Vandy voyages: Students, staff travel to Europe over summer


Submitted Photo

Seniors Arabella Villarroel, Maya Vigil and Ava James take in the view at Edinburgh Castle.

Aisha Rashid, Editor

The sun shone against the cool Edinburgh breeze as senior Arabella Villarroel blew out the candles on her 17th birthday cake. With the company of her friends and teachers to celebrate with her and a view of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, Villarroel felt as if this was no ordinary school trip.

This summer, staff members took student travel into their own hands and chaperoned trips to Europe,  allowing students to explore new cultures and perspectives. Spanish II teacher, Elda Acevedo, took eight students to Spanish cities including Malaga, Granada, Seville, Madrid, Cordoba and Barcelona from June 8-18. English teachers, Rebecca Hudson, Madison Houston, Melanie Stamps, Ellery Wilkins and Rachel Hoyle, led the Scotland/Ireland trip, consisting of 33 students through EF Tours, a student travel company.

“Our goal was always to give students an experience that was once in a lifetime,” Hudson said. “Sure you can travel to Spain or China with your family, but getting to experience that with your high school peers and during this time of your life, I think is a really unique experience.”

The group spent two days in Dublin and Belfast, Ireland, and nine days in Scottish cities composed of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Fort Williams and Inverness. They stayed in a wide variety of places; notably the Stirling University campus.

“We got our own dorm to stay in for a few nights, which was super cool,” Villarroel said. “It was like [we were] early living the college life because there was a school store where we all went to get food and I really enjoyed it.”

 Locations like the Irish Immigration Museum offered a more traditional approach to learning about the various cultures of the countries each group visited. 

“It was probably the most well done museum I’ve ever been to,” Hudson said. “They had a lot of interactive exhibits, like this little passport that you could stamp at each exhibit that you went to. Each one was about a different part of Irish culture or people immigrating to Ireland, so that kind of gave us a good overview of Ireland in itself.”

While museums typically serve as the traditional way of learning through travel, culture can also be absorbed while visiting restaurants and discovering more about the country’s food.

“In Seville, we went to an olive oil farm and we got to see how olives were grown,” sophomore Mary Bahrami said. “The process of picking the best olives and making sure that they’re properly turned into olive oil was very interesting.”

The Spain trip also served as a history lesson, as the group visited many important sites from centuries ago and learned about cultural influences in Spain.

“They learned a lot about the Arabic influence on Spain when we were in Seville and Granada,” Acevedo said. “We went to a Moroccan tea house, we went to a Mesquita, a mosque and flamenco dance has a lot of influence as well.”

10 days and 6 cities ensured an incredibly demanding schedule for the Spain group. They were waking up every day around 7 a.m., getting back around 9-10 p.m., and walking approximately 15,000-20,000 steps everyday in 107°F weather.

“It was quite fast paced, which was awesome,” Bahrami said. “But, it got pretty exhausting.I wouldn’t change that because I think when you’re traveling, it’s important to see everything.”

Along with a busy schedule, the Spain flights experienced some delays, however the Scotland and Ireland travel went pretty smoothly. Despite all the hecticness with flights in Europe over the summer, the group lucked out and managed to book the direct British Airways flight from Austin to London.

“I felt very overwhelmed at times because it was a big group [and] you’re going to big, international airports, like for example, London Heathrow,” Villarroel said. “It felt like organized chaos in a way.”

With a total of 41 students, 13 cities and 21 days of travel, the summer trips proved a major success.

“It was very educational and I learned a lot,” Bahrami said. “But, it was also a great opportunity because I got to step out of my comfort zone and try something I never would have thought I could have done.”