By Connie and Lynn Baer | Foothiller Footsteps
Not all international students who visit Grossmont High School (GHS) stay for the entire school year. Historically, Foothillers have also hosted students who visit for shorter periods of time.
In October 1963, a program that fostered international understanding was “Operation Amigo.” Spanish teacher Bob Miller, who was interested in improving Latin America’s image of the United States, made the transportation arrangements and traveled with 30 Peruvian and Costa Rican students from Mexico City to San Diego. An article on the program in the San Diego Union reported that the students arrived at Lindbergh Field to “cheers and waves of Grossmont High band, Caperettes, and official greeters. Banners in Spanish welcomed the visitors who were to stay for two weeks.”
Principal Walter Barnett told the students during a campus welcoming celebration, “You are the future leaders of your countries. Now you are ambassadors of good will…All of us will benefit from this wonderful opportunity being presented us to learn each other’s customs and cultures.”
Class of 1965 member Phil Pratt remembers the language barrier.
“I would have shamed Senora Lane (Spanish teacher) when I attempted to speak conversational Spanish with Hector as there was a lot of hand gesturing in our communications,” he said. “Fortunately, my mother spoke a little Spanish so we weren’t totally silent at the dinner table. I remember his face as I drove him to school the first day and he observed the student parking lot. He got out of the car and stared all around, mentioning we had a lot of teachers, due to the number of cars. He was amazed to learn they belonged to the students. While there may have been some language barriers, such barricades soon disappeared since we soon learned a big smile went a long way to communicating our affection for one another.”
Sandra Conner Nichols, Class of 1965, recalls, “I treasure the memories of ‘Operation Amigo,’ becoming lifelong friends with my amiga, Gilda. We communicated by mail after her visit, and she invited me to come stay with her family in summer 1964. I spent my babysitting money on a plane ticket and flew off alone to Costa Rica. I had wonderful adventures with Gilda and her family, rode horses, went to dances, met her friends. In 1989, I reconnected with Gilda and her family when I returned to Costa Rica. My Spanish was nearly serviceable, but had improved due to Spanish classes and working with bilingual students as a language specialist for 31 years.”
Today, through different programs, Foothillers benefit from international students attending GHS. Since 2000, through EWT (Educational World Travel), Australian students have visited GHS in January, which is their summer.
Since 2001, Spanish teacher Hillary Park, Class of 1988, has been involved with the Australian program as GHS coordinator.
“Some years I host a teacher,” she said. “It is always a wonderful experience to meet teachers who, though from a different country, have the same issues in the classroom that we do in the United States. It is fun to introduce both teachers and students to the positive atmosphere we have here at Grossmont. Grossmont is unique, even when compared to other schools in the county, and I believe the Australians are very lucky to have their host experience here.
“It is a lot of work to find enough homes and to match the students, but in the end, it is very rewarding. Though the visit is only 10 days, students from both sides of the world learn from each other. This little bit of exposure to another culture goes a long way in bridging gaps between peoples.”
Senior Amy Linquist hosted a Spanish girl over the summer of 2017 and two different “Aussie” girls.
“I learned from the Spanish girl who stayed with me that her style of speaking is much different than the way we speak in San Diego,” she said. “The Aussie girls who stayed with me have a unique and different way of saying things. It was fun to learn different expressions in English. I still keep in touch with my exchange students and hope to go to Australia to visit.”
For nearly 60 years, programs like these student cultural exchange programs allow Foothillers to realize that we are more alike than we are different as we build lifelong connections between countries.
— Connie and Lynn Baer write on behalf of the Grossmont High School Museum.