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Spanish students at La Crescent-Hokah High School received some authentic Colombian dance lessons on Tuesday from a former Lancer exchange student.

Estafania Hererra, now co-owner of an optometry business in Cartago, Colombia, was a foreign exchange student 12 years ago at the high school. Hererra, along with her boyfriend Otto Gutierrez, returned to a La Crescent classroom this week to speak with students in Martha Hollenbeck’s Spanish classes.

Cheri Olson, who was Hererra’s host mother in La Crescent, was the one that reached out to Hollenbeck after learning Hererra would be traveling to the states for her sister’s wedding. Olson, who has a son who’s a high school senior, and two daughters that graduated from La Crescent, said that Hererra told her in the past how she wanted to give something back to the high school, because she appreciated the year she spent there so much.

Hererra said she has wanted to make a trip back for a long time now, but was always too busy with work. When her sister’s wedding was set, Hererra decided it was the right opportunity to revisit La Crescent, which she refers to as her second home.

“I’m really happy to be here,” said Hererra. “I’m enjoying meeting all the new people and seeing the ones I know.”

Hererra and Gutierrez demonstrated and taught traditional Colombian dances to three different Spanish classes, and fielded questions that were asked and responded to in Spanish. Hererra spoke about her experience as an exchange student in La Crescent from Colombia, and answered a range of questions from the differences between the two countries, to what Hererra’s first impression of America was.

Hollenbeck said she was grateful that her students got the opportunity to speak with native Spanish speakers, which she said is crucial for them to become fluent in the language.

“I try to speak as fluidly as I can in class, because that’s what they’re gonna get in a Spanish-speaking country” said Hollenbeck. “That was one thing I really took away from when I studied abroad, getting there and thinking ‘I’m not ready for this pace’.”

On the other end, Hererra and Gutierrez, both looking to advance in the business world, appreciated the chance to test and strengthen their English speaking skills.

“It’s interesting because in our country, we never get to speak English,” said Gutierrez, who said he’s only been studying English for the past year. “This is a good opportunity for us to speak to other people in the language.”

This was Gutierrez’s first time in Minnesota, and he said he was baffled that while here in winter, there was no snow. Hererra said they’re hoping it snows before the wedding this weekend, so Gutierrez can witness some full-blown Minnesota winter conditions.


Houston County News reporter

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