Exchange Experiences


By Forest Lanciloti, Theo Younkin & Kiril Zhadnov

Photo contributed by Ari Zeren

Whether it’s sharing a home with an unfamiliar family or exploring an unknown part of the world, the memories students make during foreign exchanges and trips are never forgotten. 

Hosted by the world language department, these trips aim to immerse students in the diverse cultures they are introduced to in their language classes. Because of the wide variety of languages offered, each trip is uniquely tailored to its program. 

Students participating in this year’s Argentina exchange, open to select students who study Spanish, hosted Argentinian students for two weeks and traveled to Argentina in April.

Ari Zeren, a senior who participated in the exchange, said that discovering the academic culture in another part of the world was an exciting part of the trip.

“We would go to the school during the week, which was actually fun because we were kind of famous there,” he said. “We would do these little presentations to the primary school kids because it’s a mixed year school, so kids would ask us to sign things.”

Cynthia Manthei, a Spanish teacher who oversees the Argentina exchange program, said that while she felt apprehensive about her students’ ability to adjust to daily life in Argentina, they acclimated well.

“I was concerned that the students who went with me wouldn’t be able to adapt to living with a family they didn’t know in a culture they didn’t know,” she said. “It’s a big thing. But they were fine.”

Students participating in the French exchange hosted French students in February. They have not yet traveled to France but will do so in June. Deborah Hahn, a French teacher and one of the organizers of the exchange, said that she prioritizes immersion when planning the group excursions.

“The idea is built around being an exchange and not merely a trip,” she said. “The students are living with host families in real apartments [and] houses, so evenings will be with their families and the families will take them to do activities. During the rest of the time, we’ll have organized excursions.”

Hahn said that the most significant part of the trips is being able to learn the language through immersion.

“The point of having an exchange is to really get students to make [a] connection that this is not just dry material in a textbook,” she said. “The reason you learn a language is to connect with other people in the world.”

Freshman Victoria Rubin attended the Latin program’s Rome trip, which was done in partnership with North’s Latin program. She said that since Latin is considered a dead language, the focus was more on history than immersion.

“We went to a lot of historic sites and cultural sites and then got to learn about the premise of those both in historical and in Latin context,” she said.

Rubin said that while a language barrier was present during the trip, it wasn’t extremely hindering to the group’s experience.

“We had a teacher and a couple of students who spoke Italian and they were able to help us and guide us,” she said. “All the people who I spoke to spoke English, so the language barrier wasn’t much of an issue.”

A substitute for the previous Moscow trip, South’s two-week Latvia program was implemented this year for the first time since approximately 2009.

Russian teacher and trip organizer Jill Christensen said that because of the war between Ukraine and Russia, she chose Latvia as the destination to prioritize safety while still providing the immersion experience. 

“I wanted somewhere the kids could go and practice and study Russian that was safe,” she said. “Latvia used to be a Soviet Republic, so there’s still a lot of people there who speak Russian.”

Joshua Freedman, a freshman who went on the trip, said that the Latvia trip is, in part, made special by the Latvian culture.

“It’s a unique class offered at Newton South and we have a unique opportunity in Latvia,” he said. “Latvia is a melting pot of cultures; there’s German influence, Russian influence and some Scandinavian influence as well.”

Freedman said that the country’s history made it more challenging to speak the target language.

“No one really likes speaking Russian there,” he said. “They find it rude, especially some of the younger people, because their country was [annexed] by Russia.”

Zeren said that the Argentina trip gave him a new perspective on life and school.

“I gained an appreciation for how overly stressed South’s academic culture is in a way that I didn’t fully realize,” he said. “Seeing a much more relaxed, friendly high school environment was really important for me to just reconceptualize my life a little bit. I definitely value the academics at South but I think it’s really nice to be able to get a different perspective and see a different way of life.”

Hahn said that students participating in the exchange forged strong relationships with the group visiting from France.

“A lot of the people really made very solid connections. At the airport goodbye, everybody is kind of in tears,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that everybody stays best friends their entire lives, but you’d be surprised at how these relationships can endure.”

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