On Feb. 15, 14 students from Colegio Puertosol in Málaga, Spain, arrived in San Diego to spend the next two weeks with their student hosts from Bishop’s. For two weeks, they came to school each day with their host, shadowed them in classes and occasionally left with their teachers Susana Camas and Rocio Molina after Milk Break for some local sightseeing.
Student hosts were Nadia Bitar ’22, Sasha Berger ’23, Ellen L ’22, Grace Sun ’23, Aria Liu ’23, Lucy Liu ’21, Miller Watson ’22, James Hou ’23, Whitney Hejmanowski ’21, Jessie Stafford ’21, Maya Ebel ’21, Stanley Wei ’22, Rolan Guang ’22, Devin Canino ’22, Maggie Johnson ’22, Kelly McFarlane ’21 and Clare Malhotra ’22.
Spanish teacher Mary Jane Sutherland has been coordinating this program with Susana Camas of Colegio Puertosol since the 2006-2007 school year, and with the Ágora Sant Cugat International School in Barcelona in 2014-2015 and 2016- 2017 when Puertosol switched to traveling every other year instead of annually.
“As soon as the exchange pairs are determined, the two families, US and Spanish, students and parents, engage through social media. They establish a relationship with people who live 6,000 miles away, and willingly entrust their child to their care, and likewise, warmly and generously welcome the exchange student,” Ms. Sutherland explains. “The kids go to school with their partner, hang out with their friends and experience life here. It can be the foundation for a life-long friendship. It can be life-changing, or just a unique four-week experience. Students have stepped out of their bubble of familiarity, taken a risk and had an independent cultural, linguistic and personal immersion adventure, finding the common humanity, shared values.”
Nadia shares, “Hosting a Spanish student has been a great experience. It has been very fun to show Lucía around San Diego and to introduce her to new foods and brands. It has also been an amazing opportunity for me to practice Spanish on a daily basis, and I think that this has really improved my speaking skills.”
Clare agrees, saying, “It’s been an amazing experience to make friends with someone from a whole other continent.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Whitney and Maggie. Whitney notes, “My exchange experience was really special because although it was quite difficult to communicate at first, my student Lucia and I became fast friends. We had so many adventures in a short time together, and I know that I’ve found a true sister who just happens to live across the globe.” Maggie concludes, “Hosting a student was one of the best things that I could do to improve my Spanish. In addition to learning more about the Spanish language and culture, I also became very close to my exchange student named Olga. She was immediately immersed in our daily lives and I quickly realized how similar we truly are. I look forward to continuing our strong friendship even when we are 6,000 miles away.”
The impetus for Ms. Sutherland to establish the program comes from her own lived experience. She says, “I had an opportunity in high school to spend the summer between my junior and senior year in Mexico as a participant in the Indiana University Foreign Language Program for High School Students. Through an application process 30 students from the state were chosen in each of three languages: French, German and Spanish. We all got on a Greyhound bus in Bloomington, Indiana, rode for three days and two nights, to the middle of Mexico, to San Luis Potosí, where we lived with families and attended classes for 11 weeks. This was a ‘through-the-looking-glass’ experience for me. I was dropped literally into another world, and it changed everything.”
Students and teachers said good-bye on Friday, Feb. 28. Vaya con Dios!