After a whirlwind 10 days in the United States, it may be quite some time before the exchange students from Cape Town see their West Hartford friends again.
In February, 32 students from and visited South Africa, living with families of high school students from Cape Town and receiving a first hand lesson in history, culture, and the evolution of human rights. The trip was organized by Conard teacher Tracey Wilson and Hall teacher Liz Devine. Wilson on West Hartford Patch.
Although the West Hartford students were sad to leave South Africa, they knew they would soon see their counterparts when the group completed the exchange by coming to the United States.
For the past 10 days, the Cape Town students, who stayed with families of the West Hartford students who had visited South Africa, toured the region, shopped, visited New York City, celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and attended classes at Hall and Conard.
There were lots of hugs, and lots of tears, as the entire group came together for a final reception with town leaders and representatives from the prior to Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting at Town Hall.
West Hartford parent Keren Paquette remarked, "It was amazing how easily they fit in here."
One of the West Hartford students called the exchange experience "life-changing," adding that all who had been part of the experience learned to transcend borders and barriers.
Superintendent of Schools Karen List said she was "so glad that what began as a conversation turned into a reality."
List told the students from West Hartford and Cape Town, "You are the future, you have the power to change the world; we're counting on you."
JP Brunda spent the last 10 days living at the home of Conard junior Alicia Beadle. Brunda was born in Johannesburg, and although he had been to Mexico this was his first trip to the U.S.
"Being here changed my mindset. It's so much more of a free feeling here, that no matter where you come from, you can get to be the best that you can be," Brunda said.
Cape Town student Connor Jackson stayed at the home of Hall junior Jordan Staley. "Being here changed my mind, all of my generalizations that I thought about people in America. Everyone is so much more appreciative and willing to help," Jackson said.
Cape Town student Amanda Sebola said the U.S. was "an amazing place. You would think people don't care, but everyone has been so nice and has treated us like we are one of them. It's been a wonderful experience."
Sebola lived with Hall junior Bianca Giolitto, who is already planning a return trip to South Africa.
"It was like nothing I expected," said Giolitto, who was glad to experience South Africa's Xhosa tribal culture and language when she stayed with Sebola's family outside Cape Town.
The West Hartford and Cape Town students plan to continue their friendships, although the time difference makes it difficult to easily communicate on a regular basis. Several students were trying to convince Conard Assistant Principal Matt Pace to allow them to use Facebook in the school to communicate with their new friends. "It's an amazing tool, and would be the best way for us to talk," said Julia Orluk.