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I somehow thought this year’s Spanish exchange with our High school would not get off the ground.

The economic gloom coming out of Spain, in particular, has been fairly dire for the past few years and one of the most affected sections of that society has been young people. They are struggling to find employment, whether or not their education has included studying at a university.

The figures being circulated for youth unemployment are around 50 perc ent which is really quite drastic. All credit, then, to the students and teachers from the High school in Nules, about 20 miles north of Valencia, for continuing to support this long-running association.

A party of 15 spent a week here, being hosted by families living in the town or its surrounding villages. It was only when

I had a chance to talk with the staff that I began to appreciate why the Spanish youngsters and their parents were so keen that every effort was made to fulfil what has become a regular annual commitment.

The bottom line, especially now, is the determination of many Spanish students to learn to speak English. This may well have been a fairly high priority in the past any way but with the current job situation it has become a really big factor.

In the new Europe, if you can’t find work where you live and were educated, you seek it elsewhere. The Spanish teachers were quite forceful in explaining that a whole generation was changing its attitude regarding their futures because opportunities at home were just so limited.

These young people, unlike their parents, are having to scour the various networks looking for openings abroad. Germany is quite favoured but so are the UK and America.

Taking part in a language exchange programme of the type they have just experienced may only be a small step along the way, but I’ve no doubt it has helped provide them all with a big boost in their self-confidence. That will be invaluable in facing the challenges which lie ahead.

And we as a town can be very proud of the fact that our High school and College, through the persistence of Head of Languages Anne Prentis, has been able to maintain such strong links with schools in the Valencia region for over 20 years now.

I was fortunate enough to have a recent birthday celebrated in the company of some terrific jazz musicians at one of their regular monthly gigs at the Hempton Bell. Three of the sextet who were playing that evening are founder members of the very successful Dixie Mix Jazz Band who have really come to the fore over the past year.

In early January the band spent a couple of days together recording its new CD entitled Please Form an Orderly Queue. Well known as supporters of a number of charities, Dixie Mix will be premiering the CD live at the Forum in Norwich on March

2 to raise funds for the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind. T

ickets cost £15 and can be

booked through the NNAB on 01603 629558 or the Theatre Royal on 01603 630000.