Wichita State University’s Sunflower features KPP

Kansas Paraguay Partners Bring Students to Wichita
WSU Sunflower Online

by MEGAN PAULY

Last Updated: September 22, 2010

The experience of transitioning to live and study in a foreign country can vary from person to person. Federico Pires, one of 14 Paraguayan students currently studying at Wichita State, related his experience to a game of basketball.

“It’s just like playing basketball with different rules. You know how to play the game, but you have just been given a different set of rules,” Pires said. “It is hard to get used to, but you adjust eventually.”

Kansas Paraguay Partners, a volunteer-run state organization formed in 1968, works to make it an affordable reality for up to 24 Paraguayan students, like Pires, to obtain a quality education at one of six Kansas state schools while paying in-state tuition each semester.

Pires has been studying in Wichita since 2004, and plans to pursue his master’s degree in economics or finance before returning to Paraguay.

“It is an experience which shows you how relatively small the world is and makes the globalization process more real,” Pires said.

The partnership between KPP and its counterpart committee in Paraguay, the Comité Paraguay Kansas, is one of 60 partnerships facilitated through Partners of the Americas, a nonprofit organization started in 1963 and inspired by President John F. Kennedy in an effort to increase cooperation and promote cultural understanding between all parts of the Americas.

“We were paired up specifically with Paraguay because there is a lot that we share in common: we are both landlocked, our seasons are pretty much opposite of each other and roughly the same, we are both agriculturally based areas,” said Donna Hughes, administrative specialist in the International Office. “It’s a good fit.”

Currently there are 14 Paraguayan students at WSU: seven undergraduate, three graduate, and four participating in intensive English classes at WSU. Those in intensive English must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language before advancing on to regular academic classes.

Sophomore Stephanie Rubinetti Wilde said students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and keep in contact with KPP coordinator Mirian Mongelos in Paraguay, as there are students in Paraguay on a waiting list.

“The best way is to take 12 credit hours each semester, graduate in four years, and then give your spot to someone else,” Rubinetti Wilde said.

Rubinetti Wilde came to Wichita in 2008, eight years after her brother came to study.

Students from any state school in Kansas have the opportunity to study in Paraguay through the Pittsburg State program. No WSU students have yet participated.

“They would get a good dose of culture as well as being able to take classes that are applied to their degree in Kansas,” Hughes said.

For this experience, knowledge of the Spanish language would not be necessary.

However, there are also scholarships for students interested in studying in the Spanish program in Paraguay.

“If you really want to learn Spanish, that is a great opportunity,” Pires said. “There are opportunities everywhere, you just have to find them.”

While the partnerships facilitate successful educational exchanges, KPP also organizes exchanges in other areas.

“They are not just helping students to study here, they are also helping our country,” Rubinetti Wilde said.

The Wichita Fire Department has partnered with firefighters in Paraguay, as nearly all fire protection and emergency services in Paraguay are organized through volunteer organizations.

Other exchanges include cultural arts (in which Paraguayan sculptors, pianists and guitarists tour Kansas), health (in which dentists and medical personnel from Kansas make trips to Paraguay), and youth (in which members of the 4-H of Kansas and the 4-C of Paraguay have a regular exchange).

“Nobody gets paid in dollars, but we get paid with wonderful relationships that we develop,” said KPP President John Poertner. “One thing that’s amazing is that it’s a state-wide organization, but with no paid employees. It’s a real testament to the people in Kansas who have continued to be a part of it over the years.”

Rubinetti Wilde said she plans to attend the next KPP meeting in Topeka at the end of this month to help put together a handbook for incoming Paraguayan students new to Wichita.

The handbook will give students advice such as where to buy food or cell phones.

While Rubinetti Wilde stressed the importance of getting to know people from other cultures, she also said there is a need for the Paraguayan people to help each other out.

“We really need our own culture, our own food, our own social life,” Rubinetti Wilde said. “We are a big family. We always get together and have barbeques.

We have a little Paraguay in Kansas, so that’s nice. With new students, we always try to invite them so they don’t feel lonely.”

Rubinetti Wilde said she would like to complete her master’s degree in sport psychology, but has not decided where.

“My mom is going to be so sad if I don’t go back, so I am thinking about that too,” Rubinetti Wilde said. “I will see.”

Paraguayan students in Wichita come together on a regular basis to socialize and play soccer together.

Anyone interested in studying in Paraguay contact Donna Hughes at donna.hughes@wichita.edu.

“I have to say, the people in Paraguay are the most friendly people I have met anywhere in the world …like they would give you the shirt off their back,” Hughes said. “They are so open and always smiling. It’s a great country, and I would love to go back someday.”

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