Cultural Exchange with Buenos Aires: Argentinian Students Visit Andover

The variety of food options at Paresky Commons and discussion-based classes were only two of many surprises awaiting visiting Argentinian high school students last week. From May 13 to May 17, students from the English Institute in Argentina arrived on campus to experience the Andover student life.

This exchange program is part of “¡Relindo! Language and Cultural Immersion in Buenos Aires, Argentina,” a Learning in the World Program. Rachel Hyland, Instructor in Spanish and a Program Director of the immersion program, said that the visit allowed Andover students to build relationships with their peers. In July, these Andover and Argentinian students will meet once again, when Learning in the World travels to Buenos Aires for three weeks.

Megane Bantefa ’19, a member of the immersion trip, said, “It was fun to show them all of my classes and just how a typical day at Andover is. They were just really excited, because they’ve never seen a school like this before. They always talked about the choices that we have at [Paresky] Commons.”

Michelle Franco, an exchange student from Argentina, was surprised by the amount of freedom students have at Andover as well as the kindness that Andover students showed the visiting group.

Franco said that she was also surprised by the 5:00 p.m. meal times, a large contrast to the 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. pm dinners that are more custom in Argentina.

“[The exchange] was such a beautiful experience, meeting new people every day, talking, sharing interests, moments… I decided to participate because I thought it would be an unforgettable experience, and I wasn’t wrong. I practiced my English and everything I’ve studied before,” wrote Franco in an email to The Phillipian.

Franco continued, “My favorite part of the experience was meeting all the [Andover students], learning more about the students who travel to Argentina in summer and meeting those who are not in the program, who treated us very well despite having never seen us [before].”

Franco said that it is important to participate in exchange programs because they expose students to new cultures and new people. In addition, Franco said that these programs teach students how to handle themselves and learn in new environments.

Like Bantefa, Sophie Huang ’20 will be an Andover student participating in the Learning in the World trip to Argentina.

Huang said, “[The Argentinian students] definitely noticed that Andover is not a typical American high school, because they also went to Andover High [School]. They thought it was really cool how our classes were so discussion based, and it was really impressive that they could keep up. I remember they were in [Religion Philosophy] class with us and we talked really fast, but they still got the general gist of it.”

Huang continued, “They thought it was really cool that we had EBI [Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion curriculum]. That’s something that they have never seen before, and the EBI that they came to was my class when we discussed the [The Phillipian’s] State of the Academy, which was super cool for them. They thought that the amount of independence and freedom we get in our classes was really cool.”

Harrison Wilson ’20 said he enjoyed meeting the Argentinian students, especially as someone who takes Spanish 411.

“I found it really interesting to hear about their school experiences and interactions with American culture that are vastly different than their own and their own school schedules and activities from Andover,” said Wilson.

Wilson continued, “I value cultural exchange. I find that I can discover so much about another way of life and other cultures through these types of exchanges. Through various programs, people can expand their language skills astronomically. It’s incomprehensible how much language skills can improve, and honestly I feel like these programs really just connect to the world.”

During the Learning in the World trip, students will not only travel but Buenos Aires but also live with host families, attend language classes, and participate in excursions on weekends. According to the Tang Institute website, some of these activities include tango dance lessons, museum trips, a tour of the La Boca neighborhood, and a river boat ride on the El Tigre.

“I had been thinking about bringing students to Argentina for a while. It’s the place I studied abroad. I went back there for two summers of graduate school, and I always wanted to take students there. So last year, I met with the director of Learning in the World and started researching how I could take students,” said Hyland.

The trip will be completely immersive, and students must sign a Spanish-only pledge before travelling outside the U.S. From Monday to Friday every week, students will attend language school in the morning from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm. According to Hyland, the group will also visit the exchange students’ school, the English Institute, on six different afternoons.

“I think cultural competence is such an important skill, and it’s difficult to teach in the classroom, so getting outside the classroom and spending time in another country and meeting people from a really different culture is so important and then of course there’s a language piece. Our program is total immersion, so for three weeks, students will speak only in Spanish and that will really help their language skills,” said Hyland.

Hyland continued, “I think forming relationships with people in another country, they’re going to meet people that they’re going to stay in touch with for years to come. Of course, improving their language skills and independence, being uncomfortable, those are really valuable experiences that can be quite formative when you’re in high school.”

Bantefa and Huang said they both feel nervous about living with a host family.

“I’ve never lived for three weeks with a family I don’t know, so I’m a little nervous about living with my host family and connecting with them, especially in a different language,” said Bantefa.

“I’ve never lived with a host family. I’m a little nervous, especially because of the language barrier and it’s three weeks, so that’s going to be interesting,” said Huang.

Bantefa continued, “I’m looking forward to practicing my Spanish because we’re only allowed to speak Spanish there. Just being more immersed in the culture and experiencing everything around me, and also meeting new people.”