Broadening HCPSS Students’ Perspectives Through Cultural Exchange

Julia Greiwe-MartinezJulia Greiwe-Martinez has been teaching Spanish at Howard High School since 2000 and served as the World Language team leader for more than 12 years. Previously, she taught English in Spain and co-founded a translation agency. She has traveled with students on cultural exchanges to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica and Spain.


Brandon Morfoot After graduating from McDaniel College in 2015, Brandon Morfoot joined Atholton High School as a Spanish teacher. Morfoot, who enjoys learning about other cultures, travels around the globe at every possible opportunity.

Greiwe-Martinez and Morfoot blog about their recent spring break trip to Argentina with Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) students.

Students from three Howard County high schools participated in Explore Argentina, a cultural immersion and community service trip through SAGE and No Barriers, an organization that creates travel opportunities for students to become engaged and compassionate global citizens. We spent 11 days with 12 Howard County students exploring Buenos Aires, Tigre, Iguazu Falls and parts of Misiones.

The entire trip was conducted in Spanish, from the moment the students arrived at the airport until the final good-byes upon returning to Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. The visits included two service learning opportunities, one in Buenos Aires in the Banco de Alimentos (food bank) filling boxes with consumables for charitable organizations to share with families and communities in need. The other service learning project took place at school number 153 in Oberá Misiones in a cultural exchange through a school façade painting project and school supply donation ceremony.

Another highlight of the trip was Iguazu, where students marveled at one of the seven wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. There we stood at the meeting point of three nations, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and toured a local wild animal rehabilitation center to learn about the challenges of different species in this sub-tropical rain forest.

Other activities included: an educational tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Ignacio Jesuit Missions, a traditional Argentine asado (barbecue), tango lessons, a stay at a traditional family style chacra and mate plantation, the Argentine hot tea mate, in addition to a cultural tour of Buenos Aires with a visit to the renowned Café Tortoni, the hang-out spot of the cultural elite.

Throughout the trip, students had regular reflection and sharing time, where they were able to process their experiences as a group and make connections to their personal goals. Based on student feedback on the trip, the opportunity to spend time with the kids at the local school, help out, play, share tereré (a cold form of mate made by the kids with soda) and learn about each other’s cultures and ways of life made the most impact.

Greiwe-Martinez said that the highlight of her language teaching career is the opportunity to travel with students in a country where they are able to apply their skills in a real world situation and make connections to the community in a natural way, through shared experiences. This was the case in our journey to Argentina. Mentoring the students to explore new foods, take risks in language learning, and engage in dialogues with locals about important social, political and personal topics such as social justice, the changes in the environment, corruption, changing family values, and cultural customs is a living and breathing classroom experience.

Safety is the school system’s top priority. HCPSS follows the U.S. Department of State’s recommendations to ensure the safety of its students and staff while on school system-sponsored international travel. The planning and approval of international educational travel events to Europe have been suspended until the current Europe Travel Alert is lifted.