Exchange student reminisces about year at CHS, life in Inner Southeast
As her year in Inner Southeast Portland was drawing to a close, Rotary International Exchange Student Agustina Sesto said she'll go back home to South America a transformed person.
Shortly after she participates in Cleveland High's commencement ceremony on June 4, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Agustina will go back home to Villa Regina, Argentina – just north of Patagonia.
"I'll be taking home something more than 'love'; it's the feeling that I've created a second, true, and real life," Agustina told THE BEE in late May.
She took interest in the Rotary International Exchange Program when her brother applied; he spent his year in Toulouse, France. "He came back so much more mature and independent," she recalled.
To prepare herself to become an exchange student, Agustina said she joined a local Rotary Interact group – clubs that bring together young people to develop leadership skills. "The more I got to know about the program, the more I liked it," she commented.
When she applied, her first "and only" choice of country was the United States, even though she'd visited major "tourist cities" here several times with her family. Because she already was proficient in English, others suggested she go to country other than the United States. "But, coming here was something that I needed to do," she said.
When she got the e-mail from Mark Pennington of the Southeast Portland Rotary Club inviting her to Portland, all she knew about the city was that it was green with trees and parks, Voodoo Doughnuts, and the slogan "Keep Portland Weird".
"I've found it to be a great city, where people honor and respect diversity of cultures and other identities, and are really accepting," Agustina smiled.
Revels in high school experience
At Cleveland High, Agustina buckled down scholastically, taking classes in Anatomy and Physiology, Speech & Debate, Creative Writing, Culinary Arts, Advanced Placement English, biotechnology class, and mindfulness.
"I liked best having the freedom to take the classes that I wanted, at the level that I needed," the exchange student said. "Here, they offer elective classes I would not have been able to take in Argentina, like a ceramics class."
It wasn't all school work for her. "I enjoyed having a CrossFit training, and became one of the CHS Warriors – cheerleading in the fall and winter which is great because I got to see all the American football and basketball games."
In the spring, Agustina became a participating athlete, joining the school's track team and excelling in both long hurdles and high hurdles. "Amazing. I just loved it," she said.
"There've been some things reported about hate and racist incidents this year at Cleveland High, but that doesn't really represent the school," she said. "I felt so much support from staff and teachers who are always there for you, offering help to students."
She got to enjoy another all-American high school experience – going with friend's son a "party bus" to the CHS prom at the Melody Ballroom.
Learns from host families
During her exchange year, Agustina said she stayed with three area families for three months each. "The Rotary Exchange program is great, because they carefully choose the families with whom we stay. All three of them were so different, but so good, because you get to see the culture as experienced by each of these families."
Now as she prepares to return home, Agustina reviewed the life lessons she's learned by being here.
"When I go home, I'll be more accepting of the diversity we have.
"Thinking about all the new and interesting things I've done – more in the last year than in my lifetime so far – I'm more adventurous, and will try new things – more about being present in the moment, and doing my best," remarked Agustina. "I'll go back not feeling like I'm the typical teenager; I think this experience made me a much better person, and in a way, more cultured."
Would she recommend the Rotary International Exchange Program to others? "This is a great program, because it's true: Rotary builds community. That's it."