The worksheets and nightly Conjuguemos lessons that the students completed in Spanish class were finally being put to use. These students were preparing to travel for several weeks to South American and Central American cities through the Amigos de las Americas Program.
Most people don’t realize these kinds of experiences can cause discomfort for the students, while being in a new setting, as well as when re-entering the United States. Because of the cultural differences, it’s not uncommon for the Amigos participants to experience culture shock. Culture shock is the realization of how different one culture is compared to another.
Students participating in Amigos spend seven months during the school year training to prepare for their trip. They focus on cultural sensitivity, language immersion and ways to interact with host families. However, there is no training that can be done to prepare them for the shock of coming home after being away for so long.
“Suddenly they come home and they have this huge house and a car, where some of the happiest people in the world only have a dirt bike and mud floors,” Amigos Representative, Carol Swezy said.
Junior Denny Rice spent seven weeks in Paraguay. During his stay, Rice realized the American culture tended to be less welcoming and more anxious than the Paraguayan culture.
“They don’t run around in a hurry for fear of being a few minutes late,” Rice said, “Everything is more calm and laid back in Paraguay, it’s just not part of their culture”.
One of Rice’s favorite moments with his host parents, Blanca and Delfirio Martinez, was sitting around an open patio in front of his house every morning and evening drinking Mate, a traditional South American caffeine-infused drink similar to tea.
Spending this quality time with his host family made him appreciate his family at home and the time he gets with them.
“It’s really essential to the culture and to life that the family unit is important,” Rice said.
It has been almost a month since he returned home. Since returning, he has taken on the role of being a more inquisitive and open person.
“I definitely ask a lot more questions now, it’s really interesting getting to know people,” Rice said.
Junior Katie Faught, who spent six weeks in Managua, Nicaragua came home to a house full of things that seemed unnecessary. She had drawers full of clothes that she didn’t wear and most of the things in her kitchen, she had never touched.
“It was different coming back and seeing all the stuff that I had, compared to what I had been living with,” Faught said.
In Nicaragua, she had been living in a house that contained only the bare necessities. There was a table and chairs in the main room of the house where they ate all their meals, but they were also used for socializing because they did not own a couch. There was also a small box T.V., a radio and pots and pans in the kitchen that her host family had made by hand.
Faught brought three Frisbees from home to share with her host family. By the third day of her trip, some of the children found the Frisbees and were ecstatic by the new toys.
“They had no idea how to use them, so I taught them how to play Frisbee and then let them keep the Frisbees after I left,” Faught said.
She quickly noticed it took little to nothing to keep the kids happy and entertained.
“They appreciated things way more then people do here, so when they saw the Frisbees they were so happy and excited to have something new to play with,” Faught said.
Junior Kirby Motsinger who spent seven weeks in Bajo de Güera, Panama got back on Saturday, Aug. 13 and started school the following Monday. She was used to spending most of her days without a planned schedule, so coming home and almost immediately being thrown back into school was bit of a shock.
“It was crazy being back because I hadn’t seen that many people from America for a long time and it was also hard because people would ask how your summer was but it wasn’t something I wanted to talk about right then because I missed being there.” said Motsinger.
In the end, the culture shock these students faced was a big part of the learning experiences the program provides.
“When I was there it felt like I had a purpose,” Motsinger said, “coming back there’s a lot more going on but you’re really aware of what you should and what you want to do.”