Principal Mark Ziebarth learns about Argentina culture through principal exchange program

For two weeks this summer, Isanti principal Mark Ziebarth learned about life and culture in Argentina.

Ziebarth, principal of Isanti Intermediate School and School for All Seasons, spent July 24 through Aug. 6 in Argentina through a principal exchange program through the Fulbright Commission.

Isanti Intermediate School Principal Mark Ziebarth poses with a group of students in Oncativo, Argentina.
Isanti Intermediate School Principal Mark Ziebarth poses with a group of students in Oncativo, Argentina.

While in Argentina, Ziebarth stayed with the Merlo family that included Jacinto, Sofia, Daniel, Liliana and Francis. Liliana, a vice principal at Felipe Olmos Primary School, stayed with the Ziebarth family in Cambridge for three weeks in October 2011.

“I had never been to Argentina before so I was excited to be offered this opportunity,” Ziebarth said. “Overall it was a great experience and I can apply again in five to six years to go somewhere else. As a principal, I learned a lot during my time down there that I can apply into our schools.”

Principal Ziebarth stayed in the home of the Merlo family while visiting Argentina. The Merlo family included: Jacinto, Sofia, Daniel, Liliana, and Francis. Liliana, a vice principal at Felipe Olmos Primary School, spent three weeks in the USA in October of 2011 and stayed with the Ziebarth family in Cambridge.

Ziebarth explained two years ago he applied for a grant through the American Council for International Education. The council has a number of principal exchange programs with countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Mexico and Argentina.

“I picked Argentina because I had never been there before and didn’t know much about the culture of Argentina,” Ziebarth said. “We’ve had exchange students with Brazil, Thailand and Mexico, but we’ve never really had any close contact with Argentina.”

Ziebarth said he was warmly greeted by students throughout his travels in Argentina. He brought them pencils that had U.S. flags on them, and the students made him welcome posters as their gift.

Principal Ziebarth poses for a picture with the entire rural school of 9 students in grades K-6.

When Ziebarth first arrived in Buenos Aires, he and the other principals received an orientation from the Fulbright Commission regarding the culture of Argentina and prepared them for their experiences.

After spending two days in Buenos Aires, Ziebarth headed toward Cordoba, Argentina, where he met the Merlo family and headed to their home in Oncativo, Argentina.

“Oncativo is about the same size as Cambridge,” Ziebarth explained. “A couple claim-to-fames about Oncativo is farming is their primary occupation; it is the salami capitol of Argentina and its known for its manufacturing of industrial containers, such as garbage cans, which it controls through the market in South America.”

This is a picture of a typical classroom of students in Oncativo, Argentina. Class sizes vary widely with classes varying from 13 students to 27 students in Oncativo Primary Schools.

Ziebarth explained Cordoba is home to about one million people. He said unlike Isanti County, Cordoba doesn’t have commuters.

“If they work in the city, they live in the city,” Ziebarth said. “I found it interesting they don’t have any commuter population.”

Ziebarth also mentioned that workers go home for lunch to eat with their families, and eat dinner late each night between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

The wealthiest residents of the country are farmers since the prices of corn and soybeans are so high, but overall Ziebarth said Argentina was pretty average economically. He said the average home was around 800 to 1,000 square feet.

About the schools

One difference Ziebarth noted between Minnesota schools and Argentina schools is the students attend school from 8 a.m. to noon or 1 to 5 p.m. There are no computers in the classrooms and there is not a copying machine for staff or students to use. Most school work is done in notebooks that are turned in weekly and class sizes vary from 13 students to 27 students in Oncativo Primary Schools.

He also noted Aregentina provides free preschool to children beginning at the age of 3, and starting at age 4, the students attend school.

The teaching staff at Felipe Olmos Primary School in Oncativo, Argentina pose for a picture on July 24, 2012. All teachers are required to wear a uniform as are the students. The teachers all wear white smocks each day to work.

A highlight of Ziebarth’s trip was visiting a rural school of nine students on July 27. Students in the school learn English using Disney characters and the Simpsons. Rural parents pay extra money to have an English teacher on Fridays. A community center next to the school is used for wedding receptions and other events to raise money for the rural school.

“During this visit to the school, since I was the honored guest, I got to raise the flag and we all sang the National Anthem,” Ziebarth said. “This was one of my favorite things to do. The kids hugged me so hard before they left; it was pretty special. It was a big deal for them to meet someone from the United States.”

Other differences

Since Aregentina is located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons were quite different. Ziebarth said the flight was about 10 hours, leaving from Minneapolis, and then flying to Dallas and then Buenos Aires.

“When I left the Dallas airport to fly into Buenos Aires, the temperature was 108 degrees,” Ziebarth said. “When I landed in Buenos Aires it was 38 degrees. It’s actually winter in Argentina right now so some days would start out cooler, but then we’d warm up to 60 or 65 degrees.”

Also during his stay, Ziebarth toured three provinces in Northern Argentina. He saw the Indian Runes, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and also learned about growing sugar cane, as well as lemons and oranges.

Principal Ziebarth toured three provinces in Northern Argentina as part of his exchange. This is a picture taken in Salta province on the road to the capital city of Salta.

A couple other differences Ziebarth noted is dogs roam freely in Argentina.

“It wasn’t uncommon to see dogs walking the street or taking naps outside stores,” Ziebarth said.

He also noticed security guards holding rifles stand outside banking institutions.

As far as entertainment, residents host social clubs on Friday nights, and even have names for their social clubs.

“Each club gets together later in the evening around 10 p.m. and gather in garages and have a pig roast and roast vegetables,” Ziebarth explained. “The men stay on one side and the women stay on the other side. These gatherings go pretty late into the evening with you getting home around 2 a.m.”