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SD Department of Education March 2016  

South Dakota awash in a linguistic ocean


“She’s like a magnet,” Kathy Keffeler (left) said of Dr. Adriana Rabino’s rapport with students.

Keffeler is a world languages teacher in the Douglas School District in Box Elder. She hosted Rabino for two weeks in February as part of the Visiting Uruguayan Educator Program.

Rabino teaches English in Montevideo, Uruguay, and perhaps one reason she was so magnetic was because she quickly saw that for all the cultural differences between her home city of more than 1 million residents, and the much smaller Box Elder, teenagers around the world have a lot in common: “If you ask my students what they like to do, and you ask South Dakota students what they like to do, the answers are mostly the same,” she said.

Sometimes the language is even the same. “New words are coming every day,” Rabino said. “You see for instance, new items appearing, like selfie sticks. In Uruguay, in Spanish, we don’t say, ‘palo de selfie.’ We say, ‘selfie stick.’ Students were surprised, because it’s the same word you use here and in my country.”


It’s an example of what Keffeler calls the fluid nature of language: “If you think of water, especially with technology, the Internet, the texting, the tweeting, everything. We’re constantly washing each other in a linguistic ocean, if you will. When the tide goes out and comes back in, it’s going to leave some pebbles on the shore and those are going to be some of those words from other countries and other cultures.”

A cultural exchange can make people aware of commonalities, and Keffeler discovered it can also provide new perspective on one’s own life: “I have learned to see my life and my job through brand new eyes,” she said of the impact of Rabino’s visit. “I think what I’ve seen in just the short time Adriana has been here is new vibrancy, new life, a lot of interest in our program, which is really exciting.”

Keffeler and class

Keffeler has previously participated in this program and encourages other teachers to try such an opportunity: “To host a teacher is probably one of the most rewarding and fun experiences a person can have. You share your life, your home, your table, your fun.”

What does your schedule look like while you’re here, Adriana? The question was met with laughter from Keffeler, because to quickly summarize the agenda would have been impossible—it was jam packed. During Rabino’s visit, the two teachers left Keffeler’s home by 7 a.m. most days, often staying busy well into the evenings.

Rabino observed classes, gave presentations on her home country and observed middle and high school administrators. Keffeler scheduled a tour of Red Cloud Indian School. The two also visited the Badlands, Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore. They attended school and professional sporting events, a community theatre production, even a Chinese New Year celebration at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Keffeler event

After two short weeks, Rabino returned home, but she and Keffeler have stayed in touch and are planning collaborative cross-cultural activities. “Everyone sees us and they say, ‘You look like sisters,’” Rabino said. “It’s like meeting another soul in the world who has something to share with you.”

“We call each other, ‘hermana,’ [sister] from time to time,” said Keffeler.

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