ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro High School has gone beyond the call of duty when it comes to hosting foreign exchange students over the years, according to one area coordinator. But she?d like to see more local students give schools in other countries a chance to return the favor.
Ladonna Westbrook of Canton, an area coordinator for the Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI), says studying in another country can be fun and personally expanding for local students and a benefit for the schools and families who host them.
?It teaches them so much about life,? Westbrook said.
She said foreign students who come to the United States are often motivated by the need to learn English, which can qualify them for better jobs in their home country. For U.S. students, the benefits of international study are different.
?For our kids to go over there and learn the culture of another country makes them appreciate so much more what they have in America,? she says. ?I don?t know that (American) kids even stop to think about how tough it can be.?
In addition to economic advantages, Westbrook said the school system in many countries is much more rigid and challenging than here.
?They go to kindergarten like our kids do, but a lot of them start at 3 or 4 years old instead of waiting until they are 5 or 6,? she says.
Students often have to make life-direction decisions earlier, too.
?When they get to be where our kids would be freshmen or sophomores, they have to choose what they want their life work to be because that makes a difference to what kinds of high school they go to,? Westbrook said.
She added that U.S. students can offer a different perspective on historical events, sometimes balancing ideologically distorted interpretations.
She recalled a Romanian student assigned to Kansas who had been taught that Pearl Harbor was the fault of the U.S. government, not the Japanese. A U.S. student can be an ambassador of sorts for this country by sharing a new perspective in foreign settings.
?You don?t think they?re being taught different history than we?re taught,? she said. ?That?s one thing our kids can do. They can give their point of view.?
Westbrook admits the biggest obstacle to being a foreign exchange students is the cost of participating.
Her organization offers three-month, five-month and 10-month high school abroad programs to Australia, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, Spain and Sweden.
The cost for a three-month experience ranges from a low of $3,840 in France to a high of $4,930 in Ireland.
A 10-month program ranges from a low of $4,670 in Sweden to $8,180 in Ireland.
Stays as short as three and four weeks are also available. They range in cost from $1,610 for three weeks in Mexico to $2,770 for four weeks in France.
Westbrook said CCI also offers group experiences. For every six students who enroll, one adult can accompany the group for no charge. Such arrangements can work well, for example, for a language teacher who wants to immerse students in a language-intensive environment.
Westbrook said students who travel to one country can expect to visit others, too, since countries are geographically close to each other, especially in Europe.
?If nothing else, it?s fun,? Westbrook said. ?It?s an experience that I wish I had the opportunity to have while I was in high school.?
Westbrook has been an area coordinator with CCI for two years. It is a part-time assignment for her, and she receives a stipend for the travel and time involved in her work.
?Money is the last reason for all of us (who work with exchange programs),? she said. ?If we had to do it for nothing, we?d probably still do it. Meeting the kids is why we do it. We enjoy the kids.?
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF