Seventeen-year-old Ari Lauthner had never been away from home or his family for longer than 10 days when he decided to spend his junior year attending school in Argentina. And he barely spoke the country's native language.
But after spending roughly three months with three different host families, even Lauthner was surprised when he could easily converse with locals.
Lauthner, who will be a senior at Wilsonville High School in the fall, studied abroad as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program — a program that allows 15- to 19-year-olds to experience another culture during short-term or long-term exchanges. Students are sponsored by Rotary clubs in more than 100 countries, and Lauthner was accepted and covered by the Rotary Club of Wilsonville for a nine-month exchange.
"I enjoyed it. I thought it was interesting because for my personal situation, I didn't dislike my host families but it was nice to have fresh change," Lauthner said.
Lauthner prepared for his trip throughout his entire sophomore year and finally embarked on his journey Sept. 15, 2018. He returned home June 19.
Lauthner found out about the program from a letter he received from the Rotary Club of Wilsonville.
The letter encouraged him and his family to attend an informational meeting at the high school and after several conversations with his parents and Wilsonville rotary members, he applied for the long-term exchange and was accepted.
To prepare for his study abroad experience he attended rotary events that helped introduce him to others who were going on exchange and those who were from — or did an exchange — in the countries participating in the study abroad program.. He also was prepped on how to prevent culture shock, what paperwork he had to complete to live abroad, and what it would be like traveling out of country.
Once in Argentina, Lauthner lived in Caleta Olivia, a large but isolated City in the province of Santa Cruz.
"It's pretty stuck in the desert but it's on the coast," Lauthner said.
During his time abroad, he got to live with host siblings of various ages and different pets.
While in Argentina, Lauthner traveled either with his host family or with the exchange program.
With his second host family, he enjoyed the 12-hour road trip to a glacier.
"That was lovely. It was beautiful; it was stunning," he said. "We went on a boat 100 feet away from the glacier."
Lauthner was able to hike around the huge wall of ice and watch as large chunks broke off into the water, calling it the most breathtaking feature in the south of Argentina.
Another memorable trip was with other exchange students to the north where he saw incredible waterfalls.
"It was like Niagra Falls in the jungle," he said.
While he generally enjoyed his time abroad, it didn't come without challenges.
The language barrier presented many obstacles, especially at school. Lauthner had taken two years of Spanish in high school but said it was not enough to transition him into the country with ease.
Subjects like math and physics — which he had taken before — were understandable for Lauthner, but courses like Argentinian history and literature were difficult to follow.
"You make friends inside the class and you ask them for help if there's something you don't understand," he said, adding that very few spoke English.
He said Argentinians also ate dinner around 10-11 p.m., which was difficult to adapt to after a long day.
One major difference between American and Argentinian culture were the familial traditions.
For example, he said every Sunday his host family would grill meat and eat with extended family and socialize for a few hours.
"I thought it was nice. It was interesting to see these familial bonds that continue to exist and grow and form after the families have separated and have their own lives and everything," Lauthner said. "I would like to adapt that into my life here, (but) I'm not sure how that would work."
One of Lauthner's favorite aspects of his experience was meeting friends from all over the world. He plans to eventually visit his international friends in Germany, Norway and Bermuda, and would highly recommend the program to other high school students.
"There is a lot of disparity in places. You don't notice that a lot of normalities you have and what you see and experience every day are inconceivable to other people," Lauthner said. "You should never fix your eyes or fix your customs or the way you do things. You should keep it open because there are better ways to do it. There are better ways of living that you can find and you can experience. It was a very enlightening experience."
For more information on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, visit http://bit.ly/2J7AWUf.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.