Exchange student Piero Ramos is a long way from his hometown of Lima, Peru for his senior year of high school. He gives us a glimpse through his eyes of what it is like coming to Dexter, America.
We met at Aubrees and over supper Piero told me about the whirlwind change he has encountered being suddenly submersed in an entirely different world. The transition involves more than just being able to speak the language. It is a translation of culture and the ability to navigate the many new, mostly wonderful, sometimes strange, experience.
“I knew it would be a big change,” Piero tells me in his accented but clear English. “But I wanted to go on this exchange program because it would be a chance to experience a different culture, tell people about my country as well.”
The exchange program that brought Piero to Dexter is sponsored by Dexter Rotary. Dr Julie Schumaker, President of our local chapter, explains, “The Dexter Rotary Club has a long tradition of sponsoring exchange students from around the world and sending Dexter students abroad. During the current school year, the Rotary Club is hosting Piero Ramos from Peru, and has sent four students abroad for both a year-long exchange — Mya Connolly to South Korea and Rachelle Rabideau to Germany — and a short-term summer exchange — Ada Osulu to France and Elise Reich to Argentina.”
The difference in geography between Piero’s two worlds is astounding. Piero’s hometown of Lima, Peru area has a population of 18.7 million people, twice the population of the State of Michigan. Dexter’s population is around 4,420. Lima is the 30th largest city in the world for population – not even sure where Dexter would fall on that list. Lima sprawls over 2,421 square miles. Washtenaw County is 722 square miles. Dexter covers 1.93 – a few blocks of Lima. Piero’s hometown has a density of 7,724 people per square mile. You would have to increase Dexter’s population 3 ½ times in the same space to get that feel.
“Lima is a big city,” Piero says with simple understatement. “Coming to Dexter has been a big difference.”
Back home, Piero is involved with Interact, the student version of Rotary. He never entertained the idea of being an exchange student until one day when his principal at school called him into the office, He was introduced to a few representatives of the Lima Rotary and the exchange program was explained.
Piero was interested and his mother supported the idea. His father was supportive but wasn’t excited about his son being gone for so long. His mother made a deal with Piero: if he took responsibility for all the paperwork that needed filling out, she would see to it he could go.
Piero filled out the pre-application which then landed him an interview with the local Lima chapter of Rotary. After a successful interview, he was invited to formally apply for the exchange program. Final approval came through a joint decision from Lima Rotary and Rotary International.
Mom helped get a visa, a plane ticket and necessary medical provisions for Piero’s diabetes and two weeks before Dexter’s 2017 school year began, Piero arrived in town for his senior year of high school. He is 16-years-old.
Caryle Burke, who heads up the student exchange committee for Dexter Rotary, explains the mission of the program:
“Rotary District 6380 Youth Exchange is for high school-aged students (15-18 years of age) who are interested in living and studying abroad for a short-term or long-term exchange. The goal is to promote the advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace at the person-to-person level. Exposure to new cultures and customs is a powerful way to promote global understanding and peace. “
Understandably, school has been a huge adjustment and maybe even that is an understatement. There’s the language difference and while Piero’s conversational English is just fine, it becomes a challenge when listening to instructors explain the difference between the codification and ratification of the Bill of Rights, learning the elements of exposition, or thesis and argumentation in the art of composition.
While the language is a challenge in itself, the difference in the curriculums of his school in Lima and here at Dexter High School are vastly different. The two curriculums are not concurrent. English composition isn’t the same as Spanish composition. Dexter’s math classes don’t pick up where Lima’s math left off.
As daunting as it sounds, Piero has embraced the challenge by immersing himself fully in his new home for a few months. In addition to his studies, he is training through the winter with the Dreadnaught Track and Field Team for their spring meets. Monday and Wednesday he lifts weights. Tuesday and Thursday is cardio. The event he is looking forward to competing in is the high jump and then “whatever else coach may have in mind.”
Piero’s decision to be an exchange student has cost him an extra six months of school. He will graduate here in Dexter in June. His classmates back home finished their school year on Dec. 15th and graduated on the 21st. The school year in Peru begins in March, the start of their fall, and ends in December which is the beginning of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In Peru, students school career is 11 years compared to 12 in the U.S.
