew, and we spent the afternoon speaking in short, simple sentences–the only thing our language barrier would allow. It was such a special experience to hear about their lives and examine the cultural differences between each of our respective countries. They had picked up a lot of American high school culture via Hollywood films and asked me questions like, “Do you wear a varsity jacket around school?” and “Do you eat McDonald’s every day?”

How has this experience shaped your views of the world? Has it changed your plans for the future (what you’ll major in, where you want to live, etc.) in any way?

This experience has opened my eyes to an entirely different culture and language. I now feel confident in my plans to minor in Spanish language and spend at least a semester abroad sometime in the near future!

For students who are interested in the unique opportunity to experience another culture firsthand like Ella, live with a host family, and improve their foreign language skills, see the IUHPFL website for additional information about this program, including application deadlines, program dates, and fees.