[Photo of Thomas on the left and Joel on the right from cultural presentation]
Tomorrow, Joel and Thomas, two new friends, along with 18 other exchange students from South America will head to the East Coast to and to Washington D.C. for two weeks after having spent the last three weeks learning about the culture in Arizona and attending classes here at the University of Arizona.
The 20 students are participating in a program called SUSI(Study of the U.S. Institutes) for Student Leaders. They come from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay and range in age from 18-26. None of them knew each other before coming here and they all come from different places. The programs are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with the purpose to “promote a better understanding of the people, institutions, and culture of the United States among foreign students, teachers, and scholars.” The University of Arizona regular hosts these programs twice a year. The students visited Nogales, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Sedona and a few other parts of Arizona, I believe.
I happened to find the opportunity by chance during winter break when I received an email from one of the directors of the program here at the U of A who was looking for mentors. I remembered I had signed up for the Latin American Undergraduate email list and that was the reason the email landed in my inbox.
I received a spot as a mentor and was paired with Joel from Bolivia and Thomas from Peru for the three weeks that they spent here at the U of A.
We hung out together a few times in Tucson, maybe once or twice a week. I introduced them to friends here one night and brought them to my dorm one evening to show them what it’s like living on campus.
My favorite part was showing them around Phoenix last weekend. Since my car is broken, my dad let us drive his Polaris Ranger. I brought them to my high school and my elementary school and also around that neighborhood to show them where I grew up as a kid. I think they really enjoyed it because they could compare what they saw in movies to real life and see what an “American” high school and elementary school actually look like.
I also introduced them to Arizona burritos(an extremely delicious fast-food burrito from Federico’s), horchata(a sweet drink made of rice), AND Girl Scout cookies-specifically “Thin Mints” that take your tastebuds to heaven. My mouth waters just thinking about pulling one out of the freezer at home and munching on it-MMMM!
From participating in this program as a mentor, from my own experiences and from what I’ve learned at the university, I have realized that the media misrepresents the United States and other countries around the world, which is why first-hand cultural experience is so important and valuable. By learning about a culture for ourselves, we deconstruct the generalizations and presumptions that we hold within ourselves as a result of listening to the media, or one story.
I hope the U of A continues to host these types of exchange programs so I can contribute to improving the cultural experience for the students to come. I also recommend to anyone, student or non-student, to check out the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Programs website because there several ways to get involved with these programs or to even visit another country as the exchange student. It’s a great way to open up your mind and even learn a little bit more about your culture and yourself 🙂