Cultural Connection

Paraguayan students learn about U.S. through extended stay in Lawrence

Alheli Aranda, of Paraguay, performs a song in Spanish for Lawrence High School students during a fiesta to welcome exchange students from Paraguay. Ten Paraguayans are visiting Lawrence from the Kansas Paraguay Partners program.

Alheli Aranda, of Paraguay, performs a song in Spanish for Lawrence High School students during a fiesta to welcome exchange students from Paraguay. Ten Paraguayans are visiting Lawrence from the Kansas Paraguay Partners program.

Lawrence Journal-World Newspaper
By Terry Rombeck
February 12, 2008

Jazmin Larroza, left, of Paraguay, and Lawrence High School principal Steve Nilhas chat during a fiesta welcoming exchange students at LHS. The students arrived in the U.S. on Feb. 1 and visited Washington, D.C. They arrived in Lawrence Feb. 5 and will stay through Friday.

Alheli Aranda, left, of Paraguay, listens to junior Adrian Peña’s iPod during a fiesta welcoming exchange students at Lawrence High School. Ten exchange students from Paraguay are visiting Lawrence from the Kansas Paraguay Partners program. At the bottom is junior Gage Snow.

Paraguay Partners
Sometimes, it turns out, movies aren’t the most accurate reflection of real life.

Dalma González, of Paraguay, is finding that out this month as she spends time with high school students in Lawrence.

“In the movies, everything is party, party, party, party,” González says. “But they are studious.”

González is in the United States as part of the Kansas Paraguay Partners program. Ten Paraguayan students — five at Lawrence High School, five at Free State High School — arrived in Lawrence Feb. 5 and will stay with host families through Friday.

This is the second consecutive year Lawrence has hosted students from Paraguay.

Kansas Paraguay Partners is an arm of Partners of the Americas, which is sponsored by the U.S. State Department. It aims to connect Americans with people in Latin America and the Caribbean, with an emphasis on promoting community service.

The 10 students and three sponsors arrived in the United States Feb. 1 and spent three days in Washington, D.C., touring museums and meeting with government officials.

Their time in Lawrence will include attending classes and touring the state Capitol.

Arla Jones, the LHS librarian who is coordinating the visit, says Paraguay is a perfect match for Kansas, considering its economy is agriculturally based, it’s landlocked and has little tourism.

“The idea is for them to share things about their country,” Jones says. “They know so much about the U.S.”

The Paraguyan students were selected from among 350 applicants. Each of the students is involved in community service activities in Paraguay, and Partners of the Americas wants to encourage that service.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” student Nathalia González says of coming to the United States. “But it’s a big responsibility, too.”

Dalma González says she’s wanted to come to the United States much of her life.

“It’s the typical American dream,” she says. “We are so into the American culture — the Internet, books, movie.”

Silvana Riveros says she grew up loving American music in particular, especially bands Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and Nirvana.

“These groups are my favorite ones,” she says. “The only part I don’t like is the hip-hop.”

Her host sister, LHS junior Parendi Birdie, adds: “She knows a lot of pop culture that I don’t even know.”

It’s not just pop culture that the Paraguayans follow. They follow presidential politics closely, and they say many in Paraguay are big fans of Barack Obama in his presidential bid.

Erwin Bogado, a Paraguyan teacher who is a sponsor on the trip, says the students selected for the free trip often can’t afford to study abroad on their own.

“These kids are really smart kids,” he says. “They come from middle-class families, so this means a lot to them.”

Thirza Klassen, another student, says she’s just glad to learn first-hand about real people in the United States — not just those she sees on TV.

“It’s important,” she says, “because when you hear about another culture, you think about the differences. This way, you can really learn about another culture. We are making friendships with families.”

About the country

Population: Around 6.7 million people.

Size: 406,750 square kilometers, slightly smaller than California.

Official languages: Spanish and Guarani

Government type: Constitutional republic

Capital: Asunción

Agricultural importance: 45 percent of the country’s workforce are employed in agriculture.

Major industries: Sugar, cement, textiles, beverages, wood products, steel, metallurgic, electric power.

Major exports: Soybeans, feed, cotton, meat, edible oils, electricity, wood and leather.

Currency: Guarani (5,094 per $1 U.S.)

Source: CIA World Factbook

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