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Todos somos más iguales que diferentes

January 18, 2012

Hello Swain family and friends:

I hope everybody is off to wonderful 2012.  Already this new year, so many wonderful activities have been happening in and around school, and I feel honored to be able to witness all of the love and hard work that goes into making Swain such a vibrant community.  This past December, we said goodbye to eight of our friends from Guatemala, and this month’s blog – written by our Lower School Spanish Teacher, Miss Christine Parente – is a reflective piece about their time here.  Please enjoy!

Todos somos más iguales que diferentes

“We are all more the same than we are different”

Just a couple months ago now, several brave students from Guatemala arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport, shuffled off with new families, and prepared themselves for a two month stay in Pennsylvania.  Perhaps a bit nervous and unsure, they then stepped into The Swain School and

Our cultural ambassadors and their hosts

transformed into their roles as cultural ambassadors.

I met the cultural ambassadors – Angelo, Sebas, Juanfer, Cami, Sofi, Marreh, Gabi, and Juancho – on their very first day at Swain while teaching Mrs. Monahan’s first grade class. Mrs. Coverley and Mrs. Fabiano led them into my classroom, introducing our special guests to our youngest Spanish learners. I remember Sebas smiling so big, the girls shyly giggling, and Angelo fearlessly shouting “¡Hola!” and “¿Cómo estás?” From that very first interaction, I knew their visit would be a remarkable opportunity for them, our Swain community, and for me as well.

After a few weeks, they settled in at Swain. Angelo, Sebas, Juanfer and Juancho added a great dynamic to our soccer team, while Cami challenged herself to play field hockey, a new sport for her. They showed off their Swain School hoodies and attended classes with our students – working towards developing their English language skills every step of the way.

Gabi dazzled us with her creativity and artistic talent

They continuously impressed me with their courage to try new things. Having studied abroad myself (as junior in college, not as a seventh grader), I understood the challenges they faced of living with a new family, attending a new school, and communicating in a new language. When I lived in Madrid, I worried often about people judging my Spanish, and sometimes that concern prevented me from actually speaking and practicing.

As I watched our cultural ambassadors interact with the student body, sometimes they became hesitant and nervous to speak, but most of the time, they just went for it. I will never forget Sebas and how quickly and confidently he spoke English. He never feared making mistakes. One day, Sebas explained to seventh grader Meg Bennett that he knew she was hiding something from him because well, Meg, “your face tells you all.” (We helped him with that expression afterward.)

As the weeks went on, we arranged for our cultural ambassadors – soon to be brilliant teacher’s assistants – to work with the lower school students in their Spanish classes.  They spoke Spanish with the students, they played games, and they shared about their families, schools, and traditions. Gabi, Marreh, Cami, and Juancho each constructed their own lessons and delivered them with poise and purpose. They even handed out prizes and bracelets from Guatemala.

One afternoon, Juanfer, Angelo and Sebas led a discussion

Angelo helps Calista create a Guatemalan worry doll

with Mrs. Reger’s class. They sat in front of the fourth graders and answered an endless string of questions, which sparked the most invaluable conversation among students that I have ever heard. Our Swain students began to realize that in Guatemala you can go to McDonald’s or have a burger at TGI Friday’s. They learned that some schools in Guatemala City are big and some are small, and some have bullies and others have cliques. They discovered that these three boys hang out at the mall for fun, that they play Xbox and have iPods. Juanfer explained that his father is a doctor and his mother is a lawyer. Angelo clarified to a few students that just like cities in the United States, not everyone in Guatemala City is poor, and certainly not everyone is rich. As the conversation grew, I stood back and observed as the students engaged and challenged each other.

The period ended, but I heard the dialogue continue as they rushed into the hallways. I found myself standing in my classroom and hearing the phrase, “We are all more the same than we are different,” a phrase Professor Chris Kovats-Bernat shared with our community last year during his Haiti presentation. Though the students did not quote his speech during their discussion, they certainly discovered just that.

The ambassadors were warmly welcomed at Founders Day ceremonies

November came and went and just like that I was hugging each one of them and exchanging email addresses.  I will never forget the two months they lived here and how much they taught my students and me. They taught me new ‘cool’ lingo. They encouraged me to live courageously and to make mistakes. And most importantly, they reminded me of the importance of learning from each other – whether you are a student or a teacher, you are always a learner.

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