Interim Trips Abroad Blog 2019

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Interim Trips 2019 Blog

  • Spain 2019
Carolyn Clancy

Today we said goodbye to our wonderful host families and took a train back to Madrid. Tomorrow we take an early flight to Paris, where we will meet up with the group from the France homestay, and all travel back to Houston together.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible for each of us. We have loved our time in Spain and cannot wait to return!


  • France 2019
Tatum Branaman

Yesterday we visited the Museum of the Resistance on our last day in Grenoble. It was the museum I was looking forward to the most so I was excited the time to go had finally come.

When we first walked in, I was already interested. There were World War Two related books covering the walls of the gift shop, all in French. I really wanted to see what the French perspective of World War Two would be in these summarized children’s books. The answer was nearly no mention of Japan(except for Pearl Harbor), and a broader lens on nations’ actions and battles, not just that of the Americans.


When we first went into the exhibit, there were familiar names adorning the walls such as Mussolini and Hitler along with early war information; the rise of fascism in Europe, the invasion of Poland, and the preparation for the invasion of France. The next series of rooms analyzed the initial fighting in France before and up to the capturing of Paris that largely ended France’s fight with Germany. It displayed battles between French and German troops and the French efforts to just stay alive.


The next rooms and floors would show France’s continued fight with the Nazis who had overtaken and occupied their country. A room showing a 3D table map of Grenoble and its surrounding cities had lights where every skirmish, ambush, and sabotage occurred. When all 3 options were chosen to see, nearly the entire map illuminated. The room illustrated the scale of resistance activity in France, and especially in and around Grenoble.


Next, they would show the support given to the resistance by the British and Americans. Hanging from the ceiling of the map room was a British parachute package full of supplies and rations that was dropped for resistance fighters. In a display case sat the standard equipment of a resistance fighter. It had a radio, hatchet, trench shovel, knives, and small arms given to them by the allies such as the sten SMG from the British and an M1 carbine from the Americans.  Even further they had a large crate full of allied arms such as grenades, guns and ammo. These included original BARs(browning automatic rifle), Springfield rifles, Bren machine guns, m1 frag grenades, and anti-tank mines. Maybe the coolest and most well maintained things I’ve seen in a WW2 museum.

After this, nearly an entire floor was dedicated to the Holocaust in France, displaying videos of SS soldiers marching and real pictures of emaciated victims of liberated death camps. It was truly sobering and horrific. Original striped uniforms were in a display case along with every patch and which group it corresponded with such as political prisoners, homosexuals, gypsies, and Jews. This was the end of the museum, so we went back down to the gift shop. I got some books to read up on and try to see the French perspective of the war. This was my favorite museum of the trip and a absolute highlight of my time in Grenoble.

  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Anthony

This morning for breakfast I had a piece of fruit, coffee, and toast with butter. Later, I got picked up by the bus to head for our last day of classes at the ISA study center. Today we spent most of the class reviewing for our final exam which is tomorrow. We reviewed all the grammar, history, culture with fun games and went over the basic structure of the final. After school, we walked across the street and headed toward La Plaza de España. We walked through a beautiful park with fountains, orange trees, and small walkways, but eventually, we emerged into an opening and saw an enormous plaza. Interestingly, la Plaza de España was actually a scenery for many big movies such as Star Wars and even The Dictator. After the visit to the stunning plaza, we headed through the center of Sevilla to el Real Alcázar. The Alcázar is a residency of the royal family of Spain built in the Middle Ages by the Arabs. The architecture is breathtaking and it takes influence from Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque styles. The entire interior of the palace is detailed with decorations. There is not an inch left uncovered as there are intricate azulejos or tiles and carvings that cover each wall. Additionally, the palace displays an important theme of Islamic architecture as the whole compound is situated around the main patio with flowing water, vegetation, and light. The Alcácazar also has an enormous garden with fountains, ponds, trimmed bushes, flowers, and peacocks. Even though this beautiful palace was built in the 8th century, the Christian monarchs still decided to keep it and even began to live in it. After I returned to my host family, we walked around the neighborhood, ate dinner, and played guitar back at the house.



