At the end of March, Café Olé, the Dillingham High School Spanish and French club, took a whirlwind trip through France and Spain.
In 10 days, 13 students and five chaperones traveled through Paris, Versailles, Avignon, Provence, Nimes, Carcasonne, Barcelona and Madrid.
This was the first trip outside of Alaska for high school senior Dorothy Bavilla. Before she left, she was most looking forward to seeing Notre Dame.
When they toured the cathedral, organ music and a voice singing vespers cut through the hum of tourists and camera clicks.
“It was mind blowing,” Bavilla said. “I was getting lost in there literally and mentally.”
For Liam Wright, another Dillingham senior, an excursion to the top of the Eiffel tower was the highlight.
“It was late at night, totally dark. It was raining really hard,” Wright said. “You think you feel it start to lean every time you take a step. It’s really nerve-wracking, but it’s really still a beautiful view even through the mist and the rain.”
French teacher Mariah Smith and Spanish teacher Andria Budbill have been planning this trip for more than a year.
“A huge thing I was so impressed with is the language they got to experience,” Smith said. “What are they going to do in the future? Well hopefully travel, and then they learned all the language behind that.”
For 12 of the 13 students this trip was their first trip outside of the United States. Learning to navigate cities as large as Paris and Barcelona was one of the biggest hurdles, Smith said.
“It’s just city life is different, so getting on metros and trying to push through crowds versus trying to be polite,” she said. “You kind of have to be a little forceful, and I think that was the hardest part.”
Bavilla grins as she tells about one particular metro ride.
“In Paris, I chose the wrong day to wear slippers,” she said. “I didn’t know we were going on the metro. It’s pretty rushed. Either you go or you don’t. I got shoved. It was pretty crazy, and then I lost the right side of my slipper.”
Experiences like that one helped Bavilla overcome her pre-trip anxieties about travel.
“The sights and the excitement of going to a specific place like Paris and then passing through France to go to Spain, soothes down the worries and it really helped me in a bunch of ways,” she said.
Wright has lived in Dillingham his entire life.
He’s grown up fishing the world’s largest sockeye fishery and exploring Bristol Bay’s rivers, mountains, and tundra.
For him this trip shifted his perception, not just of countries across the ocean, but also of his hometown.
“I’m still realizing how much it’s opened up my mind. I’m realizing more and more how small Dillingham is,” Wright said. “There are a lot more people than I usually visualize when I think of the world population. It does make me kind of glad to be from here that I have that perspective that I can compare going someplace crazy like Paris or Barcelona to.”
The group returned April 2, and the students say that they are still getting caught up on schoolwork and sleep.
But there’s no question the time spent raising the money for the trip and working on their French and Spanish was worth it for the sights, the sounds and the chocolate and churros.