Sardis secondary student Rachael Schroots won an international bursary from the Spanish government.

From the Moche desert to the Amazon jungle

Rachel Schroots really is a master of languages.

Rachel Schroots really is a master of languages.

At 16 years old, the Grade 11 Sardis secondary student has already conquered French, Braille, and after just a year and a half of Spanish, is well on her way to conquering that language too.

At least, that’s the belief the Spanish government has taken.

Spain has awarded Schroots a six-week, $17,000, study trip this summer through Peru and Spain. She is one of 222 students from around the world to participate in this year’s Ruta Quetzal-BBVA, and the only Canadian student chosen.

This trip is no small potatoes.

Participants will be following in the footsteps of Spanish cleric Baltasar Jaime Martínez Companón, who in 1779 became bishop of Trujillo, Peru. They’ll take advanced courses in language, sociology, anthropology, and will be thrown into an intense sports program. They’ll tour the Moche desert and the Amazon rainforest, and several other places in between. They’ll also meet the King and Queen of Spain.

According to the Ruta Quetzal website, only the best students in each country are chosen.

“I know this is going to change my life,” Schroots said.

Every applicant was required to submit an original piece of historical, literary, artistic or musical work covering one of several pre-designated topics. They were also required to write a formal letter and a one-page description of the project – all in Spanish.

Schroots knew she had to stand out.

For four months, from October to January, she spent her mornings, lunches and after-school hours in Spanish teacher Paola Blaak’s classroom studying, researching, working on the project. She worked on it in the evenings, sometimes as late as 1:30 in the morning, and on weekends too.

“Any free time I had went to this project,” she said. “This was a trip of a lifetime, and I had only one chance to get in, why would I only put in half an effort?”

Schroots focused her project on the Moche culture, but soon discovered they weren’t an easy culture to research.

The Moche, who resided in Peru from 100 to 800 AD, didn’t have a written language.

“I researched for two months,” she said. “It took tons of time, because it’s a really old culture and there was no written language. I couldn’t just do a simple Google search.”

Most of her information came from images of clay pots featuring Moche paintings, engravings and sculptures.

“They were amazing pot makers,” she said. “Everything about them were on their pots, daily gatherings, seal hunts, warriors, their faces.

“I had to study the art in order to understand the culture,” she said. “I learned so much just by looking at those pictures.”

In presenting her project, Schroots built a diorama, which featured a temple, an urban centre, the ocean, the mountains, and key figures in Moche society: a fisherman, pot maker, farmer, jeweler, priest and warrior.

And she didn’t stop there.

She also made the casing of the diorama look like an old book, with the edges carved to look like paper, and the front and back covered in old leather.

She then journaled five-and-a-half typed pages to be inserted on the inner top flap of the box. The journal was that of fictional character Fernando Quintilla’s journey from Spain to the Moche dessert in the 1700s. She wrote about the things he saw in the village, about the people, the houses, their complex irrigation system, what they grew, what they caught, what they ate – everything Schroots, herself, saw depicted on those pots.

“Rachel did Spanish 12 and so much more with this project, and a lot of what she learned was self taught,” said Blaak. “It is so rewarding to find a student who is so enthusiastic about stepping outside the classroom boundaries.”

For Schroots, learning a language is about more than just learning the words.

“It’s about the whole culture and what’s behind it,” she said.

“This trip is showing me the culture. I’m going to be living in Spanish.”

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