WEST ORANGE, NJ — Eleven of Golda Och Academy’s 10th graders had the opportunity to reunite with the exchange students from the Colegio Israelita de Mexico ORT (CIM-ORT) school in Mexico City last month as part of the GoAbroad Exchange Program.

For the second-consecutive year, the two schools have been paired to participate in a cultural exchange program. Golda Och Academy welcomed the CIM-ORT students to New Jersey in November and again in February. CIM-ORT hosted GOA students in Mexico City.

During their week-long trip, Golda Och Academy students took Mexican government and culture classes, visited the center of the city and the pyramids, rode trajineras (gondola-like boats) in Xochimilco and explored popular Mexican art museums. They also saw significant areas of the Jewish community in Mexico City, such as the Jewish Community Center (the Centro Deportivo Israelita).

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New to this year’s program was a visit to the Otomí center, an indigenous community center outside of the city. Students learned how to make tortillas from grains of corn, how traditional artisanal rugs are hand woven and gained insight into the lifestyle of the community.

“The program was an incredible opportunity to explore other cultures and immerse myself in new experiences,” said GOA sophomore Michelle Bilmes. “We had the chance to order food in restaurants and speak to our host families in Spanish. I definitely understood more than I expected and my Spanish hopefully improved a little while visiting Mexico City. I'm grateful I had the chance to learn about the community and feel I brought some of their culture back home with me.”

According to Spanish teacher Christine Garrity, who coordinated this year’s program, the week abroad allowed students to really grasp just how much Spanish they have learned.

“I enjoyed celebrating the small victories with our students,” she said. “Often it was as simple as understanding a sign, communicating with a vendor at a market, or understanding part of what native-speakers were saying.  This trip also set the stage for deeper learning for the rest of the year and beyond.”

Another special aspect of the trip was connecting with other Jewish Day School students abroad, experiencing the similarities and differences between the two cultures. GOA sophomore Theo Hyman-Bockman said one of his favorite parts of the Mexico City program was spending time with his CIM-ORT partner.

“We were a perfect match and got to spend quality time together,” he said.

GOA Foreign Language Department Chair Gail Shapiro was thrilled to see the second year of the program continue to be such a success.

“Through this program, we are developing an even deeper connection to the CIM-ORT school and community,” she said. “Although we have some cultural differences, we are all part of the tapestry of our Jewish traditions and people. It’s wonderful to see that tapestry grow through our students.”

For more information about Golda Och Academy,  visit www.goldaochacademy.org.