A Journey of Friendship and Discovery: Bolivian Exchange Students Embrace American High School Life at Scotus Central Catholic

May 21, 2024
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(pictured above: Back row: Steve Ramaekers, Henry Ramaekers, Mariano Azurduy, Joaquin Azurduy Castellanos and Juan Ramon Azurduy Vaca-Guzman. Front row: Jill Ramaekers, Adele Ramaekers, and Lorena Castellanos Arce during a tour of Scotus on May 20, 2024.)

Embarking on a foreign exchange program is not just about crossing borders — it’s about transcending cultural boundaries, forming lasting friendships, and immersing oneself in a new way of life. In Nebraska, two Bolivian exchange students, Mariano Azurduy and his brother Joaquin, embarked on a remarkable journey.

While their experiences were four years from one another, leaving behind the familiar landscapes of their homeland to embrace high school life in the United States is something they knew they couldn’t turn away. Their experience not only enriched their lives, but also left a mark on the Scotus Central Catholic community they became a part of.
Mariano arrived in the U.S. with a mix of excitement and apprehension in 2018. He was fueled by his desire to learn more about the English language. He had a little help before arriving because he’s a third-generation exchange student. His grandmother studied in Argentina, and his mother was an exchange student in Wisconsin.

He started his junior year at Columbus High School and transferred to Scotus Central Catholic for his final year of high school.

“Everything in the American system was different,” Mariano said. “Having lockers, having lunch at school instead of with our families. We also have school on Saturdays.”

For Joaquin, arriving in the fall of 2023, he had background on life in America firsthand through his brother.

“Mariano told me that Scotus was a small school, but everybody knows you,” said Joaquin. “He told me everybody is truly kind in Nebraska, and said it was going to be a great experience for me.”

(pictured above: Mariano’s graduation from Scotus Central Catholic in 2020 with Adele and Henry Ramaekers.

After graduating from Scotus in 2020, Mariano went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He graduated a few weeks ago from UNL with degrees in finance and economics. He was a member and president of the Wall Street Scholars of Nebraska and will start his career on Wall Street.

Joaquin enjoyed his experience so much this year in America and at Scotus, he will be returning to Scotus for his senior year. He has built a bond with his American family, Steven and Jill Ramaekers, and their children, Henry and Adele, that is strong.

Steven said he wanted to have Mariano and Joaquin join their family and live with them because he believes in sharing American values with others.

“This opportunity was easy for us to say yes to,” said Steven. “Students who want to be in the exchange program are ready to make that effort to learn a new language and come to a new country.”

Mariano came into the Ramaekers life and plugged into their small family perfectly, which Ramaekers said he wasn’t expecting to happen so quickly.

“We are a small family with just two children. When he came to us, it was perfect. This has been the best experience of my life.”

The Ramaekers went to Bolivia to spend time with the Azurduy family, which is when Henry met Joaquin.

“Henry and Joaquin were walking the streets together in Bolivia, but couldn’t speak to each other due to the language barrier, but a bond was formed. Henry and Adele both love having a big brother, and Mariano is the best big brother. Joaquin and Henry are attached like Velcro. They will both be seniors next year, will go to UNL together, plan to live together, and keep going forward together,” Ramaekers said.

The story of Mariano and Joaquin is a testament to the transformative power of cultural exchange and the Scotus experience. Through their eyes, we gain a deeper appreciation for the bonds that unite us as a global community. As they continue their American adventure, they will continue to grow a legacy of friendship, understanding, and the enduring spirit of exploration.

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