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Two students travel abroad for State Department trips

St. Louis U. High sent two students on State Department-sponsored trips over the summer. Junior Otto Reitenbach flew to Korea, while Elliot Caplin flew to Jordan. Both international trips were sponsored by the State Department, which funds the trips in order to promote intercultural communications. 

Reitenbach with fellow students in Hanok Village I Courtesy of Otto Reitenbach

Reitenbach left for Korea on June 15; he stayed in Washington D.C. for two days before leaving for Korea, where he landed on June 21. Caplin left for Jordan on June 14. Both flights to Korea and Jordan were delayed.

Students in the program live with host families and attend language classes spoken completely in the native language. In Korea, Reitenbach left his host family’s house at 7:30 in the morning, took a 30-minute commute that involved walking and a bus to school, before having class from nine to one. Lunch was held for an hour and afterwards there was an hour of tutoring and three hours worth of classes that showcased Korean culture, art, and movies. After school, Reitenbach was able to walk around the city, Jeonju, until curfew at 9.

Caplin had a four hour Arabic class in the mornings before heading to a cafe to do homework and have lunch. There was only one other student in Caplin’s class, and he averaged about two hours worth of homework a day. The main topics of learning were grammar and conversational work.

On weekends in Korea, Reitenbach spent a lot of time at church. 

“My host dad was a Presbyterian pastor, so I did a lot of stuff at their church with their youth group and a lot of people in their community,” said Reitenbach.

On weekends in Jordan, Caplin and his host family took sightseeing trips, such as a day trip to Petra. The weekends in Jordan, instead of being Saturday and Sunday, were instead Friday and Saturday, because Friday is a sacred day for Islam. Caplin also spent a lot of his time at a street market downtown, or playing soccer with the residents.

Both students stayed with host families.

“They didn’t speak much English, so just learning to work through how to communicate with people that you don’t really share a language with (was a big skill),” said Reitenbach. “There was a lot of nonverbal pointing.”

“My (host) dad was a Palestinian refugee and left during a thing called Nakba, which was sad and interesting to learn about, (alongside) his experiences being a refugee,” said Caplin.

Nakba was the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Overall, Caplin learned a lot on his trip.

“I think there’s a misconception about what the Middle East actually is. I think the media has kind of portrayed it as this scary war zone, but in reality going there helps open up your eyes to the fact that there’s really nice people there,” said Caplin. “There’s beautiful things there. And we can’t really look at it as this third world where everything’s horrible.”

Trips lasted between six and seven weeks, and beyond Jordan and Korea, the State Department has also held trips to Taiwan, India, and a variety of other countries. This has been possible through SLUH’s participation in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, or NSLI-Y. The NSLI-Y primarily focuses on countries that speak Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish.

Students also attended programs locally such as Star Talk, where different college campuses host immersion camps to help students further develop their language skills. Star Talk holds Chinese, Arabic, and Russian programs where students also spend several hours in classrooms, immersing themselves in the language they’re studying, before being released to do activities popular in the country, in which they are able to start speaking the language that they’re learning. For example, attendees of the Russian camp learned to sing popular songs in Russian, and played Russian board games.

“There’s an immense value in these programs because they’re US State Department sponsored,” said Director of Global Education Rob Chura. “They’re really amazing as far as the amount of immersion in the language and just the quality of instruction they’ve been able to provide for our kids.”






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