Recently, I returned from Argentina & Chile as part of an exchange program called Youth Ambassadors. It is a program completely funded by the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs but is administered through the World Learning Organization in Washington, D.C. Its purpose is for participants like me, a sophomore at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, to create mutual understanding throughout countries in Latin America by engaging in volunteerism, civic engagement and cultural immersion throughout the program.
It has been around six weeks since I returned from my travels, and I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on my experiences and how the program has broadened my global perspective.
Volunteering at an elementary school in Chicoana, Argentina
About halfway through my exchange program, I visited the very small town of Chicoana. On my first day there, the Youth Ambassadors volunteered at an elementary school. We helped to improve the school by painting, replacing faulty lights in the classrooms and painted games on the outside patio.
The next week when classes were in session, we had the opportunity to meet the students themselves. While touring a classroom I took a moment to look outside the window and see the students enjoying the games and improvements we made to the school. It was very heart-warming that I was able to bring happiness into their lives. It also made me grateful for the things I have, including my school. This is one of the moments I will never forget!
Visiting an all girls Catholic school in Salta, Argentina
While in Salta we learned about the city’s education system and its history. We were able to stop for a visit at an all-girls Catholic school where students were pondering heavy questions including the topic of immigration in America, gun violence, bullying and homosexuality. I realized that people from different countries are aware of some of the issues in the United States and build perceptions of the people who live here. It felt really good to be able to clarify the misconceptions while affirming that some perceptions are, in fact, true .. It was an important learning experience for me because I never realized how much people from different countries paid attention to the issues going on in America. It inspired me to make an effort to learn more about issues going on in countries outside of my own.
Living as an exchange student with a host family
As an exchange student, this is the part most people are nervous about—including me. Meeting and living with my host family was one of the most intimidating experiences of my exchange program—not knowing whether they would like me or how comfortable I would feel around them. It turns out it was one of the greatest parts of the program. From the very first moment I met my host parents, they immediately accepted me into their home and made me feel comfortable. They were kind, hospitable, funny, and took me in as one of their own. Some days we would stay home and play card games all day. Other days we would go out and explore the lovely city of Salta, but regardless of what we did, it was never a dull moment with them. I still keep in touch with them and one day plan on going to Argentina and visiting them again.
Having a meet-and-greet with former Youth Ambassadors from Chile
On one of our last nights in Santiago, Chile, we had the opportunity to meet with past generations of Youth Ambassadors. Some even had host communities in Kansas City. I loved talking to them and hearing how much they enjoyed a city I love so much. We had conversations regarding “follow-on” projects—a key component of the Youth Ambassadors program where you implement a project in your home community based on your experience abroad. I look forward to working with my high school team and my principal on my follow-on project which I hope will benefit Kansas City and the people who need our help.
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Jacob Esquivel, sophomore at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, shares his reflection from a recent trip to Argentina and Chile through the Youth Ambassadors program.
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