BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA- The foreign language department at Niskayuna always seems to have something going on. This month, 26 Niskayuna Spanish students are hosting 27 students from Colegio Agave, a private school in Almeria, Spain.
Most of the Niskayuna students who are hosting are seniors and will be heading to Spain in April as part of the exchange program.
Lainie Christou, a Spanish teacher at Niskayuna, has been organizing these exchange programs for eight years with Shana Malkis, a fellow Spanish teacher at Van Antwerp Middle School. This year, the First National Bank of Scotia sponsored part of the exchange program.
“The students always come back with this confidence with the language,” Christou said.
Malkis, who is a Niskayuna graduate and has participated in the exchange program, said that the exchange has changed with the advances in technology.
“I wrote letters to my exchange students . . . now the students use WhatsApp,” Malkis said.
This has allowed the students to get to know one another quickly and to adapt easier to change.
“When the Spanish student were delayed at the airport, we were asking the students how long they would be because they were getting responses faster,” Christou said.
After finally arriving in Niskayuna very early on the morning of October 1 – and after getting a few hours of sleep – the Spanish exchange students said they were shocked by how green everything was. They were also very interested in the squirrels.
“We don’t have them!” exclaimed one student.
The fashion was also a welcome surprise for the Spanish students.
At Colegio Agave both the students and the teachers have uniforms to wear and things like Nike sneakers and hoodies are not allowed.
From their very first day at Niskayuna High School, the Spanish students took the opportunity to wear jeans, sneakers, and sweatshirts.
Samantha Erickson, one Niskayuna senior, said that she was surprised by the lack of a language barrier between herself and Laura Ruiz Lozano, her exchange student.
“But she speaks English really well,” Erickson said.
Indeed, many of the Spanish students began to learn English at the age of two, and some of their high school classes are taught in English.
According to the school’s website, at the fifth-grade level, students are reading works like “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville and “The Fellowship of the Ring,” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Thus, by the time the Spanish students get to their sophomore and junior high school years they’ve grown comfortable with the language.
But being around the Spanish students has also helped the language skills of the Niskayuna students.
Several Niskayuna students said that just having a chance to listen to their Spanish counterparts speak to one another has helped them to become more familiar with the language.
This effect will be exponentially multiplied when the Niskayuna students visit Spain in April.
“It’s humbling to see them travel . . . they start to recognize the limitations of their own language,” Malkis said.