Submitted by Maddie

We started our first day back in Sevilla learning about the many festivals celebrated in Spain such Día de Los Santos and Día de La Hispanidad. We gained a deeper understanding of Spanish culture by learning about the most popular festivals of the country. Our teacher also taught us about one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous artworks called El Guernica, which demonstrates the brutality and horror of the Spanish Civil War. After school, we returned to our host families and rested in our homes until our afternoon activity began. We visited the Bullfighting Museum which is located in the Bullring of Real Maestranza de Caballería. The Museum displays a bullfighting art gallery from the eighteenth through twentieth century by many artists such as Francisco de Goya. We viewed a portrait of Joaquín Rodríguez who was a legendary bullfighter and many oil paintings of other famous bullfighters from Sevilla like Juan Belmonte. I also saw a photograph of one of the very first bullfighting events and many bull heads including the first pardoned bull in Spain. We visited the chapel where fighters prayed before walking into the bullring. One of the most interesting parts of the tour was the bullring, where we saw the gateway to the ring called the Prince’s Gate. Winners would exit through this gate, but a bullfighter who performed very well would be carried on the shoulders of the audience. We also saw the Prince’s Box which was a seating area reserved for the Royal Family. It took more than a century to complete the construction of the ring, and interestingly, the arches of the upper section are not the same width and the ring is actually an oval as opposed to a circle. Also, there is a slope in the arena so that the center is slightly elevated and is higher than the area by the stalls; this made it easier for bullfighters to run downhill to the barricade, while the bulls would have to stop abruptly to avoid crashing into the barricade. Thus, the structure of the arena gave bullfighters an advantage over the bulls. After the tour, the bus took us to our host families so that we could rest and eat dinner.



  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Carrie


After the tour of La Alhambra, we toured La Capilla Real de Granada

Which was built as a monument for the Catholic kings.  Although its construction wasn’t finished during their lifetimes, it was carried on by Carlos V.  It is a gothic-style chapel that is also the burial place of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I. We got to see their beautiful tombs, but their tombs are actually just monuments - they are really buried right underground. On the tombs, there are statues of both of them laying down, and our tour guide taught us that Queen Isabella’s head sinks down further on her pillows as a sort of joke that her head was heavier because she was smarter than her husband. The tombs were also decorated/carved with mythological scenes that represent the spread of Christianity. The altar of the chapel was decorated in gold with the two San Juans, and other carved scenes to represent the unification of Spain. Around the chapel, there were political emblems, and a blue band with golden German calligraphy inscripted on it, a decoration that was Carlos V’s idea. Then, we walked through a room that was filled with religious paintings (for example of the Crucifiction or the Nativity scene). It also had the crown of “La Reina Católica” (the Catholic Queen), which was a very simple, silver crown because she was a serious and simple ruler.

After the tour, we had some free time for lunch, and I went to a restaurant with Leora and Maddie where we had delicious pizzas and salmon. Then we regrouped and did a bit of shopping before taking the bus back to Sevilla. We were dropped off at our homes, and I had a salad and mushroom and chicken croquetas for dinner with only Carmen because Angela is at her dad’s house until Tuesday. After dinner, she showed me her sisters and their kids in some photos and showed me some adorable baby videos of one of her sister’s grandsons.


  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Harrison

Today in Granada we visited La Alhambra, a Muslim-built fortress and palace. “Alhambra” is Arabic for “The Red Castle”.  We took a guided tour throughout the entire palace, and we learned right away that La Alhambra was more than just a fortress or a palace, it was a whole town, with a large community of people living there. We walked down the Calle Real, which we learned used to be full of artisans and merchants all along the street. We next saw the Palace of Charles V, which was built after the Reconquista of Spain inside the fortress. Next, we entered the more central parts of La Alhambra. We learned that water is part of the architecture there, not only as a symbol of hospitality, but also as a heatsink during the summer. In fact, the entire fortress was built for summer conditions, making it much colder on the inside than outside, something we were very aware of visiting in the winter. Many parts of the decorations of La Alhambra featured red, green, yellow, and blue colors, respectively symbolizing blood, nature, power, and the heavens. Since Muslims see art portraying other humans as worship of things other than God, the walls and ceilings of each room were decorated with intricate geometric patterns. In fact, many of the ceilings were decorated with star patterns. We learned that it was astronomy that allowed for all mosques in Spain to be built facing West; by studying the patterns of the stars, the Arabs could tell the direction of Mecca. We saw a room that was made for the Sultan to sit in, and it was designed so that anyone entering the room would not see the Sultan, but rather just their silhouette, as there was a window behind them where sunlight would shine through. We also saw multiple giant reflecting pools, which served both a symbolic purpose and as a practical purpose as a way to reduce the heat during the summer. We also saw an intricate fountain with lions, although it was turned off for the winter to prevent damage. We saw bathhouses that were constructed nearly identical to Roman bathhouses, with hot, warm, and cold rooms. In fact, just as with the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba, many things in La Alhambra had been recycled from Roman architecture, which could be seen in some of the pillars, which had differing styles. La Alhambra has been by far my favorite place I’ve visited this entire trip. I love the intricate architecture and beautiful views and gardens contained within.


