Exchange trip to Chile one that Grand Junction soccer team’s Coté will never forget

Raffi Coté looks for an open man as he dribbles the ball down the field during soccer practice at Grand Junction High School.

A chance to spend some time in another part of the world was a major draw for Raffi Coté.

“I’d been in Grand Junction my whole life,” Coté said. “It was time for a change.”

High school juniors don’t usually get many opportunities to experience life-changing events. Coté got that chance last year when he spent nine months as an exchange student in Chile.

Coté, now a senior at Grand Junction High School, had visited with a foreign exchange student from Scandinavia during his sophomore year. That got him interested in being a foreign exchange student.

When the Grand Junction Rotary Club met during his sophomore year about its exchange program, he decided to check it out.

“I ended up filling out all the papers, still thinking I wasn’t going,” he said.

He and his parents discussed the idea of Raffi leaving the country to study for a year.

“They said, ‘Well, if it’s something you really want to do, we’ll support you,’ ” Coté said.

Rotary exchange students are given four choices for their preference of countries. Coté went to Brazil the summer before his freshman year on a club soccer trip, so he listed Argentina, Brazil, Germany and France on his application.

There’s no guarantee the student will get any of those countries, however. The exchange program offered Coté the chance to travel to Chile.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll take Chile,’ ” he said. “It turned out OK.”

He stayed in La Serena, a community of 350,000 people roughly six hours north of the capital city of Santiago.

He’d studied less than a year of Spanish at Grand Junction and quickly learned that the dialect spoken in Chile is different than that used in other Spanish-speaking countries.

“The hardest adjustment was definitely the language,” he said. “They speak so fast, even faster than the people in Mexico.”

Most exchange students in Chile stay with two or three families. Coté lived with the same family during his entire stay.

“Everyone was real nice,” he said.

He played soccer in Chile, which was a bit different than what he was used to in Grand Junction.

Coté started as a sophomore for the Tigers and really developed his game last year in Chile.

The indoor game is big there and he’s noticed that his ball handling improved.

“We did (a lot of) drills,” he said. “That helped my ball skills a lot.”

He was surprised at how up-do-date the country was.

“It was more modern and high-tech than I expected,” he said.

He was also surprised at how well-received he was as an American.

“They kind of idolize (the U.S.),” he said, though most of their impressions come from television and movies.

Three things about the country struck him the most: “The people, the friends and the food,” he said.

“The food in general is so much more healthy. There are more types of fruit than you can imagine.”

A few years down the road, Coté would like to return trip to Chile.

“Hopefully I can go back,” he said. “There are just tons of memories.”


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