Melbourn students stranded in Spain due to French strike action
PUBLISHED: 16:08 13 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:41 14 May 2019
Students and staff on Melbourn Village College's annual Year 8 trip to Spain were stranded for 48 hours due to the strike by air traffic controllers in France last week.
Members of staff working for DSNA - the national air-navigation provider - stopped work from 7pm local time on Wednesday, until 6am on Friday, as part of a wider national protest by public servants in France against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to reform working conditions.
The 45 students, aged 12 and 13, were stuck along with staff in Bilbao for two days after their flight home was cancelled twice due to being unable to use French air space.
"We managed to find a hotel to accept 50, but it was 45 minutes away," said deputy principal Regina Lawrence, who was running the trip. "Fortunately, the hotel owner was wonderful."
Then it was back to the airport for a flight home - only to find it was cancelled again. So it was off to another hotel, this time 1½ hours away, arriving at 1.30am.
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After breakfast, it was back to the airport where - after an hour's delay - the students and staff were on a plane to Manchester before embarking on a Friday afternoon drive to Melbourn.
"The students should be really proud of themselves. They coped really well and will be stronger and more resilient as a result," said Mrs Lawrence. "There were cheers as we arrived at The Moor. The students were fantastic."
José Herrera, the Spanish co-ordinator of the visit, added: "This experience was the most difficult and challenging set of circumstances in the time I've been organising trips for English students."
The students participated in Spanish lessons with native speakers as well as meeting up with others from a local school, where they participated in either football or flamenco, as well as preparing presentations in Spanish.
In addition, the group enjoyed visits to the El Soplao caves, a trip into the mountains - complete with a mountain stew meal - a workshop at the Capricho de Gaudi, a visit to the medieval village of Santillana del Mar - where learning to make fire and tasting paella were among the activities - a day at the Cabárceno Wildlife Park, and a treasure hunt where students had to use their speaking skills to ask local people for information.
"Despite the challenges at the end, it was a really brilliant trip and everyone enjoyed all the planned activities," added Mrs Lawrence.