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Bogotan exchange student Jero (pronounced "hair-o") is an honorary Utahn. During his eight-day visit to Rowland Hall from his typically spring-like home, he skied twice, and like so many of us local powder hounds, he's hooked.
"I just finished talking to him, and he told me how much he missed skiing," eighth-grader Isabelle Louis said with a smile, a month after her guest returned to Bogotá. Isabelle's family hosted Jero, one of 21 Saint George's School students ages 11 to 14 who visited during the Middle School's Colombian cultural exchange in January. The intercontinental friends still keep in touch via WhatsApp and Instagram, and met thanks to globally minded French and Spanish teacher Campbell Ainsworth. Mr. Ainsworth—who's previously taught in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Zambia—organized the program, the first of its kind in recent Middle School history.
"It helped to open students' eyes to a different perspective, from a different culture," Mr. Ainsworth said. Accordingly, he emphasized the cross-cultural empathy fostered by the exchange program—a lot of middle schoolers, after all, haven't yet had the chance to travel outside of the U.S. "It gives kids at that age a realization that the way we do things—or the way that one kid does things—is not the only way to do it," he said. "Sometimes we forget that because we're caught up in our own lives."
Colombian students, for example, were surprised by how common it is for Americans to quickly finish a meal and move onto the next activity, Mr. Ainsworth said. In Colombia, he explained, meals give friends and family a chance to spend time together and appreciate their food, bite by bite. Students, however, did discern at least one overlap in our food cultures. During a division-wide presentation at the end of the visit, an exchange student told an auditorium full of our middle schoolers that Colombians love to mix ketchup and mayonnaise to create what they call salsa rosada, or pink sauce. Our students excitedly clapped and called out, "FRY SAUCE!"
That same presentation allowed the St. George's students to practice their second language in a public forum, and gave our students expert insight into the "real" Colombia, including geography, industry, and music. The polished assembly left our community informed and impressed, Mr. Ainsworth said. Indeed, Isabelle praised her Colombian counterparts' English and dancing skills—they demonstrated modern and traditional moves, and at the end of the assembly, invited everyone on stage to learn to "dance salsa." "The fact that they were brave and they showed us what their dances were like—I thought that was really cool," Isabelle said.
Over the past week, our Middle School has been lucky enough to host 21 students and three teachers from Colegio San Jorge de Inglaterra (Saint George's School) in #Bogotá, #Colombia. This group is phenomenal, and yesterday, they gave us a fun, educational presentation about Colombian history and culture—complete with dance moves. They leave tomorrow, and we'll miss them dearly! #adiosamigos 🇨🇴
While here, the St. George's students toured both campuses, shadowed students, and attended a variety of classes in the lower, middle, and upper schools. They took a bus tour of Salt Lake City, went tubing at Gorgoza Park and skiing at Brighton Resort, and joined their 21 welcoming host families in a range of activities—from ice skating, to playing Risk into the wee hours of the morning.
Our students, in turn, enjoyed meeting people from a totally different part of the world and polishing their Spanish. Isabelle said Jero introduced her to some new Spanish words and helped her to better understand pronouns and sentence structure. And even our students who didn't host St. George's visitors reaped the benefits of their presence via language-classroom activities that required the two groups to collaborate.
"The point of learning a language is to speak it—to communicate," Mr. Ainsworth said. "So we always try to find ways to provide meaningful, authentic experiences, and there's no more meaningful, authentic experience than for them to have a conversation with a kid their age who's a native speaker."
The Middle School doesn't have plans to send students to Colombia, but in future years, an Upper School interim trip to St. George's could be an ideal way for the program to evolve into a two-way exchange, Mr. Ainsworth suggested. For now, the teacher aspires to hold the program every other year to keep it special for students. And if it works out, we hope Jero can come back on a powder day.