Mackenzie Grapes is a Putney Program Director who organizes our programs in Spain. She recently spent several weeks there researching, reconnecting with our longtime contacts, and finalizing details for this summer’s programs. Here are her reflections.

Greetings from the picturesque shores of the Mediterranean as I wrap up my final evening in Spain, reflecting on a truly enriching programming trip. In my role as Program Director, the privilege of annually exploring a destination where I orchestrate programs is a highlight, and this year’s adventure led me to the vibrant landscapes of Spain. As I sift through memories of the journey—pondering my meticulously planned itinerary, envisioning the goals for each locale, contemplating ideas for future Language Spain groups, and integrating new activities—I am reminded that the essence of this experience lies in the relationships cultivated over the past two weeks.

A profound moment of clarity arose during a lighthearted conversation with a local shop owner about the intricacies of Spanish culture—meal times, vocabulary nuances, and the subtle distinctions between Jamón Serrano and Ibérico. The simple yet profound realization struck me: “somos iguales, somos humanos.” This sentiment, born from the exchange of ideas during a delightful 20-minute discussion, underscored the immeasurable fortune I feel to have studied Spanish language, enabling conversations with individuals on the other side of the Atlantic. It serves as a poignant reminder of the beauty that lies in our commonality, transcending geographical boundaries and cultural differences. To engage in meaningful conversations with individuals embracing a way of life distinct from mine is a privilege, one that I hold dear, and a sentiment that we hope for Language Spain students to experience as well.

As I pen these reflections on the final night of my programming trip, the resonance of “full circle” reverberates. While I had set specific goals for my time in Spain, the overarching objective was not merely to reacquaint myself with the country or craft a fresh itinerary, as in past trips. Instead, the paramount goal this time was to strengthen meaningful connections with our esteemed contacts, a goal that, I am delighted to declare, has been wholeheartedly achieved.

Each programming trip, whether to Puerto Rico, Australia, or Fiji, has possessed a unique aura, reflective of the distinct countries or regions where they unfolded. Yet, Spain occupies a special place in my heart. Having lived there for two years, it is not an uncharted territory but rather a familiar haven, much like nestling into the recliner in the corner of my big sister’s living room during cherished long weekends and holidays. Spain, like that recliner, is a realm where familiarity and history converge.

Throughout this journey, a conscious emphasis was placed on sharing who we are as an organization, providing our contacts with a glimpse into the faces and stories that drive Putney Student Travel. I took pride in sharing photos of Putney’s founders, Kitty and George Shumlin, and of our team bonding over hikes and lighthearted moments in the office.

Sharing details about our partner organizations often elicited wide-eyed astonishment and enthusiastic exclamations of “¡madre mia!” Showcasing the heart of our organization, the core values we stand for, and the legacy we are proud to carry, deepens the bond with our local contacts, in Spain and around the world. It provides them with a profound understanding of our goals, fostering a sense of camaraderie and encouraging them to align with our mission, setting us apart from the myriad groups they engage with throughout the year.

In reaffirming a sentiment often expressed, it truly is these longstanding relationships that distinguish our summer programs from others and infuse the unique alchemy we fondly refer to as the “Putney Magic.” It’s not just a catchphrase; it’s a lived reality, and as I’ve said before, it’s the people!


Click here to learn more about our Language Spain program.