By Agnes CONSTANTE
Eight weeks in Argentina was all it took for Paul Dean’s perspective on the world to change.
“[This trip] made me think I’m pretty small in the world, and I can affect how countries view each other,” said the St. Francis High School senior.
And now, after having gone to South America, Dean is considering pursuing intercultural business.
Dean traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina this past summer through AFS, a non-profit international exchange organization that operates in more than 50 countries. It allows students and adults to learn about different cultures through various programs.
“For students who realize that there is a world beyond Southern California, an AFS exchange can present a once in a lifetime opportunity to live not as a tourist, but as a citizen of your host country,” said Matthew Jacobs, volunteer sending coordinator for AFS in Greater Los Angeles.
Those who participate in the program live with a local family, attend school in the country they visit, and meet people in that country.
Dean did all of these, and observed differences between the American and Argentinean education systems.
“Schooling there is a really big problem,” he said.
Since he was there during the summer, he wasn’t required to take tests or complete assignments, as his credits wouldn’t count. However, he noticed that there were only three tests given during his time there, that teachers were lenient during class time, and that there was hardly any homework given.
After attending school at Rio de la Plata Sur, Dean finds the American education system better.
“A lot of times teachers there are seen as friends rather than authority figures,” he said.
Another aspect of the culture that stood out to Dean was the friendliness of the Argentinean people.
“If you ever need help if you’re trying to speak Spanish, they’re more than helpful,” he said. “Friendship means a lot to them…. People were glad to meet me.”
What also helped Dean fit right in was his love for soccer, as the sport is popular in Argentina.
“I’m a soccer player, but soccer in the U.S. is nothing compared to soccer in Argentina. Soccer is like more than a religion there,” he said.
One of the highlights of Dean’s trip occurred on his second day in the country when a riot broke out following the demotion of River Plate, an Argentinean soccer team.
“For a week, that’s the only thing people talked about,” he said.
While the AFS program is designed to have participants live like locals, Dean also visited tourist sights including La Casa Rosada (which literally means “The Pink House” and is the equivalent of America’s White House), El Obelisco and La Plata.
Dean’s participation in the program was encouraged by his mom Terri, who at one point was an exchange student in Ecuador through AFS. Like her son, Terri’s experience gave her an appreciation of different cultures and people. She also remains in touch with her host family and sees several of them every few years.
“The fact I still have another family in another country and still keep in touch is a pretty special relationship,” she said.
Dean said he recommends the program 110%.
“If you’re willing to give up one summer … it will change your view and you’ll have a ton of fun doing it,” he said. “It’s hard missing your family [while you’re away], but it’s something that’s worth it. I’m glad I did this while I have time.”
More information about AFS programs is available at www.afsla.org and www.afs.org.