St. Stephen’s recently hosted five exchange students from Gredos San Diego (GSD), an international educational cooperative based in Spain. The GSD students, all of whom were on a four-week break from their school in San Jose, Costa Rica, chose to use their time off to enhance their language skills and immerse themselves in campus life at St. Stephen’s.
Throughout their month-long stay, these honorary Spartans attended classes alongside 9th and 10th grade students and lived with St. Stephen’s families, who cared for them in their homes. The GSD students also were well supported on campus by International Advisor Adriana Redmond and other members of the school’s International Program Office. A number of Upper School students volunteered to serve as mentors as well. They met up with the Costa Rican students throughout the day to answer questions and provide a friendly face on The Hill.
Sarah Todd, International Program director, partnered with GSD on the initiative because the organization is involved in numerous educational projects around the world. GSD schools are secular and envision fostering tolerance and freedom of thought while instilling educational values based on respect for human dignity and the promotion of research and discovery in the humanities and sciences. “Their mission resonated with me and parallels with our own,” Todd said. “Currently, there are six GSD schools in the Madrid area, in addition to the one in Costa Rica.
“From January 9 to February 9, the Costa Rican students carried a full course load, attended advisory and participated in after-school activities,” Todd continued. “All the students are bilingual [English and Spanish], and several study Mandarin Chinese at their school in San Jose. We hope to continue this project in the years to come in both Costa Rica and Spain, as well as other parts of the world.”
Participating students included Alfonso Bolivar, Sarah Bonilla, Paola Gutierrez, Aurora Morice and Andres Pazos. They were accompanied during portions of their St. Stephen’s visit by Ana Gutierrez, a teacher from their school.
“We wanted to immerse these students in a true American experience,” said Redmond, who oversaw their daily schedules and served as a campus touchstone throughout their stay. “In addition to participating in the school’s Literary Festival and MLK Day march, they practiced with sports teams, helped out with community service and attended the winter formal. One student even auditioned for the Modern Voices concert.”
Sophomore exchange student Aurora Morice said she willingly gave up part of her vacation to experience student life at St. Stephen’s. “This was one of those opportunities that doesn’t show up very often, and I wanted to make the most of my time in high school to experience new things,” she explained.
“I was interested in getting to know what life is like in the United States,” Morice said. “I also had an undying need to know if going to high school in the United States was really like in the movies.”
What did she discover? “Life moves so fast here; even academic life is hectic!” she exclaimed.
“My favorite part was making friends, going to so many interesting classes with equally interesting teachers, getting to dance around, running from Middle School art class all the way up to the science building, going to Advisory with the coolest advisor, munching on countless snacks and trying to keep up while singing hymns in Chapel,” she said.
“And, of course, there’s the food,” Morice noted. “I mean y’all have a freakin’ waffle maker and an ice cream machine, and that to me is enough of a good reason to be in this school. Lunch time was never disappointing.”
Awesome treats aside, Redmond said the collaboration between GSD and St. Stephen’s provided a great learning and living experience for everyone involved. She believes St. Stephen’s students and our host families gained as much from the experience as the intrepid travelers. “Their visit helped expand our own students’ understanding of what it means to be part of a global community,” she concluded. “The program helped make the world a little smaller and closer for everyone involved.”