In September 2014 I signed up my year 10 Spanish group to work with a group of pupils in Sagrada Familia de Osuna (SAFA de Osuna, Seville) on an eTwinning project called ‘Our Celebrations’, comparing these in both countries. In the course of the last few months, their English teacher (Mr Álvaro Fernández Espigares) suggested that he might be able to bring over the eTwinning class to visit us in Hazelwood College. Our International Links group (Niamh Logan, Angela Garrido Ledo, Susana Mendes [teaching assistants] and me) set about planning and organising their trip once they had decided on the dates they could travel, Saturday 18th April to Wednesday 22nd April 2015. The group of thirteen Spanish pupils, aged 15 to 16 years old, was accompanied by their Principal, Mr Cristóbal Parra Fernández, and their English teacher. The group stayed in Lorne House, a historic residential centre in Holywood. It was a ground-breaking trip for SAFA de Osuna as they have never taken a school trip abroad and the pupils themselves had never travelled outside of southern Spain before.

Those of us in the International Links group were very happy to plan and accompany them on their trips. Over the five days we escorted them to Belfast City Centre (Saturday evening), the Antrim Coast (Sunday), Hazelwood College and Crumlin Road Gaol with yr 10 Spanish (Monday), Tollymore Forest Park and Tyrella Beach with yr 11 Spanish (Tuesday) and finally Dublin with Year 13 AS Level Spanish (Wednesday).

The main purpose of their visit was for the Spanish pupils to meet and get to know their year 10 eTwinning partners in person, although they were delighted to get to know the other two classes and go on a tour of the College. They took away with them an extremely positive opinion of everything we achieve at Hazelwood College. Their principal Cristóbal was particularly overwhelmed with our classrooms and curriculum – in particular practical subjects such as Drama and Home Economics, which are not a part of the Spanish curriculum but which he would consider adding in his school.

After a walkabout and dinner in Belfast City Centre on Saturday evening, on Sunday we enjoyed a nine-hour tour of Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Cushendun National Trust café and Carrickfergus Castle in glorious sunny weather, which made the tour even more enjoyable for all. Ms Logan, Ms Garrido and I had to keep telling them that the weather is NOT usually like this!

Their visit to Hazelwood College on Monday began with a Welcoming Assembly headed by Mrs O’Hare which included a video of the history of the College, an Irish Dancing Display by Ms Nolan and the exchange gifts from Mrs O’Hare and Cristóbal (Roman replica carvings and handmade leather Game of Thrones keyrings for the pupils). The eTwinning Workshop involved pupils from both schools working individually with their partners and then giving a short oral presentation (in their target language) outlining what they had learnt about them, which was video recorded by William Jordan, Year 13 Spanish and Media Studies pupil. Both groups of pupils found this challenging but it was really enjoyable to watch! The Canteen had prepared a lovely range of local dishes for all of us, after which we went on a guided tour (in English and Spanish) of Crumlin Road Gaol and the Belfast Murals with Ms Maltman.

On Tuesday the Spanish visitors were joined by Year 11 Spanish pupils on a visit to Tollymore Forest Park near Castlewellan (scene of Game of Thrones filming). Then we enjoyed a walk and a bit of football on Tyrella Beach with Mr Thompson. Again, incredible weather – imagine our Spanish visitors getting a tan here!

As the visitors were flying from Dublin on Wednesday afternoon, we spent the day there on a Spanish-language tour of Dublin landmarks which also benefited our Year 13 Spanish pupils on the outing.

On the back of this wonderful first encounter, we are now planning a return trip to Sevilla next Easter and the likelihood of a work-experience element for our pupils to carry out work placements in Osuna in future. Thank you, SAFA de Osuna, for making us your first destination, and ¡hasta pronto! 

Suzanne McCloskey