Pleasanton high school students Elena Angst, Sarah Crawford, Hannah Yozzo and Mariah Nibert marched into the San Francisco airport earlier this summer bearing signs of welcome for Mexican students they’d never met. They welcomed them into their homes for three weeks of language immersion, cultural experiences and just plain fun.
Currently, these students are in Tulancingo, where they are sharpening their Spanish skills and learning about a city that resembles Pleasanton in demographics, cultural opportunities and soccer enthusiasm. In all the testimonies that I’ve heard about this program, it’s apparent that, without fail, these teenagers go from being strangers to lifelong friends in six short weeks.
Ann Angst co-directs the program and says the benefits include increased self-esteem, stronger social and second language skills and college preparation. The challenge, she says, is reaching Pleasanton parents. More students apply in Tulancingo than Pleasanton, a trend she attributes to overpacked schedules and unnecessary trepidation.
“Parents are afraid that Mexico isn’t safe or that their children’s Spanish skills aren’t strong enough,” said Angst.
After two thousand successful trips and so many years of fellowship, these two communities are tightly knitted together.
“Participating households undergo a rigorous interview process,” said Victoria.
As for Spanish skills, a student only needs to have taken Spanish 2, often accomplished by the end of one’s freshman year.”Typically, the Tulancingo parents don’t speak English, but the students are fluent,” said Angst.
Angst’s daughter, Sophia, participated in 2012 and is now an International Studies major at Elon University in North Carolina attending classes at the University of Buenos Aires. She said the program helped foster her interest in the culture and motivated her to improve her Spanish.
“It was definitely a good first step to an abroad experience and made adjusting to Argentine culture a little easier,” said Angst.
Hannah Yozzo, one of this year’s ambassadors, said, “My favorite experience so far has been seeing the pyramids because they are so old and beautiful and unlike anything you would ever see in the U.S. Also, it’s really odd because everything is so green and I can take showers for as long as I like!”
The value of connections with people from a different culture and country is immeasurable.
Sarah Crawford summed it up: “I’ve made seven new friends that I feel I’ve known my whole life. I heard people say that you make lifelong friends in this program, but I didn’t believe I could feel this close to people I met only a few weeks ago.”
For more information, visit www.ptsca.org and contact Ann Angst at 925-600-7941.
Contact Amy Moellering at email@example.com.