Foreign Exchange Programs Heighten Diversity in Local Schools
Writer / Erik Fedje
In a large classroom, there are teens, all sitting together, some engaged in the schoolwork, others glancing at the clock every 30 seconds, and some whispering to others about popular trends. It seems like a normal, modern American high school. Yet not all of these students are from America. Some may be from Switzerland, others have friends and family back home in South Korea, and a few are only going to be here for one semester, and return home to Germany in a few months. This diversity in just one classroom can only be achieved through foreign exchange programs, such as the Council for International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, whose main priority is placing students from around the world in high schools all across the United States.
In the 2013-2014 school year at Lawrence North High School, there were seven different exchange students, from various different countries around the world including Brazil, Slovakia, Germany and the Republic of Georgia. All of these students were placed by Lynne Burns, the local coordinator in Indianapolis for CIEE. “The mission of CIEE is to have a cultural experience, a cultural and educational experience with a host family. They will gain the sense of what it’s like to live in an American family and go to an American school,” Burns said.
CIEE, like most foreign exchange programs, focuses on placing students all across the United States, trying to get them into as many different high schools and into as many different states as they possibly can.
Brazilian exchange student Leonardo Destri Abdalla described his experience: “It’s crazy and fun, and very different. It was so cool, to get a new experience in the U.S. and be able to share these experiences with my host family was awesome.”
And the exchange students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the experience. Several students studying at Lawrence North have been affected by their presence at the school. Thanks to certain foreign language classes and the Spanish Immersion program, some American students can communicate with different students around the world and learn more about their experiences in another country.
Brad Cangany, a guidance counselor at LN who counsels the foreign exchange students, explains, “We had one student who enrolled kind of late. She was in her art class one day. We had two exchange students, from neighboring eastern European countries, and they started talking a little bit. Then an LN student came up to them and started talking to them in their native language. So, it can affect the students who are in the same classes with them.”
Lawrence North has had a history of welcoming various exchange students to the school over the years. According to Cangany, “We’ve always been very open to having exchange students. Now if there’s only one student from another country, there won’t be much of an impact, because they’re only going to seven classes. Now if we have 10 students, that’s potentially 70 classes they’re going to impact. I think it just contributes to our experience here. In our own little corner of Marion County, we’re a pretty diverse school to begin with, and then you bring in that international feel—it heightens that sense of diversity.”
Because of LN’s diverse nature, the school is notable for having hosted many exchange students over the years. LN was one of the schools with the most exchange students in the state this year, with most schools averaging roughly four.
When it comes to the number of inbound exchange students from other countries, Indiana ranks eighth in highest foreign exchange student population, according to a study conducted by the Council on the Standards for International Educational Travel, or CSIET.
Hosting many exchange students can be important for future international relations. “It’s a real positive exchange back and forth,” said Cangany. “Hopefully, when our students grow up and have children of their own, they will have an appreciation for people who have grown up in a culture different from our own, and not be quick to make judgments.”
Of course, CIEE is not the only foreign exchange program in the United States. “There’s a lot of competition,” said Lynne Burns. However, CIEE remains one of the top programs in the country, as it is among a select few organizations that provides for students from the four major grant programs enacted by the United States government. The programs, being Yes!, Asmile, Flex, and Congress-Bundestag, all help find the proper host families and schools in which they should place the students.
While many students have already returned to their home nations, they now have new experiences from the United States to share with their friends back home. Julie Niemeyer, an exchange student from Germany, said, “It’s hard to explain, really. There were a lot of different things I experienced. It’s like everything’s new, but really not, and you don’t really know what to expect. I would definitely do it again.”