Left to right: Charles Carter (Program Coordinator), Hernan Moreno (Col.), Ma. Fernanda Martinez (Col.), Nidia Hernandez (Col.), Carlos Gonzalez (mentor, Ven.), Alejandra Ramos (Col.), Samuel Perez (Col.), Atenea Gimenez (Ven.), Louisianna Fernandez (Ven.), Fabian Chaustre (Ven.), Luis Hurtado (Ven. ), Leonardo Sanchez (Ven.)
Science Hill continues long tradition of welcoming Youth Ambassadors
Science Hill High School Spanish teacher Charles Carter had a glow about him when he told administrators at Science Hill last Friday that their school was the only one in the country that has participated every year of the Youth Ambassadors Program.
The program, which saw the first group of four students come to Johnson City in 2004, has seen 19 more groups make stops at Science Hill with over 180 international students, representing seven Hispanic countries. This year, 10 students, five from Colombia and five from Venezuela, spent the afternoon telling Science Hill Spanish classes about their countries.
For all 10 students, who range from ages 15 to 17, it was the first time they’d left their country and been on an airplane. Each candidate went through a rigorous interview process and were selected from over 1,000 entries from both countries for the opportunity to come to the states for 15 days.
The purpose of the Youth Ambassadors program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Partners of America, is to deepen the students understanding of U.S. society and culture, while sharing their own cultural traits. Upon returning to Colombia and Venezuela, youth use what they have learned throughout the exchange to design and implement service projects that benefit their communities.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn firsthand what our country is like and it’s a great opportunity for our children to learn about their culture,” said Carter, who is the vice-president of the Tennessee Chapter of the Partners of America. “So that everyone gets a better impression of one another.”
The group stopped with Carter and their mentor Carlos Gonzalez to speak during an administration meeting before going to the Spanish classes. During their time in front of the administration, the group were all smiles as they shared their information. The lone gripe from the visitors was mentioned through a smile, as they joked about the cold temperatures they experienced through their stay.
Carter said that the program has a special place in his heart, as he grew up in South America and welcomed the opportunity for both cultures to share with one another.
I just want to share the Latin experience with our kids and I want to share this experience with them,” he said.
Samuel Perez, a 16-year old from Colombia, said that he was excited to see how things happen in the United States.
“This has been an amazing experience,” Perez told the Science Hill administrators on Friday. “You have an amazing school and if I could, I would study here. I love this school and Johnson City is a very nice city.”
Alejandra Ramos, who is from Bogotá, Colombia, agreed with Perez.
“I am so excited to be here. This is an amazing experience and it is the best experience of my life,” she said. “As my partners have said, it is completely different from Colombia, but it is so cool and I really like it.”
Carter said he was pleased to welcome another group to Johnson City and he mentioned a simple decision like selecting a meal at Hardee’s was hard from some of the students because they had so many options.
“(This young man) was almost to the point of desperation, trying to figure out which meal to get,” Carter said. “Many of the things that they see are things that just totally blow them away. In Venezuela, they are going through a very hard time. So just going to a grocery store is overwhelming.”
Carter said that one young man joked to one of his classes that he had reached the “American Dream” after he enjoyed Starbucks. Last Thursday, the group toured Jonesborough where they also met a former student that had come over in the program and decided to later move to the United States and live in Jonesborough.
“A Youth Ambassador from 2012 now lives in Johnson City and is attending Northeast State while she works two jobs,” Carter said. “She has a car and an apartment and she is starting to live the American Dream. And she credited the program to changing her life.”
The group stayed for 15 days and started their trip with a four-day stay in Washington D.C. Over the weekend, they took a trip to Dollywood.