Colegio Americano Exchange Program makes a grand return

Students from Colegio Americano in Guayaquil, Ecuador visited the school from April 8-23 – Mr. Andrew Poolman

Students from Colegio Americano in Ecuador recently joined the community for two weeks. The exchange program has been running since 2015, but this was the first time it took place since 2019, due to restrictions related to COVID-19. 

The Ecuadorian students stayed with Haverford hosts and were able to explore aspects of American life. A large part of their stay involved experiencing daily life here, which provided a big transition from Colegio Americano in Ecuador. 

The lack of a concrete schedule allowed students to pursue their interests and investigate all fields of learning. 

“I gave them the full schedule of classes they could take, and I tried to disperse them so they weren’t all in the same classes,” Director of Global Studies Mr. Andrew Poolman said. “After a day or two, they decided what classes they liked and what classes they didn’t like and went wherever they wanted.”

Spanish teacher Ms. Susana Lambour believes that this proved beneficial for the Ecuadorian students. 

“I like that they were able to choose where they wanted to go,” Ms. Lambour said. “During the first year, we had them follow their hosts around school and it was too much, especially since they’re already living together.”

The Ecuadorian students appreciated the freedom to choose. 

“We only have science, social studies, and business at our school,” Colegio Americano student Josue said. “There are a lot of classes within each category, but there are way more classes here.”

Colegio Americano student Mathias expressed a similar gratitude. 

“Here I was able to take classes I really enjoy, like ceramics,” Mathias said. “I really like art, but I had to take a science class over it. I got a chance to try art here, and I really enjoyed it.”

Ms. Lambour also observed that the students wanted to push their boundaries. 

“They were all saying that they enjoyed the science classes and classes where they were more challenged,” Ms. Lambour said. 

Ms. Lambour and Mr. Poolman both noticed a strong sense of cooperation between Haverford and Colegio Americano students in their Spanish classes. 

“In my Spanish IV* class, we were introducing a new topic and the Ecuadorian students were able to understand that everyone’s level of Spanish was good enough for them to speak and be understood,” Ms. Lambour said. “I had a couple of them come to my Spanish II class, and I think they were surprised about the low level of communication skills, but their English was good enough that they were still able to communicate.”

“In my Spanish V* class, we looked at some of the news that was coming out of Ecuador that day, talked about some current events, and did some speaking exercises,” Mr. Poolman said. “They collaborated well. It was good practice to have Spanish guys to speak with them.” 

Colegio Americano students felt comfortable in Spanish classes, but other classes in English proved more challenging for some.

“If you know how to speak English, you’ve been learning since you entered school. Coming here to the U.S., it’s like, ‘Woah, I have to speak faster and understand what they’re saying because here it’s not just a listening quiz that speaks slowly,’” Josue said. “They talk very fast and you have to adapt to how they talk. People have different accents too, and you have to adapt to that as well.”

“[Speaking English] is normal for me because I’ve been speaking it since I was seven years old, so it’s not too big of a difference. It’s hard to understand sometimes, but it’s not that big of a deal for me.”

Exchange student Nelson

For Colegio Americano student Nelson, this wasn’t too big of an issue, but he also shared that it could be difficult at times. 

“[Speaking English] is normal for me because I’ve been speaking it since I was seven years old, so it’s not too big of a difference,” Nelson said. “It’s hard to understand sometimes, but it’s not that big of a deal for me.”

Despite this language barrier, students from Colegio Americano were still able to collaborate in classroom environments and talk with Haverford students in Spanish and English. 

“In my Spanish II class, one day I had [Haverford and Ecuadorian students] ask each other questions before class. One of my students asked an Ecuadorian student a question in Spanish, and he slowed himself down and spoke clearly and slowly so kids could understand,” Ms. Lambour said. “It was really nice to see that they were putting themselves in the shoes of somebody that’s just beginning to learn the language.”

Haverford and Colegio Americano students could hold conversations in English, comparing their lives in dramatically different countries. 

“During ASB one class, they were having social conversations, talking about how their school is there and our students asked them many questions,” Ms. Lambour said. 

The Ecuadorian students noticed many major differences between The Haverford School and Colegio Americano. 

“Haverford is very big, two times bigger than my high school,” Josue said. “Another difference I saw is that here they have a lot more sports than my high school and are very concentrated on sports.”

Mathias noticed the large sports program as well.

“This school is mostly sports, and there are lots of courts and fields with people who are always practicing,” Mathias said. “Back at our school, we have kids practicing sports, but it’s not the main thing.”

The exchange program is not only a great opportunity for Ecuadorian students to get a glimpse of life here, but it also provides a window into life there. 

“Hosting was a pretty cool experience,” Fifth Former Sean Ngo said. “You learn about their school life too, and they were super fluent. It’s completely different here compared to Ecuador, and I think they all enjoyed their stay.”

For the Ecuadorian students, this was an opportunity to preview a future life in the United States. 

“I signed up for the exchange program because I saw it as a good opportunity to think about my future and see if I wanted to do something with my life here,” Mathias said. 

Nelson also sees himself living here in the future.

“It was an opportunity to maybe come live here in the future,” Nelson said. “I want to live a good life around nice people.”