Seeley-Swan High School's Spanish Club members at the Pyramids at Tenochitlan in Mexico. Standing back, from left: Stephanie Johnson, Jamie Richards, Summer Cocks, Becky Kyle, Carrie Johnson, Annaliese Penya, Angie Marshall. Kneeling front, from left: James Meixner, Wade Christianson and Sarah Wilkins.
by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
May 14, 1998
Ten juniors and seniors in Seeley Lake's high school Spanish Club recently returned home after a ten-day trip to Mexico where they wholeheartedly embraced another culture, bargained for goods at the marketplace, walked on the beach at Acapulco, and came home hungry for more.
"I want to go back," Becky Kyle said, echoing the feelings of most of the rest of the teens.
The students who were able to take part in the tourincluding Kyle, Annaliese Pena, Wade Christianson, Carrie Johnson, Stephanie Johnson, Summer Cocks, Sarah Wilkins, James Meixner, and Jamie Richards from Seeley Swan High School, and Angie Marshall from Big Sky in Missoulapaid $1400 each to take part in the educational tour. They were accompanied by high school Spanish teacher, Kim Koppen, and parent/chaperone, Judy Cocks, who also speaks fluent Spanish.
For an entire year, the students in the Club organized fundraisers and raised money to pay half their fares for the trip.
"We'd really like to thank the community for all the support they
gave," Koppen said.
Taxco, Mexico's Silver City, was one stop on the students' itinerary.
Students had to come up with their own money to pay the other half of the tour expenses, plus spending money. One of the stipulations of the trip was that each student also have at least two years of Spanish, and they must have been Koppen's student for at least one year.
"It really paid off," Koppen said recently. The students, she said, were able to speak the language fluently and used it in all the hotels, in the marketplace and during the tours.
These exuberent teenagers counted down the hours before they left Seeley Lake on April 9. They flew from Missoula to Houston, then on to Mexico City, Taxco City and Acapulco. Once they were on the road to Mexico, they "cowboyed right up," according to Judy Cocks, and they tried to be a part of the Mexican culture, at least for a few days. According to Cocks, the teens "just took it in, accepted it, and enjoyed every part of it."
"The students saw things they hadn't seen before. They saw some good, they saw some bad. They took it all in," Cocks said. "They learned that the world's different from Seeley Lake. It helps them to appreciate what's outside, and what's at home."
And what was it that impressed these kids most about Mexico?
It's crowded, they said.
"Anytime you'd walk somewhere, there'd always be someone rubbing up against you," Annaliese Pena said, and others agreed. The crowds were a little different, depending on whether they were in the marketplace at Mexico City, the silver-mining city of Taxco, or the sandy beaches of Acapulco. In Mexico City, the American girls were noticed in the crowds.
"Everybody would stop and whistle," Jamie Richards said. Even the toothless taxi drivers and the police, she said. "They'd just stare and whistle."
Judy Cocks, whose mother grew up in Northern Mexico, laughed at the story. "It's the Latin way," she said.
The teens enjoyed the marketplace in Mexico City. "Bargaining was so fun," Jamie Richards said. The students all bought souvenirs, mostly jewelry, blankets and hammocks.
"All they wanted to do was go barter at the market," Judy
Cocks said. "They ate that right up."
While in Mexico City, they also stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe, took in the ballet, saw the hanging gardens, and visited the nearby Tenochitlan Pyramids. They toured beautiful churches in every city.
Authentic Mexican mealsrefried beans, lots of chicken, and homemade bread dailywas the food of choice. They enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice every morning at breakfast, and lots of scrambled eggs and salsa.
From their hotel in Taxco City, the Montana kids could look out upon mountains similar to their own, except that they were covered with houses and tiny, one-way, cobblestone streets.
At Acapulco, the last stop on their Mexican tour, they exhausted themselves with activities like parasailing, horseback riding on the beach, snorkeling, and a cruise ship ride.
Carrie Johnson even made the local newspaper. While parasailing, she became stuck in crosswinds and had to stay in the air for more than half an hour.
Acapulco was the best part of the trip, according to most of the teens. It was the most American of the cities they visited, and offered amenities like a MacDonald's and a huge disco, where the girls got in free and were presented with roses. "It was so big, it was like a whole other city," Sarah Wilkins commented.
Back home, students quickly pointed out some of the differences between Mexico and the U.S.
"It's so quiet here, and everything is clean," Annaliese Pena said.
And they had to stop themselves from speaking Spanish everywhere they went. They tried speaking Spanish in Houston, but Americans, they said, weren't impressed.
And what was the worst part of the trip?
"Not getting that second look," Becky Kyle said longingly.
She, and the other juniors in the group, have tentatively agreed to plan a second trip to Mexico. You can bet they'll immerse themselves even more in the culture when they return for that "second" look.