Panamanian sophomores visit for cultural exchange

Steve O'Meara

On the agenda: experiencing snow for the first time.


This year, three students from Panama are visiting southeastern Pennsylvania to learn more about our culture and practice their English.

Pablo Herrera, Sebastián Perdomo, and Abdiel Morcillo are all currently sophomores back at Colegio San Agustín, their school in Panama. This is not the first time they all were in the Philadelphia area, since they travelled to Villanova University this past summer for a speech and debate event.

The Panamanian students report that their school selects students to travel to the United States on a merit-based system.

“They select the best students, best grades, best behaving, and offer this chance to come here,”  Herrera said.

The official language in Panama is Spanish, but learning English in Panama is an important part of their curriculum and everyday life.

“From kindergarten until high school, everyday we have English. All the movies, video games, I listen to and watch are in English,” Herrera said.

Often students will travel to camps around the world to learn English.

“I went to England to learn English for an entire month,” he said. “I stayed with a family the whole month,” Perdomo said.

So far, the exchange students have enjoyed their time here. They have noticed some differences between their school in Panama and Malvern Prep.

“Here the students are very respectful, and also this doesn’t change that they are teenagers and like to have fun. For example, we saw students playing basketball at lunch,” Morcillo said. “That is something that wouldn’t happen in our school. The professors do not trust the students. [There is] too much discipline,” Morcillo said.

Another difference the students have noticed is that students at Malvern travel from classroom to classroom. At Colegio San Agustín, all classes meet with the same students, in the same room, but the teachers switch between classrooms to teach different classes, according to Herrera.

The Panamanian students follow many American sports teams, such as the Yankees, Miami Heat, Warriors, Celtics, Eagles, and Steelers.

The weather has also been different to the students from what they experience in Panama. However, Herrera and Morcillo found ways to enjoy the benefits of snow.  

“I love the snow, I love skiing,” Herrera said.

“This is my first time seeing snow, so the first day I was freezing. Besides that, winter is very beautiful. I tried ice skating. I do not like it a lot, but I want to try other winter sports,” Morcillo said.

Not everyone was as excited about the cold weather, though.

“Now it’s very, very cold., I like the cold but not that much,” Perdomo said.

Language teacher and Global Exchange Director Ms. Teresa Lohse has been in charge of the program for four years. One of her primary goals is to make sure the exchange students feel integrated into the Malvern brotherhood.

“I think it’s so important for them to feel a part of Malvern right away, and to feel like a Friar, so I go out of my way to make sure that can happen,” Lohse said.

Last year the exchange experience was a bit different for students.

“I am thrilled we have the group this year because last year, we had candidates from Malvern who wanted to host and go, but they [Colegio San Agustín] had a year where they did not have candidates,” Lohse said.

Every year, the exchange students coming here are different regarding their sports, language skills, experiences in America, and other activities, but a few things are consistently the same.  

“I find that in general the exchange students from all the countries are wonderful to work with, but in particular the students from Panama are always very respectful and happy to be here and seem very eager to just weave their way into the fabric of the community right away,” Lohse said.