Memphis In May is almost here, and while most people focus on the Beale Street Music Festival or World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the International Salute to Colombia can be overlooked.
Part of that salute is an international student exchange program. The program is a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone involved. This year, eleven students from Colombia are getting the chance to visit the Bluff City, many for the first time.
“I was real excited, actually,” says Mateo Amorocho, one of the Colombian exchange students. “I like knowing new places and this was a really good opportunity for knowing Memphis.”
Like any international excursion, there are always things to watch out for, like cultural differences.
“People here are really caring, but they show their affection in different ways. Here, people say hi with their hand instead of in Colombia, we kiss the cheek and all that stuff,” says Amorocho.
But these students have taken everything in stride and love what Memphis has offer. Whether it’s Beale Street and a Grizzlies game, or learning about Memphis history with a trip to the Civil Rights Museum, the students say they have experienced more than they expected.
“There was a girl, a little black girl, and she was crying,” says Colombian exchange student Maria Jose Camelo about her trip to the National Civil Rights Museum. “She was like, ‘This is my history.’ That really touched me.”
So what kind of impact has this trip made on these students?
“Amazing. That’s the first word. It’s going to be an experience I’m never going to forget,” says Camelo. Lausanne played host for the visiting Columbian students.
A group of Memphis students also got the chance to visit Colombia last week as part of the exchange. Like the Colombian students, they said visiting another country as part of Memphis In May was a life changing experience.
Eleven area high school students from nine schools learned about the Colombian culture firsthand. The students returned home this past Saturday and talked about their experience.
“I mean, we were living with actual Colombian families. I do think we learned a lot more about the culture than we would have through studying them or reading a book,” says Kate Louderback, a student at Bolton High School.
“We showed them how to ‘Hit the Quan’. We gave them the opportunity to listen to Memphis music,” says Ashton Shepherd, a student at Freedom Prep Academy. “We actually gave a presentation on the city of Memphis and what it was like here.”
The students were selected based on communication skills, grades, and community service.
The Memphis In May international student exchange program happens every year. This year’s International Salute to Colombia officially runs from May 8th through the 14th.