For Mercedes Saenz, one of 10 undergraduate students from Argentina spending seven weeks studying at Virginia Tech, the experience is more than an academic exchange.

The biotechnology student from the National University of Rosario in Santa Fe province said much of her learning has come not from the classroom but from the residence hall. “My roommate is Pakistani-American,” Saenz said. “We’ve gotten along great since we met each other. We spend hours talking about our home countries, showing pictures, and comparing our traditions and cultures.”

In its third year at Virginia Tech, the Friends of Fulbright Argentina Undergraduate Exchange Program is organized and implemented by the Language and Culture Institute. The program enables high-achieving Argentine students to live and learn at a U.S. university. Its goals are to provide a meaningful study abroad experience for participants and to bring diverse perspectives into Virginia Tech’s classrooms.

Students live on campus, audit classes in their fields of study, and attend intensive English classes at the institute. They also have opportunities to engage with the community, whether by dancing at the Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree, snow tubing in West Virginia, or cheering on their fellow Hokies at a basketball game. The students also toured the United Nations headquarters in New York and met with Argentina’s permanent representative to the U.N.

Lucas Silva, an electromechanical engineering student from the National University of San Juan, said his time interacting with people in Blacksburg has already made a lasting impression. “Sharing traditions, food, and laughs with people from all over the world is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I feel grateful for having the chance to experience this, since it makes me realize how similar and connected we all are,” he said.

Virginia Tech is one of only 15 U.S. universities selected to participate in the program, which has students representing 60 universities from across Argentina, according to Norma Gonzalez, executive director of Fulbright Commission Argentina. The highly selective program chooses students based on their academic excellence as well as their leadership potential.

“These young people will be the future leaders of their country, and they really embody the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” said academic director Patricia Parera, who is teaching a class on inclusion, gender, and sustainable development. “When they return home, they will be our best spokespeople, sharing the knowledge and experiences they gained at Virginia Tech.”

The Language and Culture Institute, part of Outreach and International Affairs, has hosted 55 Argentine students since the program started in 2017.

Lautaro Lorenzen, an electrical engineering student from the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires province, said he wants to use the lessons he learns here to make a difference at home. “I hope the experience generates new ideas and learning processes that will help me rethink the reality of my country and how to help change it,” he said. "I cannot wait to share what I'm learning here back in Argentina and to see what the future has prepared for me. If I'm lucky, I might come back.”

Written by Leslie Jernegan, a master’s degree student in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences