Sixteen students from Santiago, Chile, are expected to go ahead with an exchange trip to Portland next week, despite the powerful earthquake that hit their country Saturday.

McAuley and Cheverus high schools have maintained an exchange program with Colegios Padre Hurtado and Juanita de Los Andes for about a decade. Waynflete School joined the program a couple of years ago.

Each year, students from Maine go to Santiago for about a month and a group from Chile comes to Portland. The Chilean group usually spends about two weeks after the trip to Maine visiting Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., said Terrilyn Dubreuil, the head of McAuley’s foreign language department and an art teacher.

Dubreuil said she and the students who will host the Chilean contingent have been in contact with those students and teachers through e-mail and on Facebook, and all are reported to be safe.

The woman who runs the program in Chile, Cecilia Gambino, saw the second floor of her townhouse collapse in the quake, but she, her son and daughter and a granddaughter are all safe and able to live on the first floor, said Jane Glass, who runs the exchange program for Cheverus.

Dubreuil said the Chilean schools — they operate together, but one is for boys and the other for girls — suffered minor damage, such as broken ceiling tiles and cracks. The schools were supposed to open on Monday, the end of Chile’s summer vacation, but that has been delayed until next week pending an inspection.

Glass said the program offers an interesting cultural exchange because the Chilean students come from a cosmopolitan area and visit a part of the United States that’s very different from what they see portrayed in American television shows. Maine students get to visit a major city that Dubreuil said is more like a European capital than most parts of South America.

Dubreuil said the program offers an immersion in another country’s language and culture that’s far beyond what students can gain in a classroom. She said students’ Spanish listening skills, in particular, jump the equivalent of six months in class during one month in Chile.

Dubreuil said the contacts continue long after the exchange programs end. Students who hosted foreign students in high school visit each other in college, she said, and several students are studying international relations in college with a focus on South American countries.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]