Argentine exchange program promotes cultural understanding
Federico Alejandro Tripaldi yanked the green thermos out of his backpack as fellow student Agustín Tacca demonstrated how Argentines pour hot water into a gourd stuffed with yerba mate leaves and then sip the infusion from a slender metal straw called a bombilla.
The resulting drink — a bitter caffeinated beverage that’s similar, perhaps, to Japanese green tea — is often called Argentina’s national drink. Tripaldi and Tacca say it’s a small taste of home, as they study half a world away in Blacksburg.
They’re part of the Friends of Fulbright Argentina Student Exchange Program, which provides scholarships to elite Argentine students to participate in educational exchange programs at U.S. universities. Participants are chosen based on their academic excellence as well as their leadership potential. The program, now in its fifth year at Virginia Tech, aims to promote mutual understanding and international goodwill between the two countries.
“Studying abroad means much more than a simple trip,” said Tacca, a biology student at the National University of the Littoral in Santa Fe. “It involves opening your mind to new experiences and mutual understanding between cultures.”
At Virginia Tech, the students audit classes in their fields of study, attend intensive English classes at the Language and Culture Institute, and share the experience of living and studying with American students. They also engage with the broader community and participate in cultural immersion activities around the region. During a visit to Washington, D.C., for example, they explored the National Mall, visited museums, and met with Jorge Argüello, Argentina’s ambassador to the United States.
“Not only are we providing a meaningful academic experience for the students, but these visiting scholars are bringing diverse perspectives into Virginia Tech’s classrooms and into our community,” said Patricia Parera, associate director at the Language and Culture Institute and the program’s academic director. “They give us a broader worldview and help us all better understand the role of nuance in culture and diversity.”
Jonathan Sánchez González, who is studying chemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, said he was eager to participate in the program because it’s a chance to see what college life is like in the U.S. “Studying abroad forces us to get out of our comfort zone and face new challenges. Also, it is an amazing opportunity to network and meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds,” he said.
For many students, the friendships they forge on campus are often the first contact they have with citizens from other nations, said Don Back, director of the Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs. He said this sort of program is fundamental to the university’s role as a global land-grant university.
“It has been a great honor to host this program at Virginia Tech. Exchanges such as this really do break down walls between us,” he said. “These remarkable, highly engaged students are building the sort of people-to-people connections that span the globe and last a lifetime. I know they will return home with positive impressions of America as they go on to become leaders in their own country.”
Engineering students Santiago Ruiz and Braian Eduardo Kozloski said they’ve been impressed by the latest technologies available to students in Blacksburg. “The Virginia Tech campus is huge compared with any campus in Argentina, and it has so many buildings and facilities,” said Ruiz, a student at the National University of La Matanza. But despite its size, he still feels a sense of belonging. “You really feel like a Hokie. In Argentina, that sense is not so common.”
Camillo Cherenscio and Manuel Estevez echoed that sentiment. Cherenscio, from the National University of Central Buenos Aires, said he’s been surprised by how easily everyone shares their love for Virginia Tech. “All of this is extremely contagious, so in some sense I’m also starting to feel and transmit that love for Virginia Tech.”
Estevez, a student at the National University of Río Cuarto, said he’s been moved by the passion of the faculty here and their focus on students’ learning. Unlike in Argentina, where a university is just the place you go to study, “it seems for me that the university here is like a home and you feel part of it.”