“She’s American, not deaf.”
This phrase was a running gag for Sophia Moore ’20 and her School Year Abroad host family. Moore spent her junior year in Zaragoza, Spain, improving her language skills and studying the culture. She also traveled through Spain and much of Europe.
She was one of three Culver Academies students to study abroad. Eric Concannon (Apopka, Florida) spent his junior year in Beijing, China and Marina Padilla (Mexico City) was in Rennes, France. Culver is one of 47 U.S. independent high schools participating in the program.
Culver students and parents interested in knowing more about the SYA program can email faculty representative Angela Barton Haynes or visit sya.org. Brice Koval, an SYA representative will be visiting Culver on Friday, Oct. 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Some of Moore’s best memories, though, involve her host father Javier Posac, mother Natalia Murillo, 11-year-old sister Daniela, and 8-year-old brother Hugo. It was the family’s first time hosting an SYA student and the policy was everyone spoke Spanish so Moore would become more proficient.
The father, who is fluent in English, talked with her about house rules when she first arrived, Moore said, but for the rest of the year, the household conversations were in Spanish. And, while she had completed Spanish III at Culver and her mother’s native language is Spanish, “I still had some grammar issues. And around the house, it was a bit harder to understand.”
One time, when her host mom told her something, Moore asked what she said. Instead of rephrasing it, the host mom said “the exact same thing, only louder.” That was when the father reminded her, “She’s American, not deaf.”
Her Spanish improved quickly, Moore said. “I had to keep up with my little brother,” she said, but by then, “She’s American, not deaf” had become a family joke.
Sharing those little family moments was a new experience for Moore, whose father Gary was killed in Mosul, Iraq, before she turned three. Since that time, it has just been her and her mother Raquel, she said. Having a little brother and sister was a new and enjoyable experience.
The family vacations, visiting the extended family, talking during meals, and playing video games were highlights. Moore’s extended host family also helped her complete her capstone project, “How Pork Products Affect the Spanish Economy.” She visited an uncle’s hog farm to gather information. And she made chorizo, a special sausage, with her host grandmother. She taught Moore how to hand-turn the pork and seasonings, then fill the casings, which fulfilled the experiential criteria for the project.
In Zaragoza, Moore walked or used the commuter train or bus. Even though she has lived in El Paso, Texas, which is similar in size, Zaragoza seemed much larger because she didn’t travel by car. “When I was in the car (in El Paso), I didn’t pay that much attention to the surroundings.”
The large plaza in the center of Zaragoza was home to several small shops and cafés. The cafés, which were stationed on almost on every corner, were frequented by the same people nearly every day, she said. Her favorite was one operated by a woman from Ecuador, which drew an international clientele. As soon as the people discovered she was an American, they started asking questions about President Donald Trump.
The café coffee is smaller and stronger, she added. “I ordered a coffee with some milk and it was so small,” she laughed. “I finally figured out how to order a regular size coffee.”
The school she attended was specifically set up for the 60 SYA students in the area. All the classes are in Spanish except for English and math. They would go in the morning, take a break for lunch, then go for a short time in the afternoon. Afternoon classes were canceled on Fridays.
There were also several festival days – mostly religious – which closed down everything “except the cafés,” she said. That gave her plenty of time for exploring, either with her host family or friends. She visited San Sabastian and Bilboa. She also visited Prague and the SYA students took a weeklong field trip to Paris.
Moore enjoyed living on “Spanish time” and could see herself moving back for an extended period. She is also looking at colleges that have satellite campuses in Madrid, which is two hours away from Zaragoza. That would give her more time to explore the culture.
And it would give her an opportunity to visit her host family. She stays in regular contact via text and chat, she said. And her little brother sneaks a Snapchat to her whenever he can get his hands on his sister’s phone.