When 19 students from Colegio Israelita de Mexico ORT (CIM-ORT) in Mexico City were welcomed by their peers at Golda Och Academy in West Orange on Nov. 11, said one observer, it was like the reunion of life-long friends. The GOA host students from the 10th-grade GoAbroad Exchange Program, however, were meeting the CIM-ORT students face to face for the first time.
Through the program, now in its pilot phase, the students correspond with their counterparts, and each group of students visits the others’ country for one week. Instrumental in making the match between the two schools were Jim Lodge, senior development officer at World ORT, and, from Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Overseas Living Bridges liaison Taryn Berelowitz and Living Bridges coordinator Randi Brokman.
The GOA students will travel to Mexico Feb. 9-16.
The Mexican visitors spent their week learning about American and American-Jewish culture through classes, trips, community service, and stays with host families. At GOA, the CIM-ORT students took classes in U.S. government and Jewish scribal arts and in the STEM curriculum. They also visited Spanish classes, including an AP class, where they were interviewed in Spanish by their peers.
Along with their chaperone, Lessie Scott, cochair of the English Department at CIM-ORT, the group explored New York City, visiting Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the 9/11 Museum and Memorial.
The visitors observed Shabbat with their host families and at the families’ synagogues.
“The students seemed like old friends when they arrived,” said GOA parent Sheryl Pearlstein. “Within a day or so you honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the GOA kids and their guests. We had a wonderful experience hosting our exchange students, who were very interested in discussing the Jewish community here and in Mexico City.”
One host family invited all the students over for a party Saturday evening and football on Sunday.
“Our families welcomed the students with arms wide open, and our visitors felt at home almost immediately,” said Gail Shapiro, foreign language chair at GOA. “The students communicated in Spanish, English, and Hebrew. While there were cultural differences — food, language, academic day structure — there was common ground as well: Both cultures are family-centric and teens across the world love to share music and technology,” she said.