This is the next article in our series this year, “Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families”
Interviewed and edited by Cecilia Ball, AFS volunteer and returnee (Argentina 2019-20).
Meet Juan Bautista “Bauti” Ratti from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is one of three foreign exchange students living in West Hartford and attending Conard High School this school year. He is also just one of seven in Connecticut, out of approximately only 50 students who were able to come to the U.S. this year.
Hi, Bauti! Tell us about yourself.
My name is Juan Bautista, but everyone calls me Bauti. I’m a senior at Conard. I play handball in Argentina. I’ve been playing since I was 5 and my siblings all play as well. A couple years ago my sister got a camera and I took a photography class and became interested in that. I take photos of anything and everything. I’m the youngest of five siblings and being from Argentina I love “mate” and “terere” and brought some to share here. I love to travel I’ve been to several different countries in Europe and South America and I hope to travel a lot more.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
The U.S. was my first choice for going abroad. I go to a bilingual school in Argentina. My father’s siblings all did exchange programs with AFS, he told me about it a few years ago and so I started preparing and doing the requirements so that I could go abroad after finishing secondary school.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Argentina and here?
School was a big difference. In Argentina we don’t get to choose any of our classes, so coming to high school and being able to pick some classes I wanted to study was interesting. I got to change host families halfway through the year. Having two different host families made me a lot more open to trying new foods. I never really liked fish before, but I really liked the way my first host mom prepared it. In Argentina we have asado, it’s similar to barbeque but unique to our country and there’s not really an equivalent here. I miss having it but it’s a small sacrifice for a year in the U.S. Playing sports in school on teams is very different. In Argentina we only really play on club teams outside of school, the only sports we do are during PE and we don’t do them competitively.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I really like living in a suburban town like West Hartford. Where I live in Argentina, we don’t really have yards or big lawns, the houses are all very close together. I like that West Hartford is small but not too small, you can still meet your neighbors and others easily. Earlier this year we went to Talcott Mountain State Park and I really enjoyed hiking up with my family and I had a great time, the view was beautiful!
What do you do outside of school here?
I tried mountain biking with my host dad and some family friends, we also went apple picking in the fall and that was pretty new and fun. I tried ropes courses and that was a lot of fun. I built my first snowman with some friends and that was a lot of fun and tried snowboarding for the first time. It’s been nice to meet other AFS students, too. I did cross country at school in the fall. I discovered that I don’t like running long distances, but it gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of other students at school. This winter I found out that I’m good at high jump, and I’m a sprinter – so I hope I can help Conard win at track and field.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Argentina: Everyone in Argentina is very friendly, if you ever visit, everyone will accept you and welcome you with open arms. We are competitive with sports, especially when it comes to soccer, and don’t be afraid to accept an invitation to have “mate” with a friend! It’s a symbol of friendship and sharing for us.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: You have to be patient with students, not everyone will have the same level of understanding and speaking. Accept the student as if they were your own and love and accept them. Sometimes everyone has to change and adjust for everyone to have the best experience.
Being an AFS exchange student: If you’re someone shy, you have to try and open up even if it’s intimidating or you feel embarrassed. You have to accept the family, knowing that all families are different and might not be the same as your family from your home country. Sometimes you have to adapt and be brave, even when it feels challenging.
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student next year, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange visit afsUSA.org. To learn more about AFS in West Hartford visit: https://weha-afs.org/
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