  • Spain 2019
Submitted by Ezekiel

The group started off with a bus ride to Córdoba to see both the “Mezquita Catedral” that was built during the 8th and 13th centuries and to tour the city. Córdoba was about an hour and a half away from Sevilla and on the way there, I could only see the countryside and trees. At the start of the tour of the Mosque/Cathedral tour, we saw the Patio of Orange Trees which is common and unique to this region (Andalucía) because of the Muslim influence,  and then toured the mosque. 

Although this was the biggest mosque in Europe and it could hold 30,000 men, it did not seem that big since there were low ceilings with many arcs and columns made of rock or marble and since other areas that were connected after the 8th century (due to need of more space), were not necessarily seen when I first walked in. With size not a goal in the Muslim architecture, they focused heavily on detail as with the intricacy of the art on the walls and/or ceilings of the mosque. For example, the mihrab which was a part of the back wall of the original mosque includes three pieces of architectural art with Quran writings on them. The pieces show the use of geometry and math in the architectural shapes and words from the Quran with natural light coming through as well to shine a light on the main piece and to honor the Lord. 

After seeing the mosque, we then saw the heart of the Mosque-Cathedral which was the Cathedral and the combination of size, detail, and materials made it beautiful and astounding. The gothic church which was built in the 16th century after the Reconquest, had very high ceilings, a detailed area for the choir made out of expensive mahogany wood from Cuba, and a brilliant high altar with marble. With the church being built inside of the mosque, it showed dominance over the mosque with the height and grand size. 

After leaving the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, we toured the city which included Jews, Muslims, and Christians. A common feature of the Arabic neighborhoods were small turning streets that would lead to a plaza without an exit where there would be few stores or a living area. Another thing that I found out about the living environments was that it was common for some families to live in a group or village with an interior patio with the houses or apartments around it. The city included constantly changing elevation and many small stores selling souvenirs since its a popular city to visit. 

After visiting Córdoba, we then got back on the bus and drove two hours to Granada. We settled into the hotel and then went to go see a flamenco show. At the show, there was a lot of energy and since the dancers were right in front of us, the closeness added another dimension and personal effect to the performance. I loved the show and all the different elements that were included: the lights, the costumes and tapping shoes, the expert guitar playing, and the almost tribal singing that added more emotion to the show. What I also thought was cool was that the performers learned this passionate form of flamenco from their parents and the skills or techniques differ depending on how you learned. For me, it made the show unique and unforgettable, and altogether I really enjoyed the day.

Submitted by Ezekiel

  • China 2019
Submitted by Virginia, Suzannah, & Molly

Our last day in China was one of the best! Although we are all ready to see our friends and family back at home, we will be so sad to leave Nancy and go back to regular school. We began our day at a garden where we fed Coy fish and admired the city’s Chinese New Year decorations. 

After that we strolled through the residential streets and alleys, guided by Patrick, a nice older man who was very familiar with Chinese culture. Our group took a bunch of pictures in front of the Shanghai skyline - a sight that was unforgettable. Later, we toured a huge wax museum that displayed Shanghai’s culture and development over the course of history. We took our last quiz of the trip and had one of our best lunches at a really cool restaurant. 

After lunch, the group shopped around at the silk market and most of the girls bought matching PJ sets! The Shanghai Tower, which is the second tallest building in the world, was an incredible experience for all of us and the group enjoyed it so much. Our last adventure of the day, and maybe the trip, was dinner at a local family’s home in the suburbs of Shanghai. We tried several new dishes, like Banana spring rolls and quail eggs. We learned so much about the ladies’ lives and it was a great way to wrap up the trip. What a fun last day! 

Virginia, Suzannah, & Molly