For fifteen days, Christopher Dobson, Alessandro Catani and Eider de la Caridad Gonzalez will be studying with Ibon and Janire at Zornotzako Barnetegia. They’ve come to the Basque Country from Scotland, Italy and Cuba to continue a journey they began in their countries of origin. After attending Basque language and culture classes at the universities of Edinburgh, Bologna and La Habana respectively, they’ll now have the opportunity to learn about our culture first-hand. They won’t be the only ones. Throughout the summer 23 international students will study at Zornotzako Barnetegia thanks to scholarships funded by the Etxepare Basque Institute.
Christopher, Alessandro and Eider are beginners. They have six hours of class a day, but also the option to take part in all kinds of recreational activities to learn about the Basque culture first-hand: excursions to emblematic sites, a visit to a cider house, txalaparta classes and traditional dances ... "We feel like we’re at summer camp," said Christopher. Last Thursday they went to a cider house and the next day a few of the students made jokes about needing an extra shot of coffee the next day. They are fortunate in that several foreigners have joined the beginning level, which means they’ve been able to go on more excursions and get to know the heart of the Basque Country. "We don’t stop for a minute. Our days are jam-packed but it’s really fun. Time just flies by," said Alessandro.
Alessandro is Italian and 22 years old. He had no particular relationship with the Basque Country, but began to learn Basque at university. "It´s a very particular language, but it´s always good to study new things, and even more so if it´s something so different." Although he is exhausted at the end of the day, he says he is pleased. "I´m glad because there´s always something new to do." He says that he still can’t speak Basque very well but that he’s getting better. When we asked him what his favourite word was in Euskera, he said “Bederatzi” (nine). I still don’t know many words, but I love how this number sounds,” he added.
Eider came to Zornotza from Cuba. She has family in the Basque Country, but that is not why she decided to learn Basque. She likes that the language seems so different and peculiar. "My studies have nothing to do with languages, but I had this opportunity and decided to take advantage of it." In her opinion “studying something that is not well known" and "finding your way in different environments and cultures is always a good thing". Through the Basque language and culture reader at the University of Havana, she learned about a language course in the Basque Country with scholarships made available by the Institute and decided to sign up. She does not regret her decision. The students have a lot of class hours, but she says it is a lot of fun. In the evenings they usually have activities and do not like to miss any of them. "The people are very nice, but compared to the Caribbean, Basques are a bit cold-blooded," she laughs.
Christopher, a 22-year-old from Scotland, started studying Spanish at university because he likes European languages. After a few years, his Spanish teacher, who also taught Basque, encouraged him to try the language. He soon realized that it was "very different compared to the other languages in Europe". Christopher says that the classes are fun and looks back fondly on the recent excursion he took to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. "I love ‘Game of Thrones’ so it was impressive to see the countryside used in the series."
A fascinating variety of stories come together at Zornotza in summer. People from around the world all looking toward the same goal: to learn and enjoy the Basque Country and its language.