By Tiara Williams
These are the six Paraguayan students with their mentor, Nora Elena Insfran Molina, center, in teacher Sarah Gill’s Spanish classroom at Riley County High School.
Each of the students were were marked as a good representation of Paraguay, involved in service projects, assumed leadership roles and knew English fairly well, were granted the dream of a lifetime. They were chosen from a large applicant pool to come to the United States through the Youth Ambassadors program of the Partners of the Americas organization.
“I’ve never imagined I was going to be here, because it was just a dream and now it is for real,” said Ever Daniel Valdez Leguizamon, recent high school graduate planning to study computer science and 2010 Paraguayan exchange student. “I am having a wonderful time with [my host] family; it is absolutely mind-blowing.”
The purpose of Partners of the Americas, according to Partners.net, is to improve the lives of people in the Western Hemisphere by working together as citizen volunteers.
Partners of the Americas was founded in 1964 by Jim Boren, who was inspired by Alliance for Progress – a program of government-to-government economic cooperation across the Americas – which was put into effect in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy.
Over the years, the organization has formed 120 non-profit volunteer chapters in the U.S., the Caribbean and South America. Each of the chapters has a partnership with a chapter in a different country or state; for instance, the Paraguayan chapter, Comité Paraguay Kansas, is matched up to its counterpart in Kansas, the Kansas Paraguay Partnership.
The organization has various programs which utilize these partnerships in order to foster intellectual growth from country to country. Programs like the Education and Culture program and the American Business Fellows program fund projects and the exchange of professionals in a variety of fields.
The students from Paraguay came to Kansas as part of the Youth Ambassadors program of the organization. According to the Web site, this program “brings together youth from across the Americas to build understanding between countries, increase leadership skills and prepare youth to be positive agents of change through service.”
Through the ambassadors program, the students are engaged in a three-week exchange. All the students who are involved in the program first travel to Washington D.C. to visit the capital for a week.
The Paraguayans’ second and third weeks are spent in Riley, Kan., where they attend Riley County High School.
Sarah Gill, Spanish teacher at RCHS, works with all six students during their stay.
Gill applied for a scholarship in 2007 to study in Paraguay for a month and in doing so, learned about Kansas Paraguay Partners from others in her Paraguay group. She joined right away. Now, she is in charge of putting the word out to families about being host homes to the students, pairing up families and students, giving brief meetings preparing the families for the culture and language gap and setting up home, school and community activities upon arrival.
On Friday, April 9, the six Paraguayans plus their mentor, Nora Elena Insfran Molina, a English teacher in Paraguay, spent the day at K-State.
“Mrs. Gill, who I had as a Spanish teacher when I was in high school, called me because I coordinate group visits that come to K-State, whether it be middle school, high school or from different states,” said Lori Bammerlin, staff assistant for new student services. “The students toured the newsroom in Kedzie Hall, the Music Department because some of the kids play instruments like the harp, Hale Library, Call Hall for ice cream and the International Student Center for Coffee Hour.”
Having all seven of them at Coffee Hour, which was on Colombia, delighted Sara Thurston-González, director of international student and scholar services.
“I ended up meeting with them for about 15-20 minutes and just talked about the role of International Student and Scholar Services on campus and the programs and events we have,” Thurston-González said. “I had a lovely time with them. They were all so sweet and excited to be here.”
Already, the Paraguayan students have presented to a grade school and a retirement home with a history teacher. On Wednesday, April 14, they went to Topeka and this past Saturday and Sunday, Gill said they went to Kansas City to Worlds of Fun, The Negro League Baseball Museum, the Jazz Museum and other places around town.
Despite all the fun it appears the students will enjoy, they are still working and learning in the classroom. Gill’s Spanish 2 class is working with them to create a children’s book, accomplishing the task of utilizing both languages to communicate and get the job done.
Gill said she helps them to increase literacy by getting books into the hands of children and learning how to read to children because that, in turn, aids them with their education.
This exchange student program is very enriching, Gill said, for her students.
“The Paraguayans are ambassadors to us, but we are as well to them,” she said. “And not everyone can have an international student experience, but this way, both sides kind of do.”