Students Study Spanish, Culture Abroad

Barton Cave

Students canoed into Barton Cave to see its formations and remains of Mayan rituals performed in the cave.

For many District 211 students who are studying Spanish, the summer provided an exciting opportunity to see the world. These students traveled to Spanish-speaking countries to immerse themselves in the language and culture.

A total of 38 students from Schaumburg, Palatine, Conant, and Hoffman Estates High Schools, went on the trip. For 11 days, they explored Guatemala and Belize, studied language, and participated in various community service projects. Each student stayed with a family where they were engaged in conversational Spanish at all times, went to a language school in the morning, and then had excursions during afternoons and evenings.

Spanish Classes

Students would study Spanish during the day.

“As a Spanish teacher, I can say this is a great way for students to be immersed in Spanish and really improve the language,” said Gabbie Drafall, Spanish teacher at Schaumburg High School who traveled with her students during the summer trip. “At the same time, for me to see these students experience so many first in their lives — first time being on a plane, first time leaving the country, first time being on a boat or volcano — I get see them broaden their horizons.”

Each summer, a new country is selected and students get the opportunity to experience as many different activities as possible. On this trip, students studied at a language school where they received a diploma at the conclusion of their trip. They started their trip in Antigua, Guatemala, where they took Spanish classes for six days. During their time there, they visited Semillero Mi Angel Guardian, which is a day care for low-income, single-mother families. There, students made donations of school supplies and toys, and spent the afternoon playing with children in the daycare.

“It’s always a highlight of the trip,” Drafall said. “I can’t put it into words because just watching our kids interact with the students there, and seeing those children so excited to see things that they don’t normally have, is great.”


After completing their Spanish studies, each student received a diploma.

One of the most exciting experiences for students in Antigua was climbing Pacaya, an active volcano in the region. Drafall said it was a great experience, and students were able to toast marshmallows on the heated rocks on top of the volcano. After spending time in Antigua, the group flew north of Guatemala to tour the Mayan ruins of Tikal for a day. Then, they crossed the border into Belize, and students canoed into Barton Cave to see its formations and remains of Mayan rituals performed in the cave.

Near the end of the trip, the group headed to Caye Ambergris and the town of San Pedro. A few of students went snorkeling, where they saw a coral reef, nurse sharks, colorful fish, and sting rays.


The group went snorkeling for one of their excursions and saw a coral reef and wildlife.

Drafall said the travel abroad experiences available to students are definitely life changing, and she can speak from experience. When she was a student at Schaumburg High School, she went on a Spanish class trip to Mexico. The positive educational experience has stuck with her, and she says she hopes to pass those feelings on to her students.

“It was one of those defining moments in my life,” Drafall said. “It’s rewarding for me to give my students the same opportunity that I had.”

Drafall added that students are always excited to explore new countries and to learn about new cultures.

“They develop more of a respect for what they have back home, because not only are they learning another culture, they are respecting their own on a whole other level. We definitely give these kids a travel bug,” she laughed.