Feature

Published on October 23rd, 2017 | by Anastasia Shakhidzhanova

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Foreign exchange students

Many of you have probably heard the words “foreign exchange student” tossed around, but did you know that Samo actually hosts a large number of these students from many different countries every year?

Actually, foreign exchange is misleading because there really is no true “exchange” happening. In fact, the entire process goes through the students, their families, the host family and the private organization.

Alicia Guglielmone Zaurauz (‘19) is a student from the Canary Islands, Spain, and is attending Samo for the 2017-18 school year. Guglielmone attended Les Perez Galdos Public School in the Canary Islands before deciding to participate in a foreign exchange program that led her to the United States.

“I looked in the internet for a foreign exchange program,” Guglielmone said. “The one I chose and applied for was the American Field Service (AFS). It was not through my school or my counselor, it was all independent. It is a private organization. Also, I was surprised how easy it was to research, find information, and apply.”

In most foreign exchange programs, including Guglielmone’s, the student lives with a host family that volunteers to take in the student as a part of their own family for the duration of their stay. Most families try to make the students feel welcome by including them in family trips, dinners and other family-oriented activities. Usually, the host family has a child that attends the same school as the foreign student and is relatively close to their age. They act as a sibling and/or close friend that helps and guides the foreign student through their new environment.

“I love my host family, they are so nice and caring, and they include me in everything they do, and really support me,” Guglielmone said. “I am staying with Katya Kirkland (’19) and her family. Without their support, I don’t think I could do what I’m doing. They really feel like my second family.”

Guglielmone got the idea to do a foreign exchange from her aunt, who when she was in high school, went to America for a similar program and loved it. As far as the process goes, she said it was pretty easy and stress-free. However, an applicant needs to have patience, because results can take awhile.

“I chose America, because to me America is like another world. I have always wanted to visit here. You know, it’s the movie life,” Guglielmone said. “The only thing I could choose was the country, not the state, city, or school. I have friends who applied for the same program and ended up in Minnesota, Kansas, Connecticut, Washington, and even Alaska. You have no idea where you are going to go. I filled out a detailed profile and then got matched with a host family. It’s questions like ‘Are you okay with a dog’ and things like that, to make sure the family is a good fit for you.”

Guglielmone’s house sister Kirkland did a foreign exchange program for a semester last year near Madrid, Spain. After her positive experience, her family decided to host someone. Host families do not get paid. It is completely voluntary. They provide the foreign students with food and utilities for free, but personal shopping is paid by the student. The entire foreign exchange experience is equally beneficial and pivotal for both the student and the family. Having someone living with you as part of your family, and spending the majority of your time with them, is something that really changes and affects an individual.

“When I was in Spain, I knew I wanted to host someone,” Kirkland said. “Once I got back home, I talked to my mom about it and when we looked into it through AFS, we found Alicia and then we knew she was the one for us. I thought hosting someone would be harder and that I would want my space but I don’t. It is really great to have someone else in the house besides me because I am an only child. I can’t think of any negatives about the experience.”

When transferring to a different country and a completely different environment there will obviously be many changes and differences. A huge difference for Guglielmone was the academic changes from her school in Spain to Samo. The first and most obvious is the huge amount of people that go to Samo. In Spain, her high school had around 800 students in all four grades, whereas Samo has more than that in a single grade. The second difference was the way the subjects are laid out. In Spain, they do not have Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Precalculus, etc., they just have math. It’s a combination of all the different subjects in each grade level. The same for science subjects (no Biology, Chemistry, Biology AP, etc.) They are all mixed together. Additionally, in Spain, before 11th grade, if you are planning to go to college, you must choose a subject path for the remaining grades, and then all your classes will be in that field. For example, if you take the science path for 11th and 12th grade, you cannot really apply to a university for a humanities program. But, despite the changes, Guglielmone is happy she gets to have the different academic and life experience.

A frequent traveler during school breaks, Guglielmone appreciates the immersion into a culture that her exchange program provides.

“When you live with a native family, go to school, and become a part of the country it is a much different experience. You feel the culture of the area. You also need to be self-driven as well as open minded, curious and willing to go out of your comfort zone,” Guglielmone said.

Guglielmone confesses that she has some days where she is really homesick and just doesn’t want to go to school. But there are also days when she loves being here and relishes the chance to practice speaking English by meeting new people.

“My social skills are getting much better. I have always been with my group of friends in Spain and now I have to look for everybody and for people to be close friends with. I got so much better at making friends, and of course communicating in English,” Guglielmone said.

She already knows that this experience, even though it just started, will benefit her in many ways in the future. This type of opportunity is not one that many people have; she recognizes that it will help her grow and learn in ways that most people don’t. Alicia said she believes it will make her more well-rounded as a person and more knowledgeable of the different opinions and cultures in the world.

“Every day a new world,” she said.

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