Alex Biddle, a Rustic Pathways program manager in the Dominican Republic, uses her Spanish on a daily basis. While she manages service projects and oversees adventure programs, she frequently has to think on her feet and switch between two languages.

Alex hasn’t always spoken Spanish, though. She began to learn the language during a ten-month gap year experience in Spain, which included living with a local family and figuring out how to communicate by immersing herself in the local culture.

Rustic’s Spanish Immersion and Service Gap Year program provides similar opportunities for students, who can learn and hone their language skills while traveling through three countries—the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Peru. The program allows students the unique opportunity to spend a week in the homes of local families to improve their Spanish skills and compare the differences between each distinct version of the language.

Alex dances during staff training in the Dominican Republic.

Alex dances during staff training in the Dominican Republic.

Alex continued studying the language when she majored in Spanish Linguistics at Ohio State University, but her gap year experience prepared to apply Spanish in everyday situations far better than her classroom instruction did.

In Pamplona, Alex had to figure out how to communicate with her host family, navigate an unfamiliar city, and order food before she had the necessary language skills. These daily conversations—the same types of interactions she observes among gap year students in the Dominican—provided the rich cultural exchange opportunities that helped her become fluent and get a head start on her Spanish degree in college.


If you’re curious about Spanish Immersion and Service or another gap semester, schedule a visit with one of our regional program experts like Alex.

About the Author

Casey Atchley

Gap Year Admissions Coordinator

Casey received his bachelor’s from Indiana University in Spanish literary translation and philosophy. Between years of undergrad, he took a gap year to volunteer as a volcano tour guide and English teacher in Nicaragua. With exceptional bilingual communication and leadership, he has managed summer programs in Costa Rica and Rustic Pathways outreach in Europe. A new member of the Gap Year team, he now works with students planning their own gap years.