The Argentina Experience

Jackeline Watts '23

St. Mary's welcomes 15 exchange students and welcomes back international programming for domestic high schoolers. 

The following story was submitted by Jackeline Watts '23 as part of an independent study. 

On her exchange trip to Argentina, St. Mary’s senior Haley Brown missed Taco Bell and pumpkin spice lattes the most. Haley Brown and junior Maja Stachurska just returned from their six-week-long exchange trip in Mendoza, Argentina, where they stayed with two families and got to experience daily life in Argentina. Over the six weeks, they bonded with their exchange students and even consider them their “exchange sisters.” 

This program was started years ago by a parent from Argentina who moved to Oregon, collaborating with Mr. Meyer to make it happen, but unfortunately, the program had to pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, after two years, students who have been anticipating this adventure are finally able to partake in the exchange, the first of many international programs at St. Mary’s to return after quarantine.

All of the Argentinian students speak English very well because they attend a bilingual school where they speak both Spanish and English. Fourteen St. Mary’s juniors and seniors have signed up to go to Argentina in Mod 2, 5, and 7. As part of the exchange, fifteen Argentinian students have arrived at St. Mary’s for Mod 3 during their summer break. Senior Ethan Cano has graciously hosted two Argentinian students due to the large number of students wanting to participate. 

One visiting exchange student is Juli, who is staying with senior Kate Stillwell. Juli plays competitive hockey in Argentina and hopes to be a part of the professional team. Juli’s older brother participated in this program a few years ago and encouraged her to take the opportunity to experience new things and step outside her comfort zone. As Juli explained her experience here in America, she highlighted how welcoming and kind everyone at St. Mary’s has been and how advanced St. Mary’s is in terms of technology and class structure compared to her school in Argentina. For example, Juli explained that in Argentina, students stay in one classroom, and the teachers go to them, yet at St. Mary’s, most teachers stay in one room, and the students go to them. When asked if there was anything she would like to add at the end of her interview, she said, “I want to highlight that here, everyone is open to meet you and I think that that is incredible […] I think that that type of world is the one that I think that I need to see so that I can take those examples to Argentina.” Even though Juli has only been in Medford for one week, Kate already took her to the coast in Brookings and introduced her to peanut butter for the first time. Juli has been having a great time, and even the St. Mary’s greenhouse office space has been repurposed into an Argentinian hangout zone for Mod 3. 

Profe Stillwell, a high school Spanish teacher and head of the Argentina program, has been organizing this exchange for six months. When she was younger, she lived in Spain for a year. Profe said, “it really transformed my perception of the world in general. It was a really good eye-opening experience for me, having had lived in California my entire life, so it was good to be away and to see how other people live their daily lives, and that to me is really important for our students.” Profe thinks that having our students connect with other students from what seems like the other side of the world is fantastic and allows students to go outside of their comfort zone and “adjust to a different lifestyle.”

Even though it is a rewarding experience for the students, there are challenging times. When the excitement wears off, and they struggle to understand what is happening in class, they must acquire “the ability to persevere” through the challenges. Haley Brown experienced the struggle first-hand, but noted, “there’s such a great social network and support system down there that even when things were hard, I had people that I could go to, and that was really nice.” Haley managed to fight through her rough third week in Argentina, and with the help of her exchange sister and new friends, she got used to the language, and her Spanish improved tremendously over the course of the trip. 

The Argentina Exchange Program is an enriching experience at St. Mary’s, and the school is excited to be hosting these students. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all involved. Soon the other 12 St. Mary's juniors and seniors taking upper-level Spanish classes will fully immerse themselves in another culture and lifestyle they are unaccustomed to. To those students anticipating their Argentina adventures, make sure you fill up on your favorite fast food before you say “¡adios!” to Medford. 

Photos 1-3: Haley Brown '23 and Maja Stachurska '24 with host families in Argentina 
Photos 4-6:  St. Mary's greets 15 Argentinian exchange students at the airport
Photos 7-12: St. Mary's host families and the Argentinian exchange students enjoy a welcome dinner.