Rebecca MacRae (2009): her experience

Written by El Casal de Barcelona on . Posted in Blog

I graduated from Andover in 2009 and took a gap year between graduating and enrolling at MIT. I spent the first half of my year working in a neuroscience lab in MIT's McGovern Institute and working to get my pilot's license. Exhilarating and enriching, these experiences helped me to see that I am extremely interested in neuroscience and want to pursue neuroscience as a major and potentially a career. Then in February I completely changed gears and began the spring session of El Casal, John Rosen's gap year program in Barcelona. I had an absolutely fantastic experience and learned a lot from the classes I took in Spanish language, art history, Spanish cinema, and Spanish history. John and Ines are both amazing teachers who are truly passionate about the subjects they teach, making learning a contagious and effortless experience. While in Barcelona I lived with a host family who continually impressed me with their kindness and hospitality. I did not take Spanish at Andover and so I had practically no Spanish background (unlike most El Casal students), making the first couple weeks living with a family who did not speak any English an intimidating challenge but my host family was so supportive that we were communicating with ease in no time! Barcelona is such a fantastic city with a rich culture for the arts. I loved simply walking down the streets and beholding the beauty of Gaudi's designs or exploring the narrow streets of the Gothic District or getting lost in one of Barcelona's many amazing museums. I would recommend this program to any Andover student considering a gap year who would like a language/cultural immersion experience. I am now at MIT and would be happy to talk with students considering taking a GAP YEAR. If any students are interested in this program and would like to hear about it (or about the gap year in general), I would be happy to talk with them and share what little wisdom I may have!

by Rebecca MacRae: El Casal (2009)

El Casal turns 10: reflections by our first students

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2014 marks our 10th anniversary! We welcomed our first El Casal gap year students in February, 2004. Some of those “pioneers” have offered reflections on their experiences and we’ll be posting them here over the next few months.

I can't believe it's been almost 10 years since I participated in El Casal! I feel like my adventures in Spain somehow make their way into so many of my daily conversations with people now. I catch myself saying, "When I was in Spain during my gap year...." so often that you would think that I had spent a whole year there instead of just a few months. I remember the amazing generosity of the locals we met along the Camino de Santiago; I remember the night a friend and I had to sleep on the side of the road near Montserrat because the hostels hadn't yet opened for the season; and I remember our crazy attempt at recreating a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at John and Ines's home.  I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the perfect break for me between a rigorous high school curriculum and a challenging college experience because it gave me the opportunity to slow down the pace and learn so much about myself and what drives me. I learned to be independent as I wandered the streets of Barcelona and volunteered in a clinic housing adults with cerebral palsy, but I always had an amazing support system in John and Ines and in my host family so I never felt completely alone. I have been incredibly grateful for the experiences that El Casal granted me. I now just have to find a way to make it back to Spain to relive all of those amazing memories!

by Emily: Phillips Andover Academy; El Casal (2004); Dartmouth College; Univ. of Pennsylvania

"Los intercambios": a cultural exchange

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El Casal students help with a project in an English class at Costa i Llobera school

What’s a gap year in Spain all about? Well, among other things, it’s a “cultural exchange”. People here will greet you with open arms and their typical Mediterranean hospitality. They sincerely want to share their culture with you and make you feel at home! You have something to give them as well: an opportunity to see and to understand your culture through your interaction with them. Spaniards suspect that news reports, movies and TV series available to them here may not be giving them an accurate or a complete picture of the American society. That’s where you come in!

Ready to do something different and exciting after high school?