Leo Dircks was a seventh-grader at Minnetonka Middle School East when he attended an informational meeting about his school’s upcoming Xperitas language immersion program to Spain. Leo away walked from the meeting inspired and determined to participate the following year. When he got home that evening, he told his mom, Amy, about his desire to go on a Spanish immersion program. She was not too keen on the idea at first, telling him, “I don’t think you’re going overseas on your own.” But Leo was not deterred and kept asking.
Eventually, Leo’s parents asked him to write an essay explaining why he wanted to travel abroad on a language immersion program. Leo took their assignment as a personal challenge, and he crafted a well-thought-out essay in which he stressed the lifechanging opportunities an Xperitas program would provide. He would make new friends; live with a host family; and experience independence. Furthermore, Leo promised to pay half of the cost of the program, through a combination of fundraising and working. Upon reading his essay, Leo’s parents agreed to go to the next informational parent meeting with Leo. Amy was reassured when she learned how detailed and organized Xperitas programs are, and that we ensure safety while providing lifechanging, educational immersion experiences.
Leo and Amy used their experience fundraising for his baseball club to develop a fundraising plan for his Spanish program. Together, Amy and Leo decided to bake cookies and sell them to members of his community. With help from his parents he created an order form and emailed it everyone they knew, asking to support Leo’s program by purchasing cookies. After borrowing some extra baking equipment from family friends, the entire Dircks family (Leo, his parents, and his younger sister, Julia) spent three days baking about 1,500 cookies!
The family set up a cookie pickup day in October and created a festive event around it. In the end, Leo raised over $1,200 from cookie sales – after expenses! In addition to cookie sales, Leo worked the entire summer before his program. He mowed lawns, completed house projects for his family, and even worked as a baseball umpire. He reached his fundraising goal by making an additional $800 from his summer jobs, mostly from umpiring.
If you ask Leo, the hard work was more than worth it. “I had an amazing time in Spain, made new friends and polished my Spanish language skills. Hands down the best part of the program was the Family Stay.”
Leo told us his host mom was very energetic and fun, and his host brother liked to play the same video games as Leo. The games were a little harder because they were in Spanish, but Leo still won a lot. He also loved going to the local school with his host brother.
Leo's Spanish teacher, Joel Newman, had this to say about the immersion program, and how it positively impacts his students, and how it impacted Leo in particular:
“For many students, the trip to Spain marked the first time being totally immersed in the Spanish-speaking world.After nine years of studying Spanish and learning about Spanish culture, Leo and his classmates were finally able to put their skills to the test and experience life in another part of the world.
For our students, the trip is truly invaluable to their development as speakers of Spanish and as members of our community. Leo returned with greater self-confidence in his language abilities, increased independence and cultural awareness, and authentic, and countless memories made— all of which enrich the education and our community back in Minnesota. For students like Leo, it can be a transformational experience, instilling a desire for future travel and motivating them to continue to hone their second language abilities."
Shortly after returning from the Xperitas program, Leo told his mom that he was saving up to go back to Spain next summer and spend time with his host family. She said, “That’s great, but we are going to need to raise a lot more money, because this time, I am going too.”