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Parkwood's Foreign Exchange Program

Parkwood's exchange students for 2014-2015 from left to right are Gustavo Leao from Brazil, Thomas Wilckens from Germany and Matyas Jurena from the Czech Republic.

The Foreign Exchange program is an initiative in which students visit and live abroad in another country. Students attend school and become entrenched in the culture and customs of the country they are visiting, truly embracing their new temporary home. The students live with a host family that has registered with the foreign exchange organization they have chosen for their study abroad. The foreign students can spend as little as six months to several years in the country they are visiting. The prerequisites usually required for study abroad are a passport or a visa, at least a 3.0 GPA (American standard, differing in other countries) and a competitive and clean student record.

There are a plethora of different organizations that offer foreign exchange programs, most notably AIESEC, originally a French organization going by the name, Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales, which translates to International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences. The company heralds over 100,000 members in over 125 countries worldwide, by far one of the largest foreign exchange programs.

Breanne Villas, one of the guidance counselors at Parkwood High School, oversees the Foreign Exchange program at the school. She helps to facilitate a smooth transition for exchange students. Villas cited the benefits of being a foreign exchange student in America as a great cultural experience. For example, students are able experience American life first hand , including holidays and day to day life in the average high school. She also noted that it takes a very disciplined and diligent person to be able to succeed in a different environment, far from home. The maximum number of foreign exchange students accepted at Parkwood at a time is four and the school currently has three; Thomas Wilckens who hails from Germany, Gustavo Leao who comes from Brazil, and Matyas Jurena who arrived from the Bohemian nation of the Czech Republic. As for American students at Parkwood, none are participating in a school experience abroad at this time.

The foreign exchange program does have some costs, however. The average organization will charge upwards of $8,000 for a year spent abroad in a foreign nation. That cost includes the round trip flight, insurance and visa costs, which explains why traveling abroad is so costly. When asked whether the amount of money for the exchange program was worth it, Thomas Wilckens responded, "It's definitely worth it because I won't ever get this experience again, so the money doesn't matter." Many students can apply for scholarships to help ease the burden of paying the expensive cost of travelling and living in another nation. The cost is worth the gained benefit of embracing a new culture and way of life and student exchange programs are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. 

Written by: Matthew Alexander, student reporter for the Parkwood Echo; edited by newspaper sponsor Chris Giudice
Posted: Jan 07, 2015 by Lisa Moniz

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