Argentine exchange program closing in on 20 years

Carly Buckman, Reporter

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If the experience of past exchange students is any indication, the students traveling to Wisconsin are in for a life-changing experience.  

October 13th marks the 19th year that the exchange students from two different schools in Argentina- Liceo Aeronautico Militar in Funes, Santa Fe, and San Ramon in Rosario, Santa Fe- travel to Wisconsin for yet another exchange.  

This year, 20 students will participate.  Like previous years, Craig High School & Parker High School families will sign up to host the exchange students.  

One of these students is Lourdes Agosto, who will arrive this October.

“I heard about the exchange last year because one of my friends went on the exchange and I loved the idea immediately!” Lourdes said.  “So when I found out I had gotten the opportunity to go on the exchange, I was so excited and so was my family! I had worked really hard to get the grades that I needed in order to go on the exchange.  It was so awesome when I found out that I get to go.”

Another student, Agustina, who participated in the exchange two years ago, knows that it is a privilege to take part in the exchange and sees it as a great opportunity.

“The idea of meeting new people and getting to know and learn about a different culture was very exciting to me,” she said. “I wanted to know and experience what life was like in the United States.  Plus, it was an opportunity that is not given to everyone.”  

Lourdes Agosto experienced how selective the program is. “There were almost 20 of us at my school that wanted to participate in the exchange, but only ten of us get to go to Wisconsin because we had to have good enough grades and good behavior in order to participate in the exchange,” she said.

Lourdes should expect to build a lasting relationship with her host family, according to Agustina.

“Meeting my host family was pretty awesome,” Austina she said.  “Even though it is very difficult for me to keep in contact via text, I feel like my host family will stay in my heart forever.  The places we visited together, the trips to the mall, are part of the memories I will carry with me for years. I truly think that is the best part of the experience of an exchange; getting to know people and learning new things.”  

Agustina recommends the program. 

“I felt welcomed,” she said.  “I was treated very kindly and I got to know beautiful places.  Also, experiencing life in other countries is very fulfilling. The more I know, the easier it is for me to decide what makes me happy and what I want from life.” 

The experience is life-changing for the hosts as well.

Craig sophomore, Esther Jung, hosted a student last year and plans to do the same this year.  

“It is truly an amazing experience to spend time with another person your age with a totally different culture than you while discovering differences and similarities at the same time,” she said.  

Jung found that the benefits extend beyond learning a new culture.

“I connected with someone from the other half of the world, and I made memories with someone that I now call my friend,”  she said. “My favorite part…was how close we were in the end. First, we were complete strangers and she lived with my family for two weeks and now she is family.”

The student-teacher exchange program was started in the year 2000 by Jane Thompson, former Spanish teacher at Parker High School and retired Dean of Students from Rock University High School.

“The purpose when we first started the exchange was to seek opportunities for Janesville students to communicate across cultures.  In connecting with Argentina, we learned that our countries and cities have much in common. Students in both countries gain new perspectives, develop curiosity, navigate understanding another culture, and find the commonalities that draw us together,” she said. 

Craig world language teacher Ms. Baier de Garcia joined the exchange in 2006 and continues to be a sustaining force for the exchange.

Thompson believes the program has many benefits for students.

“This short-term exchange program is so important because it fosters peaceful communication and understanding across cultures,” she said.  “Participating students experience ‘self-development’ and awareness that in turn leads to enhanced self-confidence and self-esteem… It helps us all view the world with a different lens.  It broadens our horizons and we gain skills in negotiating meaning and dealing with ambiguous situations. In the end, students and families who are over 5,000 miles apart develop friendships that last a lifetime.”

Thompson said, “Having the experience to travel is life-changing.  As a guest in Argentina, you are quickly taken into the family as another member of the family.  Family is the most important part of Argentine life. While visiting schools, I see how… they all become great friends who care about one another.”

Any student interested in hosting an exchange student this year, or in traveling to Argentina this summer, should see Mrs. Baier de Garcia for more information about the Exchange Program.

The students from Argentina who visited Craig in 2018 found their experience to be life-changing.