Spanish exchange students enjoy Homecoming celebrations


Photo courtesy of Nagore Portillo. The visiting students from Bilbao toured the monuments in Washington, D.C.

Ellen Kan

On Sept. 16, Jefferson warmly welcomed exchange students from Spain, who arrived just in time to join in with the spectacular festivities of Homecoming week.

The 15 Spanish exchange students traveled to the United States from el Colegio Urdaneta, a private high school located in the city of Bilbao. The group is supervised by Nagore Portillo, a philosophy teacher who is also in charge of organizing el Colegio Urdaneta’s exchange programs.

Although Jefferson’s language classes frequently send students to and host students from other countries, this is the first year in which the Spanish department has done so. Spanish teacher Margaret Gendive, who leads the world languages department and sponsors Jefferson’s Spanish Honor Society (SHS), believes that involving students in such opportunities can be invaluable.

“Through the exchange program, we can begin to build relationships and understanding between cultures,” Gendive, who is the teacher responsible for coordinating the exchange, said. “This goes along with TJ’s mission of developing a world view, as well as helping students to increase their fluency in a real life experience outside of the classroom.”

In the past week, the Spanish students were immersed in the culture unique to both Jefferson and the United States. They followed their hosts through a typical school day and participated enthusiastically in the Homecoming celebrations, going as far as cheering in the pep rallies and dressing up for Group Day. They also toured landmark sites in Washington, D.C. and attractions such as Tyson’s Corner shopping mall and King’s Dominion.

Many of the visiting students are familiar with traveling and staying with host families, as el Colegio Urdaneta frequently coordinates exchange programs with other countries. However, they did notice key differences between American and Spanish culture, including the toleration for eating in the classroom.

“There are many different countries represented in one school,” visiting student Juan Ochoa said while contrasting the Jefferson’s surprising diversity with that of his own school.

In their last few days, the Spanish students look forward to attending the traditional American events of the Homecoming game and dance. In addition, SHS will host a farewell party during eighth period on Sept. 23. This event will double as a final opportunity for cultural exchange between Jefferson and Bilbao students before the Spanish students leave on Sept. 25.

Over spring break, the Jefferson hosts will travel to Bilbao to complete the exchange. Junior Mona Bugaighis anticipates experiencing the same enthusiasm of the visiting students when she immerses herself in the culture of Bilbao.

“It’s an amazing experience because my family and I have noticed how different their culture is from ours, whether it is the eating schedules or the way their schools work,” Bugaighis said. “All of the exchange students are extremely nice and so much fun to hang out. While the students are here, the aim is that they better their English, and then we’ll work on our Spanish when we travel to Spain.”