There are so many new things. Piero has experienced his first snow. In Peru there is no Frosty the Snowman or Rudolf, much less songs immortalizing them. The outlet you plug your phone charger into is different. Up here we use The Big Dipper to find the North Star to point north. Down there the kids are taught The Southern Cross points south. Around here we eat the wings of buffalo which do not have wings and are not buffalo. To name a few.
I asked Piero what has been the biggest adjustment he has had to make coming here and his answer surprised me. It is the lack of public transportation and having to depend upon his host family to get around. Back home in Lima, he could go anywhere, anytime. “I moved from a big city with public transportation to Dexter,” he says. “Here I need people to give me rides. In Lima I could go anywhere I want. That is a big adjustment. It takes a lot of working out schedules – my schedule and around the Callahan’s schedule.” He adds appreciatively, “They (the Callahan’s) are very understanding.”
The freedom we have in our public schools has made a big impression as well. “Ninety-percent of schools in Lima are private,” he explains. “They are stricter. You have to wear uniforms.“ He adds, “I find it interesting how your government supports your schools … In Dexter, students can wear what they want. There is more freedom. You can do whatever you want, be whoever you are as long as you’re not hurting anyone.”
In his school back home, students don’t change rooms. The teachers move from room to room. “In Peru, the classes are chosen for you,” he says. “They are mandatory. Here you can choose your classes. I think this is helping me with the (curriculum gap between the two systems).”
He has started with “lighter classes” as he describes it while he gets adjusted. His classes this semester are: Intro to Journalism, Financial Management, Gym, U.S. History, French, Upper Literature & Composition.
There have been moments of homesickness, “especially now with the holidays” he says. “I feel down sometimes but I face-time family and friends and that makes it better.” He goes on, “It is the small details that are hardest, like greeting my mom when she comes home from work. We hug.”
Piero has two older siblings, a brother age 20 who is attending university and a sister age 24 who is finishing university. His sister just gave birth to a baby girl. Piero is now an uncle and he says “I am looking forward to meeting my niece.”
Piero is getting to see more than just Dexter while he is here. His class took a field trip to the Henry Ford Museum and the Museum of Afro American Culture. “I like walking around Detroit,” he says. “It’s like home.” Over winter break, the Callahans are taking him along with another exchange student to Chicago.
I asked Piero to tell me some things that have struck him as just plain weird about American culture. Without hesitation he said, “You don’t eat mayonnaise with your French fries up here,” he says. “You use ketchup. There is mustard and ketchup on the table, but no mayonnaise.”
The legal driving age also strikes him as odd. “You have kids here driving when they are fifteen. At sixteen, they can go wherever they want. That kind of independence is strange to me.” In Peru the legal driving age is eighteen. Seventy-five percent of kids here have cars,” he says. “That’s really amazing.”
On a more comic note, he has enjoyed how some cars are decorated with “horns and a red ball for Christmas.” He says, “I think that is funny.” I explain that it’s Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornamentation and the absurdity Piero sees in it, also strikes me – for the celebration of Jesus’ birth people are driving around with a large red nose and antlers waggling in the wind. We’re both laughing.
For Christmas in Peru, besides celebrating the birth of Jesus, Santa still comes from the North Pole to deliver gifts but he comes through a window. There aren’t any “places of fire in houses” Piero explains. They do celebrate Christmas with hot chocolate but it’s “a little weird” he says. “Hot chocolate at the beginning of summer, eh, not so much.”
“What I like are the all the holiday decorations here,” he tell mes. “You can really feel the holidays. We don’t do that in Peru. Another amusing thing for Piero is seeing “Christmas decorations up in early November because in Peru, we put them up two-weeks before Christmas, no earlier.”
Piero is looking forward to the holiday break and trip to Chicago. Coming to America has been challenging but he relishes and appreciates the chance. He knows it can only bolster his plans in the future.
Dexter Rotary is currently recruiting now for host families and students for the 2018-2019 school year. There are two types of exchanges offered:
- Long term – full school year exchange, typically August to June.
- Short term – more of a family to family exchange with a student from each family spending a month or so in both countries, typically during the summer.
Rotary typically brings in one long term student per year which requires 2-3 host families for stays of 3-5 months each. Rotary also sends out at least one long term student each year to another country.
Anyone who is interested in either being a host family or in going on exchange can contact Caryle Burke at 734-476-5232 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the website for more information: http://www.6380youth.org/youth-exchange.html