U.S. and Argentinian students compare notes

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Ana Cotler, left, of Buenos Aires, sits in on Isabelle May’s Spanish class at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School on Friday.
Photo by David Holzel

When Isabelle May visited Argentina in June with a group of students from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, she discovered a number of cultural differences: Argentinians don’t walk down the street eyeballing their phones, the boys have longer hair than in the United States and dinner is late, usually not until 9 p.m.

The group visited the Colegio Tarbut, a Jewish day school in the capital, Buenos Aires. “After school, we went to a restaurant for a snack. It was a four-meal situation,” said Isabelle, 16, explaining on how everyone manages to hold out until 9 for dinner.


Last week, 15 students from the Tarbut school were in Rockville, spending the day at Isabelle’s school as part of an 18-day visit to the United States. Their visit here held a number of surprises.

Like all the homework.

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“It’s strict,” said Jazmin Schaffer, 14. “School here is much more difficult,” said Sofia Elsztain, 14.
“Before I came here I thought my school was so strict,” said Florencia Falak, 15. “Now I love my school.”

That’s an accurate impression, according to Russell Lubin, 16, who hosted an Argentinian student at his house.


“I try to show what I do in a normal day,” Russell said. “Most of it is homework, because I have a lot of homework.”

Sitting next to Russell in Spanish class was Tarbut student Daniel Sigal, 14. Daniel said the biggest difference between his school and Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School “is that we just have one classroom and all the teachers come to us.”

“You stay in the same room all day?” Isabelle was incredulous. “That’s so boring. Even if I have two classes next to each other, I’m so done.”

Added Russell, “Even the five minutes we have between classes gives us a chance to expend a little bit of energy.”

Another difference: “People here are so cold,” Sophia said. “When we see someone, we’re used to cheek-cheek,” and here she mimicked the double-cheek kiss.

Tarbut student Ana Cotler, 14, noted that most Americans she met live in houses, while she and most families in Buenos Aires live in apartments.

And then there are those words America and American.

“I was surprised that you say America” for the name of the country, Florencia said.

“People here ask if I’ve been to America before,” added Sofia. She pointed out that her country is in South America. “I live in America.”

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