South Whidbey High School opened its arms to a special group of visitors this week, a host of students from Liceo del Caribe in Bogotá, Colombia.
The South American group will spend a week on Whidbey Island getting a taste of everyday life in the United States while living under the roofs of local high school Spanish students.
The 23 visiting students and three teachers attended classes this week with their South Whidbey hosts and participated in Spanish classes.
The group also presented an evening of music, dance and culture Wednesday, Oct. 2 at the high school auditorium. Students performed traditional dances, salsa, and popular Colombian music. Informational videos on Colombia were also shown for the audience to learn more about their country.
This is the first stop for the students, who will travel to a school in San Francisco later this week.
Jenny Gochanour, a Spanish teacher at the high school, said the students are learning a lot about each other. Everyone is having a great time practicing English and Spanish, she said.
“Bringing Colombian culture to the school is a wonderful and eye-opening experience,” she said.
The visit is part of a continuing exchange program for South Whidbey. This is the eighth year the school has hosted exchange students.
Gabriel Valentin Alvarez, a student at Liceo del Caribe, said he was having a great time in the U.S.
“I’m enjoying this beautiful country and experience for my life,” he said.
Alvarez, 17, said he has made new friends and is learning many new things about culture and vocabulary.
He said he enjoyed spending time with his host family and just being at the school.
Liceo del Caribe Principal Yolanda Vargas travelled with the group and said she was having an excellent time in the U.S. She hopes her students learn from both a new culture and people. This was her sixth trip to the U.S.
Vargas said she was grateful to the school district and the host families. Without them, this opportunity would not be possible, she said.
South Whidbey student Jack Hood, 17, said the experience has improved his Spanish skills. Hood, along with his family, hosted one exchange student during the week. Hood, his sister and the exchange student worked together to translate their conversations and understand one another.
Hood said he found a lot of similarities with the exchange student. Both are soccer fans and both like to listen to music.
Some students also found differences between the two countries. Liceo del Caribe student Laura Daniela Quiroga Muñoz, 16, said the food and traditions were very different. Riding the ferry to Clinton was also a different experience for her and her classmates, as most had never been on a ferry.
Gochanour thanked the host families for opening their homes to guests. It’s such a personal experience for the families, and everyone becomes fast friends, she said.
Over the years, students have had such great experiences; they stay in touch and even visit each other again. It’s fun to watch students continue their friendships, she said.