The first half of a two-way exchange between Woodstock and Teruel, Spain, kicked off this month with a 10-day visit from 15 Spanish students who toured Woodstock, Chicago and the greater Chicagoland area while staying with local host families.

The exchange students, all 13 or 14 years old, attended school daily with a Woodstock student from their host families. 

Visiting Prairiewood Elementary School Sept. 15, several of the exchange students were treated to music and many questions from Hugo Alcazar’s second-grade dual-language class, which is taught in English and Spanish.

“They had a real experience of another culture, a different community,” Alcazar said of his students. “They are more flexible, more openminded to think ahead and adapt to different situations. I’m really proud of them.”

Another stop at Prairiewood was Bethany Kerley’s third-grade dual-language class. Here, the exchange students told of cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain and covered everything from bedtimes to “Star Wars.” 

“I think it gives them a bit of insight into a different country [and] culture. The kids asked a lot of questions about likes and dislikes,” said Kerley.

Some of the differences in culture noted by the exchange students included living style, schedules, school — and especially food. 

“I think you eat very unhealthy things here. We eat more vegetables and fruit. Here you have a glass of milk with dinner and lunch, too. And a lot of Coca-Cola and Fanta. In my house, we drink water,” said exchange student Paula Galindo.

Exchange student Amaia Betolaza said she thinks American kids are more obedient than her counterparts back home.

“Here they behave better in school than in Spain,” Betolaza said. “The people here are very kind, and I feel very safe in Woodstock. I loved picking apples. I went shopping at the farmers market, too. In Spain there are more parties, and our timetables are very different. We are on our phones even more than they are here.”

In addition to spending time in school, the exchange students also made their way to various sights in the area. In addition to the Woodstock Farmers Market, they also toured Lake Geneva, bowled some frames at a local bowling alley and visited a corn maze.

“We wanted to give a community approach. We encourage the families to take the students for unique American experiences,” said Luis Barutell, the bilingual parent outreach facilitator for District 200. “It’s not just to learn English. They all know English. It is to know a different culture, know kids with a different background.”

This spring, about 10 students from Woodstock will go to Spain to immerse themselves in the culture as part of the exchange program.

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