Sydney Heath, a rising sophomore at Greenwich Academy traveled through AFS the international high school exchange program in Argentina for the summer.
Sydney spent six weeks attending a Catholic school in the beginning of her stay. She found the work easy compared to Greenwich Academy, and the amount of homework she described as minimal. Of course, everything was taught in Spanish, but that wasn’t the biggest difference from her school experience in Greenwich. “The hours for school are 7:45am to 12:50. Then they come home for lunch,” she said. “And, school was just twice a week.”
“They love America,” she said as she described the reactions of fellow students and host family. “They had so many questions. Questions about celebrities and concerts. And they asked me if people eat McDonald’s every day. And there were questions about cheerleaders. And they wanted to know whether my school was like High School Musical.” Sydney said one student asked her whether her mother drives.
Sydney attended a Catholic school. “It was a very religious school and we prayed before every class, reciting memorized prayers. There was also a religion class. There was an anti-abortion march and posters all through the building,” she said.
Another observation of Sydney’s was the state of the economy. In a series of conversations with students and friends price comparisons to those in the US drew surprised looks. “They all asked me how much an iPhone cost,” she said. “Even a Kit Kat bar was about $5.00.”
As for the cooking, there were more surprises. “We ate meat at every meal,” Sydney said, going on to describe a popular dish called Milanesa, which was breaded meat.
“Every Sunday we drove to a mountain range and along the side of the road there were vendors selling torta fritta, which is fried bread.
Another surprise was how late they ate dinner. “We ate dinner around 9:45pm or 10:00pm, but they all take naps, a siesta, from 2:00-4:00pm. All the stores close,” she said. Another surprise. “They don’t eat breakfast. They just drink coffee.”
Sydney was impressed by the strong sense of community and closeness among neighbors. For example, she described a drink called Mate which is made with Yerba leaves. “You pour a lot of the Yerba into the mate cup and then you put sugar and hot water and then everyone shares the same straw,” she said. “They all visit each other’s homes and share the same metal straw,” Sydney said. “My host family had a little boy named Pedro, a two-year-old who they would bring visiting. And they all all took care of each other’s children.”
Another observation was that although many people she encountered frowned on homosexuality, it was a common to see boys holding hands. During her orientation in Buenos Aires, she saw boys holding hands and greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek.
Back in Connecticut, by way of a 15-hour bus ride and two plane flights totaling 11 hours, Sydney is ready for her sophomore year at Greenwich Academy, where school meets five days a week and there is little time for naps.
A longtime swimmer, Sydney plans to do crew and water polo this year and is excited to be the community service rep for her grade.
As eager as she is for the school year, and to host an AFS student in her home for the year, Sydney was mostly surprised as how homesick she was for Argentina. “I can’t wait to go back. I made so many friends and I miss them,” she said, adding that her friends in Argentina nicknamed her “Colorada,” which said referred to her red hair. “They also called me Yankee,” Sydney said.
Sydney said that in Argentina, there is tradition of celebrating a girl’s 15th birthday. “We have the sweet 16, but when they turn 15 they go to the girl’s room and decorate it. Then when she goes outside they throw garbage at them — eggs, tea leaves and flour,” Sydney said. “And they celebrate with their choice of a big party or a trip to Disneyland.”
Sydney’s abiding memory of her experience in Argentina is of the warmth and friendliness of everyone she met. “They even have a real holiday called Friends Day,” she said as she paged through a scrapbook full of photos that her friends made for her before she left.
To learn more about AFS programs, including studying abroad, hosting a student, or volunteer opportunities, visit the website at http://www.afsusa.org/
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