By B.C. Manion
It doesn’t take long to see that Adriana Ortiz has big ideas.
Ask the 17 year old what she wants to do with her life and she readily responds, “I want to have a big influence on the global community.”
Along those lines, she’s leaving this week to finish her high school education by studying abroad in Mendoza, Argentina.
She’s the first senior in Pasco County schools to fulfill her high school graduation requirements while attending high school in a foreign country, said her mother, Lenora Ortiz, who teaches Advanced Placement World History at Wiregrass Ranch High.
Even though she speaks Spanish, Adriana said she knows it will be an adjustment to take all of her classes in Spanish and to use the language in her daily conversations.
She’s concerned about how much science she may be expected to take.
“For one, I’m not really good at that here, and if I’m trying to learn physics in Spanish — they use words I don’t even know in English.”
She plans to be low-key, as she gets acquainted with her new surroundings.
“I’m going to be pretty much silent the first few days, especially when I get in school. I’m just going to observe, see what I should or should not be doing,” Adriana said.
She’s already changed her diet in anticipation of her move.
“I was a vegetarian for three years. I had to drop it,” she said.
Argentina is known for its beef, and her host family has already informed her that they do lots of barbecuing. Besides eating different foods, she’ll have to get used to eating at different times of the day, too.
But she’s excited about what awaits her.
Her first step on this new adventure will be to fly to Houston, where she’ll meet two other exchange students. They’ll travel together to Buenos Aires and then will be transported to Rosario for an orientation program with exchange students from all over the world.
After that, she’ll arrive at her host family’s home, just two days before school begins.
One of the first things on her host family’s agenda is to take her to see the Andes Mountains range.
Her upcoming experience will be the longest time she’s spent away from home, but it won’t be the first time she’s studied abroad.
She spent one summer studying in Quito, Ecuador.
While there, she spent a couple of hours each day simply conversing in Spanish with her teacher.
That experience inspired Adriana’s idea for her senior project. While in Mendoza, she plans to organize a cultural exchange program between students from Wiregrass Ranch High and students at the public high school she’ll be attending.
In essence, she plans to match up Wiregrass Ranch students who are serious about learning Spanish with Mendoza students who have a strong desire to learn English.
She plans to have students from both countries answer questionnaires and she’ll match them up, and then they’ll chat with each other regularly, dividing their time between English and Spanish.
She said she shouldn’t be the only one to benefit from the exchange program.
She thinks that students from both countries will improve their foreign language skills.
“In a normal classroom, you just learn it. You don’t really use it,” Adriana said.
The project may also have another result, she said: It could lead to some lasting friendships.
She plans to document the cultural exchange and to make a presentation on the senior project to a panel, via Skype. Her family also plans to use Skype to keep in contact, but those contacts will be limited, her mom said.
Being in contact too often would make it harder for Adriana, not easier, said Lorena, who speaks four languages and has traveled extensively to places including China, Germany and South Korea.
Instead of chatting on Skype, she plans to follow Adriana’s experiences via Facebook and a blog the student plans to write.
Lenora is thrilled that her daughter is blazing a new trail.
When Adriana learned she was breaking new ground, she said her reaction was: “That’s cool, but I really shouldn’t be the first one. This is such a great experience.”