South African students visit Pittsburgh through Carlynton program
As Blessings Mhlope, 14, of Rustenburg, South Africa, shared about the four languages she speaks, Ellie Exler’s jaw dropped.
Exler, 14, who is headed into ninth grade at Carlynton Junior-Senior High School in August, said she’s been taking Spanish for two years and hardly can speak the language.
“Is it hard to learn?” she said, as she leaned in to learn more from her peers from across the globe.
“That takes skill,” added Emma Pointer, 14, who also is headed to ninth grade at Carlynton.
Six students and two chaperones from the St. Augustine Private Christian School in Rustenburg visited Carlynton in July to pilot a youth exchange program between the two schools that has been in talks for years.
During their week in Pittsburgh, the students attended a Pirates game, visited Ohiopyle State Park and the Fort Ligonier Museum, spent a day at Lake Erie, and ate Chinese food for the first time.
They also had a chance to meet with teachers and students at Carlynton and tour the school, The Shop (Carlynton’s makerspace) and learn about education in United States.
“It was a good experience because you get to try new things and figure out how the natives here get to learn and how it differs from the way we learn,” Blessings said.
Tshegofatso Bogatsu, 13, a seventh grader at St. Augustine has always dreamed of coming to America.
“Even if I knew nothing about it, now I got a chance to come and get to see new people and see how they do things, because we do our things differently,” she said. “It’s nice to learn what other people do.”
The trip was coordinated by chaperone Mlungisi Mhlope, a member of the governing board and chaplain at St. Augustine, as well as Carlynton Superintendent Gary Peiffer.
Mhlope had met former Carlynton board member Antriece Hart several years ago. He even spoke at the school before. Hart connected Mhlope and Peiffer, knowing the latter had a background with foreign exchange programs.
Peiffer said it’s important to teach students who are growing up in a global world about “the commonalities that we have and how we can celebrate the differences so that we can appreciate each other.”
The students from Rustenburg had a send-off from the city’s mayor, Mhlope said. The students from St. Augustine, who have never been to the U.S., spent a week in Pittsburgh and a week in Philadelphia. They will return to South Africa on July 23.
On their first night in Pittsburgh, Peiffer had them over to his home in Turtle Creek for dinner.
The students were taken aback by the kindness they’ve seen here.
As Endinalo Gauzela got off a plane from South Africa in New York City, the first thing she noticed was how kind people were.
“They were generous. They understood that this is our first time and they were very patient,” said Endinalo, 12, a seventh grader from St. Augustine.
She loved getting to visit Carlynton, she said.
“I got to meet new friends and actually experience the life of being in another school and another country,” Endinalo said. “Their classrooms — they’re beautiful.”
The gymnasium at the school was her favorite.
They all liked the food. Their favorite place to eat was Golden Corral.
The week in Pittsburgh was a blend of educational opportunities and sightseeing, Peiffer said.
“What’s more American than a baseball game at PNC Park?” he said.
Endinalo said she didn’t understand how baseball was played at first. This was her first time watching a game. But she loved it.
The students also toured Parkway West Career and Technology Center in North Fayette and saw the sports medicine facility, Peiffer said. They visited the Energy Innovation Center and met the World Affairs Council and did a podcast in the BNY Mellon building.
At Carlynton, the students got to use the recording studio inside The Shop to perform.
“We wanted to show them some of the dynamic things we’re doing here,” Peiffer said.
It was a learning experience for the students at Carlynton, too.
“It’s just really cool. They’re so friendly and grateful for everything. It’s amazing,” Ellie said.
“You guys have really good spirits, too,” Emma added.
Both Emma and Ellie said they hope to keep in touch with their new friends.
“This is the beginning of things,” Mhlope said.
Peiffer said the schools plan to use technology to connect throughout the year for students to talk about global issues.
The hope is to find a way to get the cost down so that a group of student from Carlynton can visit Rustenburg in the future.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer.