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The Westminster Bi-Line

Argentines welcomed by school, community, country

On Jan. 30, 17 new students who had made a collective 42,500-mile journey from Holy Trinity College in Mar Del Plata to Atlanta were welcomed into the Westminster community. The first part of the Argentine Exchange Program had begun: Westminster students and their families hosted students from Argentina for about three weeks in the spring. During the summer, participants from Westminster will travel to Argentina for the other portion of the exchange. Throughout their stay, the Argentine students were able to experience American culture and daily life, as well as compare Argentine customs to those they experienced in Atlanta. The program is a meaningful way for participants–exchange students and hosts alike–to develop relationships and create memories that will no doubt last longer than the program itself.

Of the 17 Argentines who participated, 15 were hosted by high school students, and two were hosted by junior high students. The 15 Argentine students in the high school ranged from freshmen to seniors. Although it was summer in Argentina, and most of their friends were enjoying a long vacation, the exchange students attended classes. While the students initially followed their hosts around school, they eventually immersed themselves in a curriculum specifically created to provide a well-rounded Westminster experience, with an emphasis on developing English language skills. The Argentines took five classes daily, including two English classes–one in which they were immersed in an existing class of Westminster students, and one of which was taught by English teacher Geoffrey Sudderth and composed of all Argentine students. The other three classes were chosen by the students, and ranged from Art to Biology, depending on each student’s specific interests.

“Although the students are not graded on their work and do not receive credit for the courses they take here,” said Sofia Walcott, director of the Argentine Exchange Program, “Westminster helps them not only to become more fluent in English but to also better comprehend the style of the language as a whole.”

When not in class, the Argentine students frequently visited the campus center, where they partook in friendly ping-pong matches or socialized with Westminster and other Argentine students. The student body was welcoming of the Argentines; many Westminster students were seen going out of their way to introduce themselves and directing exchange students to their next class to help the Argentines feel a part of the community.

“My favorite thing about Westminster is that everybody is so friendly,” said Argentine senior Andrea Ortiz. “I really feel like I am welcome, and I have made so many new friends since I arrived!”

Off campus, the Argentines visited Atlanta landmarks, including Stone Mountain, The Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca-Cola, The High Museum of Art, and The CNN Center. While some of these outings were organized and chaperoned by Westminster faculty, other experiences–for example, attending an Atlanta Hawks game–were provided by the host families. In addition, host families exposed their exchange students to some of Atlanta’s most popular restaurants. The Argentines were able to taste American classics like New York style pizza and authentic southern barbecue. Another exchange highlight included a Super Bowl party hosted by junior and program participant Margret Strickland and her family.

“It was really great showing [the Argentines] a piece of American culture that has to be experienced to fully understand,” said Strickland.

While most of the exchange students were unable to follow what was unfolding on the field, they were all able to relate to another aspect of the Super Bowl: the commercials.

“I had heard so many kids talking about the great advertisements, but I didn’t believe that people could actually watch TV just for the commercials,” said junior Sofia Marti. “I was finally able to see what everyone was talking about when I watched [the commercials] for myself! ”

When not on campus or participating in group excursions, the Argentines spent most of their time with their hosts, either following them to extracurricular activities, or simply getting to know one another on a more personal level.

“By the time Rochi left, we had spent so much time together, that I felt like she was a part of my family,” said Strickland.

Another piece of American culture, the shopping mall, played an important part in the Argentines’ experience. As a group, the Argentine students were often found shopping together at Lenox Mall, which became their most popular meeting place.

The language barrier that often exists in an exchange program was not an inconvenience because every student who came to Atlanta was conversant in English.

“I hardly ever had a problem,” said junior host Tyler Mitchell. “Occasionally, I would have to explain a slang term, but all in all, I was able to speak English for almost the entire three weeks with little ambiguity.”

The program was created with the language element in mind.

“We started the program to appeal to all Westminster students, whether they take Spanish or not,” said Walcott. “Although some Spanish experience is recommended, the purpose of the trip is for the Argentine students to improve their English, not to speak Spanish with their hosts.”

Although the Argentines have completed their program and left for home as of Feb. 17, several of the participants from Westminster will be reunited with their Argentine exchange students when they travel to Argentina this summer to be American exchange students.

“Saying goodbye to my exchange student was not nearly as emotional for me as it was for others in the program,” said Mitchell, “because I knew that in just a few months, I would be seeing him again, only as a visitor rather than a host.”

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