Walton’s Connecting Cultures summer program immerses 40 students from Salamanca, Spain, in a world of English, said Tripp Madden, director of the camp.
Madden said the Spaniards live with host families from the Walton community during their one-month stay, attending classes at the high school during the day and embarking on “culturally enriched excursions” several afternoons each week.
This week, Madden said, the Spanish students headed out to the softball field after Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday’s lunch to practice softball ahead of the game and grill-out Thursday.
“The softball game is a backdrop to the parents being there and talking to students, strengthening the strong bond between them and the Walton community,” he said of the event, which took place at the high school’s home field.
The English classes teach Salamanca students skills such as reading, writing, grammar, listening and speaking, Madden said.
Kara Pavkovich, an English teacher at Walton who will soon begin her fourth year, said the visiting students have kept her on her toes during the writing classes she leads.
“I think I’m the only one who doesn’t speak any Spanish, so when we have a miscommunication, I can’t redirect in Spanish, so they’ve tried to teach me some Spanish,” Pavkovich said. “They just laugh at the fact that I can’t roll my r’s, that I can’t pronounce their names, but I think now, after this camp, I’ll probably learn Spanish. It’s kind of inspired me to get a little more active.”
She said the Spanish students struggled to learn how to run the bases at first, calling the earliest lessons “chaos.”
One Salamanca student, Miguel Puente, 17, said this week was the first time he and his friends had ever played softball.
“You have different sports,” Puente said. “We play soccer, but we don’t have baseball at all. We don’t have softball. We don’t have your American football.”
Puente said this summer marked his second trip to America, having visited east Cobb last July with the same program in its inaugural year.
“I don’t know how people in the north of America (are), but people in the South are really open, really sociable and that’s the most thing I like about this country,” he said.
Bonny Portwood — whose daughters, Sarah, 16, and Molly, 14, study Spanish in school — said the pair of Spanish teens staying in her home took some time to warm up to her when they arrived June 28th.
Now, Portwood said, she and her daughters have grown close to the girls and are enjoying the summer together.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “We had a wonderful time last year, as well as this year.”
Portwood said she hosted two girls for the first half of last year’s camp and added two boys for the second half, ending the month with a total of four Spanish students in her home.
Though she admitted she knows “very little” Spanish, she said her daughter Sarah has been teaching her words here and there.
“We’ll be talking about the most random thing, and we’ll discover there’s a big difference between here and Spain that you wouldn’t have thought about,” said Sarah, a rising junior at Walton.
Sarah said dining habits constituted a major difference between American and Spanish customs.
The Salamanca students eat dinner around 10 p.m., she said, just before they go to bed.
“They never go out to breakfast,” Sarah added. “That’s not a thing.”
Molly Portwood, who will be a Walton freshman this fall, said she has enjoyed learning from the Spaniards.
“I would say getting to experience another culture in my own house is pretty cool,” Molly said.
Ana De LaPuente Llamazares, 14, is staying with the Portwoods this month.
She said the biggest difference between her home in Salamanca and the Walton area is the size of roads and buildings.
“Here, the things are very big!” she said.