Monday, September 28, 2015

Chilean Exchange Students and Teachers in Minnetonka Public Schools

For the past two weeks, nine high school students and their Academic Vice-Rector from The Thomas Jefferson School in Concepcion, Chile, visited Minnetonka Public Schools. Each student lived with a Minnetonka host family with a high school student, attended classes with their Minnesota host brother/sister, went to school events such as a football game and homecoming dance, and toured the Lake Minnetonka and Twin Cities area, riding the Steamboat Minnehaha, going to a Twins Game, visiting the Mall of America, and many other things. 

Visiting Chilean high school students demonstrating a traditional dance
for Minnetonka Middle School East Spanish Immersion Students.
The students were actually part of a larger group of 46 people from their school who spent a week together in Washington D.C. before splitting up into smaller groups to spend two weeks immersed in high schools across the United States. Minnetonka High School was of the destinations. Our family hosted their Academic Vice-Rector who has been bringing students to the U.S. for the past ten years on their annual tenth grade trip. She and her husband have two children similar in ages to two of my own. It was a great experience for our family have a guest from Chile for two weeks. It was actually our second time hosting a Chilean guest. About three years ago we hosted a student teacher from Chile who taught at Minnetonka High School for a semester. 

I think my favorite part of the past two weeks was meal times, when all of us would sit around the table and we had 10 minutes of mandatory Spanish speaking. I've mentioned before that my three youngest children are in Minnetonka's Spanish Language Immersion program and are fluent. My high school daughter is taking Spanish, and my wife knows a lot of Spanish, too. I, however, have a major in German, but I still really enjoyed listening to their conversation, attempting to pick up parts of what was being discussed. When we were speaking English, I enjoyed hearing about life and school in Chile from our guest.

We were so fortunate have this experience and broaden our horizons, making another connection with someone from another country. Chile looks like a beautiful place that we hope to visit someday (see the students' slideshow presentation below). Hopefully my own children will have exchange trips and experiences like this as well, perhaps in Minnetonka's International Studies Program. I would encourage you to be a host for a foreign student or visitor and take time to learn about another culture.

I’m also thankful we have such easy ways through technology to stay in touch. Twenty years ago, I remember a college trip to Europe using a calling card and only having a few minutes to talk to my family because it was so expensive. Now the ability to Skype and FaceTime (among other tools) for free to stay connected to your family when away from home, even while on the other side of the world, still amazes me. 

It will also be interesting to see how VR (virtual reality) tools develop, and whether or not they can come close to replacing travel, living with a host family, and immersing yourself in another culture.  I tend to think that this won’t happen anytime soon, but perhaps in my future grandchildren’s lifetime.

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