Theo, McCarthy organize trip to Spain, Portugal


Neil McCarthy

Former MHS students visit Seville, Spain on a trip in 2011.

Ben Szalinski, Sports Editor

This coming summer from June 5-15, Social Studies Teachers Susan Theotokatos and Neil McCarthy are set to lead a small group of 11 students on a trip to the Iberian Peninsula to explore the history and culture of Spain and Portugal. The group was formed by word-of-mouth information between teachers and students since the leaders could not officially advertise the trip through the school.

This trip is run through EF Tours, so it is a privately organized trip, not a school-sponsored one.

After flying into Lisbon, Portugal, the group plans to take walking tours of the city, including the famous Alfama district, known for its long history and artsy feel. The group will also visit Castelo de São Jorge, or St. George’s Castle, a medieval castle that is one of the oldest sites in the city.

A popular destination many of the participants were looking forward to was Portugal.

“I have not learned about Portugal as in depth as Spain, so I am very excited to experience a new country,” said Senior Sanika Bijawat, one of the three seniors taking the trip.

Theotokatos had a special reason that she is excited to visit Portugal.

“I’m looking forward to going back to Lisbon since it’s been 19 years since I was there on my honeymoon,” said Theotokatos. “The Portuguese people are the friendliest in the world.”

Portugal will even be a new experience for one of the most experienced travelers on the trip.

“I’ve never been to Lisbon, and it’s supposed to be a beautiful city. It’s the most non-European European city,” said McCarthy. “It’s like San Francisco because everything is on hills, and they have cable cars.”

Following this time in Portugal, the group will travel to Seville, Spain, a city known for the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. From there, the group will travel to Cordoba, a city different than others in Spain because of its deep roots as the capital of the Muslim Umayyad Empire. The trip will then conclude with time in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, known for its numerous plazas and very rich Spanish culture.

During free time and during various activities, the travelers will get to experience the full feel of Spanish culture.

“Usually we do lunch as free time, and it’s a great way for kids to explore the cuisine on their own, practice their Spanish and walk around historic centers of the city and soak up the culture,” said Theotokatos.

Theotokatos added that she “really loves to experience other cultures and engage and interact with locals and find out what makes them ‘tick’.”

The students are guaranteed to have plenty of time to interact with the locals. One of McCarthy’s primary jobs on the trip is to find locals with whom to interact. McCarthy said he has lots of friends around the world because of a job he used to have with the State Department, so he tries to contact them to get the group a more insider’s perspective.

“Part of our trip is unplanned. We’ll get lost in these towns to try to figure out the town and just bump into something that would’ve been totally unplanned,” said McCarthy.

A common theme both leaders reiterated was how it’s an amazing opportunity for them as teachers to watch students connect with what they learned in class and see it first-hand.

“The highlights are, of course, famous events (and places) taught in class. They connect what they learned and literally touch the building. It’s so thrilling as teachers. It’s like a teacher’s high,” McCarthy said, adding that he personally loves seeing places a second time and gaining a new perspective since he has travelled to many places around the world before.

This opportunity is also being considered a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip for participants and a chance to do something big for seniors before going to college. Regardless of age, it will be an experience that everyone will remember forever.

“I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to go. I am fascinated by the Spanish language and culture, and when this opportunity arose, I could not let it pass,” said Bijawat. “I have always wanted to explore Europe, and there is no better way than to do it with my teachers and friends.”