Helias Catholic H.S. hosts visiting students from Spain, Italy


Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City has a few new faces, as the community has hosted visiting students from Spain and Italy.

Thirteen visiting students hail from Navalmoral de la Mata, Spain, and are members of Whitney English Academy, an after-school enrichment program operated by a Helias Catholic alumna, Whitney Griffin.

They are also joined by one student from Italy.

The academy is now in its fifth year.

“I never thought I would live in Spain,” Ms. Griffin said.

“I think even my Spanish teachers here would have probably thought I would have been the last person working in a different country, especially with Spanish,” she added. “... A lot of people told me growing up that I would be a really good teacher, but I never really wanted to be a teacher. But ultimately that’s what happened.”

This is the second time students from the academy have visited the United States, and Ms. Griffin said she hopes it can become an every-other-year occurrence and possibly become an exchange program with students from Helias Catholic.

During their time here, students have been visiting parts of Jefferson City, including the State Capitol, attending classes at Helias Catholic, visiting the Lake of the Ozarks, spending time with their host families and doing normal day-to-day activities.

Matteo Chignoli, the lone Italian student, said his favorite thing so far has been spending time at the school.

Alvaro Martinez said he has loved feeling like a part of the school and like one of the family in his host home.

Alvaro’s host mom, Lacy Ralston, agrees that Alvaro has fit right in.

“I have three young boys, and they’ve enjoyed having a big brother,” Mrs. Ralston said.

The boys have taught Alvaro how to throw an American football and play wiffle ball, and Alvaro has taught them a little Spanish and some soccer skills.

Ana Blanco said she liked spending time on the Lake, and host sibling Frances Grellner said she’s been enjoying learning about the visiting students’ culture.

There have been a number of surprises for the students, as well.

Adriana Lozano said the schedule came as a shock. She is used to waking up around noon and eating lunch around 3 p.m. and supper around 10 p.m. — a typical Spanish meal schedule.

Sometimes, when she overslept, her host mom came into the room and sang a song to wake her up.

She must have a good voice, said teacher Cortes Gonzalez: “It hasn’t rained that much. We say in Spain that when someone sings (badly) it rains.”

Ana said she was surprised to find that nearly every building here is air-conditioned.

“The (drinking) water is really cold, and people still put ice in it,” she said with a laugh.

Another thing that surprised Adriana was Americans’ use of taxidermy to decorate their walls. Host sibling Cora Steinlage recounted what she said when she first saw deer heads on the walls: “She walked in the house, and she was like, ‘How do you sleep at night?’”

The cuisine has been a journey of discovery as well. Matteo said American food is not to his taste, since it is based around fast food and isn’t very healthy.

“I love fast food, so it’s not a problem,” Alvaro said, particularly Culver’s and Chick-Fil-A.

Adriana enjoyed soft pretzels and strawberry Pop Tarts, and Ana loved Goldfish crackers so much that she wanted to take some back with her.

And while the students had plenty of different ideas about the flavors of Pop Tarts they liked best and the activities that have been the most fun, there were a few things they agreed on.

The American students said they wanted to visit Spain in the future, and the visiting students from Spain and Italy said they wished they could stay longer.

The students arrived Aug. 13 and left Aug. 31.

They planned to spend a few days in New York after leaving Jefferson City.

Ms. Campbell is a reporter for the Jefferson City News-Tribune (newstribune.com). A version of this article was published Aug. 25 in the News-Tribune and is republished here with permission.