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Exchange boys rave about life in Argentina

Justin Su, Julian Harker, and Arthur Yearsley —

Earlier in the year, Year 12 students Justin Su, Julian Harker, and Arthur Yearsley travelled to Argentina as part of an exchange. The trip was challenging, enlightening, and ultimately life-changing. Now, the boys share their experience with Informer readers...

The experience of being an exchange student truly leaves its mark. It almost feels like yesterday when we were on a plane travelling into the unknown, unsure if our spanish was good enough to blend into a new lifestyle. Looking back now, our spanish really did sharpen, and our confidence grew, as four weeks in a foreign environment truly did challenge our personal flexibility.

After being told that we also had to host our exchange students, we were everything but excited. It meant taking time out of our well deserved weekends to introduce a stranger to the New Zealand way of life. Even before travelling to Argentina, it was quite an experience living life with a new ‘family member’, as that was how it seemed. One thing we firmly believe, it is important is to get to know your exchange student before they arrive if possible, because what works for one student does not always work for another. They will not necessarily understand your lifestyle, so you need to spend time with them and show them that life can be seen through a new lens. Regardless if you go overseas or not, hosting an exchange lets you experience new cultures at home, seeing their way of doing things is interesting. What we did not realise at the time was that we would mirror their behaviour when it was our turn to become exchange students. We were unaware of how odd everything would seem to us.

Gazing into a new world, we already began to see how different the environment of Buenos Aires was compared too little Hamilton back home. Our first obstacle was to adapt to their language and their way of speaking. We could hardly understand what they were saying half of the time causing us difficulty while doing even the simplest things like ordering food and buying things, making all the years spent learning Spanish feel like a waste. A redeemable quality, however, was the amazing food - their diets included traditional Argentinian food like milanesa and empanadas to treats like dulce de leche, facturas and medialunas.

During the weekdays, we attended St George’s College in Quilmes, a school that has twice the history of St Paul’s, which could easily be seen by their old orange tiled buildings and classic wooden floored classrooms. Students had 8 periods a day, starting at 8am and ending at 4:30pm, as well as a different curriculum compared to ours. There were similarities like a boarding house, and their own service program where students would teach and play with kids from the surrounding poor neighbourhood. The school started at kindergarten and went all the way to the end of high school, whilst only having a few more students than St Paul’s. This was a different approach for us; it was as if St Paul’s and Southwell had combined. All the students and teachers were surprisingly nice and open, which made saying goodbye a lot harder, especially when we had only just begun to know them.

Four weeks sounded like more than enough time to spend in a foreign country speaking a foreign language, but in reality, it did not feel long enough. Who would have thought a small school exchange could have such a lasting impact on us. As a group and as individuals, we have definitely all learnt new life skills that can and will help us in the future, including developing more personal confidence, independence, the ability to adapt to completely foreign environments, having an appreciation of what we have in life, as well as a significant increase in confidence and use of Spanish Language. We cannot stress enough, this was no easy task. We were challenged in all of those aspects during this exchange but it was definitely worth the challenge.

Although it was hard to say goodbye to that amazing country, we soon began to appreciate the experience, and how lucky we actually were. We had been given the opportunity to visit an amazingly unique country first hand, live, as the locals do, not just follow the typical tourist path that is most often travelled, and make loads of new friends.

This was a truly unforgettable experience that if given the opportunity to do something like this again; we would definitely put our names down.