Costa Rican students visit as part of exchange program

January 22, 2009 — by Rebecca Nguyen

Costa Rica is an ethnically unified country where 98 percent of the population is white or mestizo, a person of mixed American Indian and European. On the other hand, the United States is diverse and ranges from white to Hispanic to Chinese.

These two different cultures mixed to form an experience of a lifetime when six Costa Rican students arrived in Saratoga on Jan. 19. Teenagers from both cultures were able to bond and compare their different lifestyles over the next three weeks.

Spanish teacher Arnaldo Rodriguex had begun planning this exchange program, which has also taken place in the past, at the beginning of the school year. This program allows Costa Rican students to live with their host family and receive a first-hand experience of American culture.

“Señor talked about it during the beginning of the school year and I decided to just put my name down,” said junior Varun Parmar, who is hosting Cristián Salazar. “It sounded interesting and I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it or not, but I figured I’d at least put my name down to get more information about it.”

Meanwhile, other students were specifically asked to be hosts.

“Señora [Gina] Rodriguez asked me because the girl I’m hosting is actually Chinese,” said senior Kimberly Hui who is hosting Mariana Xu Zheng. “So she thought it would be a really cool experience for her to come to a Chinese-American family.”

Besides Hui and Parmar, the host students include seniors Hannah Porter and Avinash Kumar, junior Chelsea Sabella, and sophomore Allison Buchanan. With so many places to visit, the hosts have already decided on a few places to take their guests.

“During the week, we’re planning on taking them to the mall. During the weekend, we’re going to go to San Francisco and another weekend we’re going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium,” said Parmar.

Hui could see many benefits from having a person from Costa Rica live with her.

“I hope to understand better how teens live from other countries, improve my Spanish and make a new friend,” said Hui.

Language difficulties are an obvious obstacle, yet Hui and her family manage.

“It is kind of hard to speak to her sometimes, but we manage with her English and my Spanish,” said Hui. “Actually, it’s pretty cool because she happens to speak Cantonese also which is what my parents speak so it helps a lot because my parents don’t speak Spanish.”

Besides obstacles like language, similarities also form that bring the teenagers closer together.

“It’s been really interesting and we’ve been able to find similar interests in music since we both play the guitar,” said Parmar. “Also, I took him to lunch with some of my friends so he’s had fun so far.”

Through this experience, Parmar has learned a lot.

“So far, I’ve learned that life in Costa Rica is very different from life here,” said Parmar. “Also he doesn’t complain about anything and he’s always open to try new things.”