Students Learn Mexican Language, Culture First Hand


"Te voy a extranar."

Translated from Spanish, the phrase means, "I will miss you," and it was heard dozens of times on the morning of Thursday, March 30, as a group of 21 students from Payson High School rolled out of Guaymas, Mexico. The trip was part of Hands Across the Border, an exchange program that has been at PHS for two years now. Each student was paired with another from Instituto Regional de Guaymas, a private high school.


Payson High School sophomore Lisa Bartoli with three of her new friends from Mexico, whom she met during a cultural exchange program, Hands Across the Border.

The point of the program is to provide students from both countries with a cultural experience and show them an alternate lifestyle to their own. When they came up to Payson on Feb. 26, our main goal was to show them what our lives are like and what we do for fun around here. So after a day of regular classes, we dragged our partners to the top of the Green Valley Park hill, where we proceeded to show them ice blocking. They had a great time, and the next day we boarded their tour bus and headed to Williams, where we loaded onto a train to the Grand Canyon.

Trying to communicate with our partners was definitely a challenge. Having hours of travel time on buses and trains helped us figure this out. My partner was Gloria Barragon, a 14-year-old freshman. She was very quiet around my family and me, but could talk up a storm around those who spoke Spanish. It was that way with all of us. We loved our partners, but we were always so glad when we were around anyone who spoke English.

At the Grand Canyon, we all ate dinner and saw an IMAX movie after a blustery hour at the Canyon. When we returned to the hotel, Spanish and American kids alike were begging for a fiesta, but the chaperones all agreed that some sort of rules and curfew were necessary, so we settled for sitting in the hall conversing with our new friends.

The next day at the Canyon was perfect, and our partners enjoyed a mild hike before the ride home where we had dinner with our families.

We then decided to show them some scenery a little closer to home, the Tonto Natural Bridge. This tour was followed by a nice homemade picnic before returning home.

That night was our farewell dinner. The theme was Mardi Gras, so the students were all decked out with hats, masks and beads.

After the dinner, some of the PHS kids took our partners to Rim Country Lanes for one last party. The next morning it was back on the bus and back to Mexico. Exactly one month later, that same bus picked us up to make the 10 to 12 hour trip to Guaymas.

Most of the students, especially those who hadn't gone before, were shocked at the differences between the two cultures. For instance, they don't feel the need to always be worried about time. Kids walked into school late all the time, and no one ever seemed to be in a hurry.

Their equivalent of our Tonto National Bridge is the beach in San Carlos, about half an hour away.

We spent the night at a hotel on the beach with our partners, and spent the next two days swimming, playing ping pong and beach volleyball, and even had a bonfire on the beach that lasted until three in the morning.

On another day, some boys taught us how to play soccer (the No. 1 sport in Mexico), and we had dancing contests and watched Mexican soap operas until midnight, when we reluctantly went home.

For the remaining two days, we went to scattered classes at Instituto Regional de Guaymas, visited a shrimp farm that produces 2/3 of the shrimp that the United States imports, saw a cultured pearl factory, and even got to shop at small stands on the highway.

Another learning experience was definitely the food. At one of the roadside stands, they were cutting up coconuts to eat. One Spanish girl offered me a taste of coconut with what looked like some kind of strawberry sauce. Figuring it would be interesting, I took a good-sized bite, only to discover it was a Mexican chile gel called Chamouy.

At their farewell dinner, a DJ played Mexican music, while women were making tortillas the size of a medium pizza. Everyone had a blast, even the teachers and chaperones, who got up and danced with us. Then the next morning, it was a teary goodbye as we took dozens of pictures and reluctantly got on the bus to go back home to Payson.

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