In the summer of 2019, three dozen students from the Florida Keys participated in the Experiment in International Living — international cross-cultural programs that spanned 16 different countries with 23 differently themed programs. The programs place students all over the world for about a month in the summertime and focus on topics such as environmental sustainability, language training, the arts, technology, human rights and other
EIL representatives have said that Monroe County has the highest number of students participating than any other county in the U.S., outside of the New York City metro area.
Some of the Keys students are Take Stock in Children scholars and other Keys students were selected to receive partial merit-based scholarships from the Monroe County Education Foundation through EIL’s essay contest. This is the fourth year that area high school students are invited to enter the Experiment in International Living‘s essay competition. Thirty winners will receive merit-based scholarships of 50% off to study abroad this summer on one of the EIL programs around the world.
The Experiment was started in the 1930s and would become the basis by which the very first Peace Corps volunteers were trained. Its mission is to create peace through understanding on a global basis, with a mission that includes the promise, “Experimenters go to learn, not to teach.”
The Experiment hosted a recent homecoming weekend, bringing the student travelers together as a sort of debriefing process. Most of the 2019 travelers gathered on Nov. 17 at the Doubletree Grand Key Resort in Key West to compare notes.
Melissa Martinez said she nearly fell over last year when her son, Kevin, now a sophomore at Key West High School, told her he’d like to spend four weeks of his summer in Mongolia.
“Then he said, ‘Mom, out of all the places in the world, when will I ever get another chance to go to Mongolia?’” Melissa said. “And I knew he was right.”
So he went, and spent four weeks living with a family in a traditional yurt, or tent-like structure erected in a vast and unfamiliar place whose name has become synonymous with, well, vast and unfamiliar places.
Martinez was in Mongolia with a group of about 12 students, including another KWHS student, Maryama Akhmetkaliyeva, who had spoken English when she emigrated to Key West three years ago from Kazakhstan.
“I was so quiet, I never wanted to speak because of my accent,” she said. “But I did speak Russian, so when our group missed a flight this summer on our way to Mongolia, we ended up in Moscow for a night, and luckily I was able to help, especially since half our luggage had gotten lost.”
Her accent was barely noticeable as the honor student described her camel ride in the Gobi Desert and her host sister crying when she had to leave.
Luis Parrado from Marathon High School spent the summer in Argentina, where he spent time in Salta, on the Argentinian dunes, an ocean away from one of his Marathon schoolmates, Christian Ruiz, who was in Spain for the language and culture program. Ruiz instantly learned that the Queen’s Spanish may as well be an entirely different language than the slang-filled Cuban Spanish that Ruiz speaks at home.
Coral Shores senior Caroline Althouse went to Thailand to study “Ancient Temples to Modern Bangkok,” while her classmate Antonio Molina immersed himself in Urban Culture and Technology in Spain, where he learned to appreciate the siesta and late-night schedule.
Other students throughout the Florida Keys related tales of their trips to Japan, South Africa, Morocco, England, Germany, France, Costa Rica and other nations.
“One of the things I learned is how accustomed we are to having everything available,” Akhmetkaliyeva said. “I’m definitely more grateful for everything I have.”
—Sara Matthis contributed to this article