Editorial: Schools should promote exchange programs

Art+by+Sasha+Kapadia

Art by Sasha Kapadia

Lia Cardwell

Exchange programs have long provided students with the opportunity to gain valuable cultural experiences, develop language skills and expand academic knowledge. Although travel restrictions and virtual learning halted many programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, data from the U.S. Department of State shows that institutions across the country are now bouncing back with an 83 percent increase in education overseas for 2022-2023, compared to the previous year. But even with the recent influx of students studying abroad, many remain hampered by financial barriers, lack of support from schools and concerns about academic credit transfers. Verde believes that Palo Alto High School should make foreign exchange programs more accessible to students by promoting shorter, 1-2 week-long programs in addition to offering more financial resources such as scholarships and direct partnerships with exchange programs. 

According to an article by Exchange Student World, the average high school foreign exchange program offered by for-profit organizations cost between $9,000 and $10,000 a year. Apart from baseline program costs, students planning to study abroad must also consider additional expenses for transportation, visa fees and the loss of potential income as a result of being unable to work while overseas. Financial aid or scholarships may not cover these expenses, adding to the overall financial burden for students. If schools were to offer more opportunities for students that come from less fortunate families to gain these scholarships and financial aid, more students would be able to participate in foreign exchange programs.

“I would be concerned about how much it would cost to go on a [semester long] exchange program and I would have to do a lot of research about it before considering it as an option for the future,” Palo Alto High School sophomore Héloïse Bœuf said.

Palo Alto alumni Miranda Jimenez, a junior at Johns Hopkins University, studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, for a semester last year. Since the program was affiliated with her school, all of Jimenez’s academic credits were accounted for and transferred appropriately. 

Jimenez said her time in Madrid not only allowed her to explore different cultures, but was also extremely beneficial to her work as a Spanish major; she said that in a classroom you can learn how to communicate formally and about complex topics, but that you don’t really learn slang and how to have a casual conversation. 

“Learning Spanish in the classroom is so different than speaking it in everyday life,” Jimenez said. “You learn colloquial phrases and stuff that I never would have known otherwise.” 

I think I learned so much … and it was good to get out of the college bubble a little bit and have these unique experiences.

— Miranda Jimenez, Palo Alto High School alumni

In order for students to embark on exchange programs and explore new cultural and academic ideas like Jimenez, schools must expand existing programs and prioritize partnerships which yield financial aid and scholarships. 

“I loved my program,” Jimenez said. “I think I learned so much … and it was good to get out of the college bubble a little bit and have these unique experiences.” 

Exchange programs could also be made more accessible to students by expanding the existing networks of foreign exchange programs offered to Palo Alto Unified School District students. In past years, middle school students from Frank S. Greene Jr. and Jane Lathrop Stanford were able to travel to places such as Palo Alto’s sister city, Tsuchiura, Japan. With nonprofit programs such as Neighbors Abroad, a small group of middle school students travel to a foreign country and stay with a host family for about 2 weeks, reciprocating the exchange later on. 

According to an interview with Verde, a cohort of middle schoolers from Palo Alto will be going to Tsuchiura this summer but will not be hosting Japanese students due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions in Japan. 

Palo Alto resident Tamlin Connel hosted a student from Tsuchiura during 2017 after her daughter participated in the Neighbors Abroad program. 

“It was amazing,” Connel said. “She [the exchange student] didn’t speak a lot of English but she had a younger brother at home and so she really connected with our son.” 

Aside from the connection to their exchange student, Connel said the program had a very positive influence on her daughter. 

“It was amazing for her to experience the structure of living in Japan,” Connel said. “From that experience she wants to go back and study in Japan. So it was really impactful, I think, on her confidence as a person.”