Mandy Hart, who visited Argentina in 2013, was interviewed at the August 4, 2014 Speedwell AFS Scholarship picnic. She talks about how her trip changed her, gave advice for students going abroad and shared her love for the generosity and patriotism of the Argentinian people.
First off, tell me who you are, where you are from, where you go to high school and which country you visited.
Hi, my name is Mandy Hart, I'm seventeen years old. I just got back from Argentina, I was down there for 11 months. I've graduated from Fannet-Metal University and in the fall of 2014 I'm planning to go to Waynesburg University.
Were you applying to colleges abroad? How did your AFS experience influence your college application, and what your doing, planning to study?
I think being a foreign exchange student, when colleges look at students they look for very well rounded students. If you have on your application, “I was a foreign exchange student for eleven months,” you know German, French or Spanish. They look to kids that aren't afraid to dare, challenge themselves, be brave. If you have that on your application it's really good for scholarships, its very good for if you want that school. “That's my school, that's my dream school,” you probably have a better chance of getting into that school.
And has your experience influenced what you are studying?
Yes, I've always really liked business, I've always been good with math and I have so many good ideas for business, and international business is very good, so with my school I plan to go for international culture or international business and some Spanish, so yes.
Now did you take Spanish before, how was your language when you were there and how do you think your language is now?
Before I went I had the basics “uno, dos, tres, cuatros, cinco, hola, como estas,” but I didn't know anything. Now, I just like talking to people, I Skype with my family, my friends for hours just to keep it going and it's very good. And I think with the world now, in Pennsylvania, in the United States, more kids should start learning Spanish because we have so many relationships with Mexico and South America, so I definitely think I love it.
What do you see your experience, has it changed you being abroad and coming back and where do you think that's influenced you?
Before I went on my trip I was very shy, I was afraid to put one foot in front of the other, but us kids going, I think we are braver than we notice in the eyes of other people. And now I think we have our heads up, “I went somewhere for a year, by myself, didn't know anything.” It's kinda like a lifetime within a lifetime, because when we got there we were like babies, we didn't know anybody, we didn't know how to speak the language, we didn't know anything and by the time we left, we knew our families, the community, how to speak, what was the daily life schedule, and then we were just kinda ripped out of it. I definitely think it helps build confidence, it makes me feel good to tell people I wen't somewhere, I think it's really, really good.
You mention other folks. Were there other AFS students, or other people who were there who you are still keeping in touch with, and how do you see that?
AFS is very connected, in my group I was the only person from the United States, but we had kids from Norway, Italy, Germany, all over the place, we still are connecting. When we were down there our group leader said that we were probable the most connected group, and whenever something is not going well with your host family, your friends, you always have those AFSers and they are there with you because they are going through the same thing you are. We all came together on the flight, and we left together on that flight, so you always have that for backup.
What advice would you give for students who are considering going, or are actually going, what do you tell them, what have you been telling the other students, what advice are you giving?
My first thing is that “nothing is good, nothing is bad, it's just different.” You could think, “this is bad,” but it's not, it's how they think. Everywhere across the world they think differently, so you just have to put in your mind “OK, this isn't good, this isn't bad, it's just different.” Another thing; don't be obsessed with learning the language. I was so nervous because I didn't know how to speak, once I got down there, people are wanting to help you, people could tell that I was from a different place because of my red hair. People are willing to help you. Once people are wanting to help you accept that help, learn from it. Don't say “OK, OK” and not learn from it. Learn from your mistakes and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself. Say something, – you have to speak to learn it, – so don't be afraid, “Oh, I messed that up.” you just have to keep going, you have to keep pushing. If you just quit in the middle, three months into it... Iit's so worth it just to push it through.
How did you decide to do AFS and how has the Speedwell Scholarship impacted your trip abroad?
It is a very big impactor on my study abroad. The day I wen't home I talked to a teacher and I said I'm really thinking about doing the exchange student because I went on a twenty day trip with another student ambassador program to Australia and I loved it, I loved traveling and I talked to her saying I really want to do an exchange and I talked to my principal. Jeff came that same day to my school, gave out brochures and said “I know a person who can help you and he told me about the Speedwell. I told my parents that I don't want you to pay, if I want to go, I want to pay for it. I wasn't going to be able to go if I didn't have a scholarship. So I applied and I said that if I get this I' going and the day I got it I said “I'm going to Argentina!” It's very big. If I didn't have a scholarship, I wouldn't be here telling you about my awesome experience.
It doesn't sound like you took Spanish in school, so what made you want to go down to Argentina.
I have a friend that was a very good friend with my brother and he started in Argentina, a vet school in Buenos Ares, and then he found a girlfriend, but the girlfriend was from Chile, he moved to Chile with his girlfriend, sadly they are broken up now. He told me that if you do an exchange student program, you need to go to Argentina, because one difference between Chile and Argentina is that the people in Argentina are so open, they open their house, open their casa, the'd take the shirts off their back to help you, make you feel welcome, do anything for you. And so, in South America there are a lot of third world countries, but Argentina is probably the number one country because it is such a loving country, very patriotic, everywhere you went you saw an Argentine flag. So that patriotism of we're proud of where we are from is awesome, and I just loved it. If you want to go somewhere go to Argentina. And I was in the best state, “province”, I was in Jujuy, underneath Bolivia and connected to Chile, so I loved it. My host family would tell me everything traditional about Argentina, about Jujuy, and one thing about Argentina, they are so proud of each different state. Once you go into one state there is a food call empanadas, it is like a shell and meat and all different kind of stuff, each state had their own. And that's just how proud they are, and I just loved it.