Foreign exchange program has potential to expand

With the opening of Liberty High in 2017, many say that the foreign exchange program at West now has space to expand.

Asha Irani

Grace Yarrow, Copy Editor, Humans of West High Reporter

A chance to explore a new country, practice speaking a new language and the ability meet a myriad of new people. A unique and humbling opportunity to travel and learn. The only opportunity that would offer this kind of adventure is the foreign exchange program at West. Although the program has been relatively small in past years, with year-long exchanges not being available for more than a decade, the opening of Liberty High in 2017 means that there will be more space for potential exchanges.

“I think anything is possible, to be really honest,” said Theresa Juhl, French teacher and proponent of the foreign exchange program. “I think that it needs some more publicity, probably, the word needs to get out there that students can do that.” Juhl explained that the current foreign exchange program is less of an endeavor, like a more serious exchange. For example, the German student exchange in early September only lasted two weeks.

Because there have been scant opportunities for foreign exchange through the school, few students, like Julie Watkins ‘17, have participated. Through a third party travel company, Watkins hosted Mònica Fontova, from Barcelona, Spain.

“Mònica stayed with us for the month of July in 2015. My brother was living in Houston at the time, so I convinced my mom that I would be lonely and that I needed a live-in pal,” Watkins said, adding that over the course of Fontova’s stay, the pair became very close.

“It’s hard to not get close to a person after spending most waking hours with them for a month. She experienced parts of my life that many of my friends haven’t, like my family’s Fourth of July tradition in beautiful Henry, Illinois or visiting my uncle’s cabin in Michigan, so in that sense she was more of a sister,” Watkins said. Juhl agreed with Watkins, saying that part of the fun of having a foreign student visit it being able to show them everything about living in Iowa.

“The University of Iowa itself has a lot of things; the university concept is different here than in other places. Malls are different … anything that you find fun to do is probably fun for them, too … Grocery shopping is kind of fun. Taking them to Costco is kind of an experience,” Juhl said.

“It was pretty easy to become friends,” Fontova said, expressing how she enjoyed meeting Watkins and learning more about her. “I think both sides were willing to have a great time, [and open] our minds to new cultures. Also, with this program, each family chooses the student who you have more things in common with. So for all these reasons it didn’t take too long for us.”

Overall, Juhl said, most people that experience foreign exchange programs learn a lot, both about the other person and their culture and about themselves.

“I would recommend it to everyone because it’s very rewarding and I have such good memories from that summer [and it’s great to] make new friends,” Fontova said.