Cultural exchange valuable

Ten students from Paraguay in town, attending local schools until Feb. 28

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Ten students from Paraguay and their chaperone, Ingrid Nielsen, middle front, have adjusted well to life and classes in Steamboat Springs. Those students are: front row, left to right, Alicia Kawazoe, Antonela Rodriguez, Nielsen, Rosa Salinas and Carmen Bartrina. Back row, left to right, Rodrigo Bracho, Jose Talavera, Diego Valenzuela, Marco Canete and Stephan Soutter. Not pictured is Marisol Ureta. The group arrived Jan. 4 and will leave Feb. 28.

— Ten teenagers from Paraguay are spending their summer vacation in Colorado to learn more about American education and U.S. culture.

The students will receive no credit for taking classes at Steamboat Springs High School and Ralston Valley High School, but they say they aren't disappointed.

"We decided we wanted to come," Antonela Rodriguez said.

Since arriving Jan. 4, the students, ages 15 to 18, have seen snow for the first time, learned more about drawing and painting and immersed themselves in American culture by interacting with U.S. teenagers and living with Steamboat families.

"This is a culture exchange for them to learn American lifestyle and improve their English," group chaperone Ingrid Nielsen said.

The students traveled 23 hours from Asuncion, Paraguay's capital city, to remote Northwest Colorado. They will be here until Feb. 28. They will visit Ralston Valley from Feb. 17 to 25 while Steamboat schools are on a mid-winter break.

The students will return to Steamboat for several days to say goodbye before returning to Asuncion, where all 10 students and Nielsen live. In Asuncion, temperatures rarely drop below 40 degrees and can reach as high as 110 degrees with humidity.

Rarely used winter coats have come in handy for the students while in Steamboat. They have gone skiing and enjoyed other outdoor winter activities.

Steamboat Springs High School Principal Mike Knezevich said the experience has been invaluable.

"They are awesome," Knezevich said. "Honestly, I think one of the neatest things is it provides our kids with a real cultural experience. Our kids are very inquisitive about kids from different cultures. Our kids don't have those encounters."

Steamboat's relatively limited ethnic diversity hasn't gone unnoticed by the Paraguayans. Nielsen is accustomed to taking her students to Denver, a much larger city with more diversity.

In Steamboat, however, the foreign exchange students can't get lost in the crowd. They are immersed in high school courses - painting and drawing was the favorite, although the students also listed speech, American history, physical education and jazz band as favorites.

In Paraguay, the students sit in one class, and the teachers rotate around to the students, Alicia Kawazoe said. The buildings are combined elementary, middle school and high school, and students have 18 subjects instead of the six or seven they are taking in Steamboat.

The students have given presentations about Paraguay at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools as well as The Lowell Whiteman Primary School. The students also are helping high school students with Spanish and have given presentations about Paraguay at Steamboat Springs High School.

"This was exciting for me to get them to come from a country we don't know a lot about," said Loren Parsons, Spanish teacher at Whiteman Primary. "It's one thing to read it in black and white, but when those students are sitting there and can tell you about their ancestors and you hear them speak with their accents, it makes it that much more exciting for our students."

But the education for the students from Paraguay and the U.S. has extended beyond the classroom.

Stephan Soutter said he has learned to make a bed and do laundry because, at a cost of only $100 a month, many families hire maids in Paraguay.

"I'm teaching Americans how to dance to salsa and reggaeton," Soutter added.

Diego Valenzuela has been staying with senior Joe Melius, and Melius took the opportunity on a break to come over and say hi to Valenzuela.

"I'm teaching Joey how to speak Spanish romantic phrases," Valenzuela said.

Between stints at Double Z, Azteca Taqueria, Rex's American Grill and Bar and Tap House Sports Grill, the students from Paraguay said they have no regrets about giving up their summer to spend it in the U.S.

But that doesn't mean the trip hasn't been eye-opening on some level.

"I was surprised about the taxes," Rodrigo Bracho said.

- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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