The five young women landed in New York on Saturday, January 20, after 11-hour flights. By Monday, they were rested and ready to embark on an exhilarating global adventure. “I’ve always been interested in how people live in other parts of the world,” said Mora, who was chosen with four others as the inaugural group of students to take part in a new exchange program between Chapin and Northlands School in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The quintet – Abril, Antonia, Maria, Ornella and Mora – is spending three weeks (January 22 – February 10) living with Chapin families, attending classes alongside Chapin students, participating in extracurricular activities and fully immersing themselves in the city’s multitudinous offerings. “New York is an incredible city!” one student exclaimed, with the others readily agreeing.
Trading their Northlands plaid for Chapin green, the Argentine students – who range in age from 15 to 17 – have been warmly welcomed as visiting members of Class 10. During a recent morning, they took time out of their schedules to talk to this writer about their experiences so far. Because Northlands is a bilingual IB (International Baccalaureate) school with the primary academic courses taught entirely in English, the students speak both Spanish and English beautifully.
From the moment their host families picked them up at the airport and brought them to their homes, the students said they felt cared for and included. The exchange students say their host parents, whose Class 10 daughters will travel to Argentina in June for the second part of the exchange, have gone out of their ways to help them settle in while enjoying introducing them to a variety of New York City treasures, from Central Park and The High Line to Broadway productions and a delicious array of restaurants. Some have even ventured outside the city on weekends.
“The parents are so sweet. They treat me like part of the family. It’s hard to miss home when I feel so comfortable,” one noted.
At Chapin, the exchange students fit right in. Whether taking notes in class or unwinding during recess or after school, their new classmates are kind and friendly to them. “They really make me feel like I’m part of the group,” another remarked.
Chapin students are curious about their counterparts' lives in Argentina, the southernmost country in South America. For example, in Laura de Toledo’s Spanish 9 class, during which the Chapin girls asked them a variety of questions en español, one wondered if Northlands was a girls school. The Argentine student replied,“No, son niños y niñas.” (“No, it’s boys and girls.”) “Oh cool!” she answered energetically, to the giggles of her classmates. Sra. de Toledo also explained to the visiting students that her class had recently conducted in-depth research projects on South American countries, including Argentina.
Although Abril, Antonia, Maria, Ornella and Mora share some similarities with their American “sisters,” several key differences distinguish the two countries. For starters, the seasons in Argentina are opposite from ours. So while we may be grumbling about the frigid temperatures and counting the days until spring, Argentina is currently at the end of its hot and humid summer. The new school year starts later in February, meaning once they arrive home on February 10, the Argentine students will have just a week or so before they have to go back to Northlands.
Space is another distinction. Not only does Northlands have an expansive campus with an array of sprawling athletic fields, it has two separate campuses in different areas of the city. Yet, as the Argentine students noted, their school environment seems somewhat less rigorous than Chapin’s. “The students here are really focused on their studies,” one observed. The Northlands uniform, however, is more stringent than Chapin’s, requiring the female students to wear tights with their knee-length skirts and to tie their hair back.
As for college, the American option of going away and residing in a dormitory is not the norm in Argentina. Instead, most college students continue living at home with their families while pursuing undergraduate degrees. Mora, who is about to begin her senior year, is thinking about applying to college in the United States so she can have that immersive experience.
By every account, the Argentine students are making the most of their short stay in New York. “I would totally do it again,” exclaimed one. “The best thing about the program is making friends that will stay forever,” declared a second. They are grateful for this incredible opportunity and look forward to hosting the Chapin students and to proudly showing off Buenos Aires, which is known for its delicious food, eclectic art scene and passionate soccer fans.
It’s been a pleasure to host this group of five students and share their exploration of the broader world. We know the Chapin students who will arrive in Argentina in June are looking forward to doing the same. In order to “thrive and lead in a global society,” as Chapin’s mission states, students need to broaden their perspectives and enrich their worldviews. The new Buenos Aires/New York exchange program certainly brings them a step – precisely, 5,295 miles – closer.
Spanish 9 with the visiting students: