For host families and exchange students alike, the experience of spending a year in the United States is an exchange in more than just the word. It works both ways – the lives of both the foreign students and the families they live with are changed by the exchange experience.
And the students at the school that the exchange student at-tends receive so much cultural enrichment. Champlain Valley Union High School recognizes this and waives the exchange students’ tuition.
“It’s great that CVU is so open to having exchange students,” said Luciana Swenson, who arranges host families for exchange students through World Herit-age Exchange. “Some schools don’t do that. They see it as a burden. These students bring so much enrichment to our own kids, being from a different culture. Not everybody can go abroad.”
Marcela Lesan of Moldova lived with Bill and Kate Schubart of Hinesburg during the 2017-18 school year.
“She was quite wonderful,” Bill Schubart said. “She really treated us like parents. We’d be in bed at night reading. She’d come knocking on our bedroom door and say, ‘I’m reading this passage. Could you help me with it?’”
Kate said that Marcela’s family couldn’t have afforded to send her to the United States as an exchange student, but that she won a scholarship for the pro-gram.
The Schubarts really appreciate how diligent their exchange student was about school.
“She was an earnest student,” said Kate Schubart. “What we enjoyed about her was her determination. She was in competition for the scholarship against at least 600 other people. This young girl got herself organized. It was entirely her own motiva-tion.”
Kate Schubart said that Marcela was shocked by some of the things that she saw in a U.S. school. She couldn’t believe that students could bring their cell phones to school.
She was appalled by some of the classroom culture. She didn’t understand how there could be students who were eager to learn sitting near the front of the class, while students who weren’t interested sat near the back, said Bill Schu-bart.
On the other hand, she was impressed with the range of clas-ses and all the choices that she had at CVU. He said that students in Moldova and much of Eu-rope don’t have nearly as many choices about their education.
During Marcela’s time here, the Schubarts introduced her to Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, U.S. District Judge William Sessions and President of the Community College of Vermont Joyce Judy.
After meeting Judy, Marcela said, “That woman is president of a college and she is interested in me and my country!”
The Schubarts took Marcela to visit Kate’s brother at Harvard and a friend at Yale, who told them that, if she wanted, Marcela could go to Yale. But she wanted to go to college closer to home.
When they asked her if she was going to go to a good college, Marcela said, “I don’t have enough money for the grades.”
They talked to a friend who was in the Peace Corps in Moldo-va and confirmed that, to get into a good college there, students had to “buy” grades.
However, after her year at CVU with the Schubarts, Marcela returned home, applied to one of the bests schools in Moldova and got in with a full scholar-ship.
The Schubarts got an email from her last summer, a year af-ter she left, in which she said, “It was definitely the best year of my life.”
Changed by exchange experience
Kristi Johnson of Hinesburg, whose daughter Sarah is a senior at CVU, said her family is hosting an exchange student, Tonia Voorank of Germany, for the first time. It’s only been a few weeks, but things seem to be going well.
Sarah and Tonia both play volleyball for the Redhawks. Sa-rah’s older sister graduated last year, and Sarah said one of the benefits is that for the first time she’s having the experience of having a younger “sister.”
With her sister Jessie away at college, Sarah would have been an only child for the first time, but she seems to have no regrets about sharing her home with a student from Germany.
“My life in the last three weeks has totally changed,” said Sa-rah. “It’s a lot different than I thought it would be, a lot easier to transition. … Now, we’ve fall-en into a routine and I don’t have the stress of having a new person in my home,” she said.
Sarah and Tonia are already making plans for Sarah to go back with Tonia when she returns home to Germany in June.
“We’re planning to go to Croatia and that’s been my life dream,” Sarah said.
They’ve been teaching each other their national languages. Sarah’s been learning some German from Tonia. While shopping, Sarah held up a shirt and told Tonia that it’s called a turtleneck here. Tonia said that kind of shirt is called a “rollkagen” in Germany.
“I think she’s doing great. We have lot of fun together,” Sarah said. “Tonight, we’re going to our Homecoming.”
Jan Bedard, who organizes exchange students and families for EF (Education First) said that so many of the host families go to their exchange students’ coun-tries to visit after they’ve gone home.
“There’s so many stories of kids coming back and forth for weddings and other events. It’s pretty spectacular,” Bedard said. “The first student we took was in 1992. He graduated CVU and then he went back to Sweden and had to graduate high school there. He’s been back many times with his wife and kids. And my kids have visited there.”
Bedard encouraged families of high school students to seri-ously consider becoming a host family.
“You can’t even imagine the doors that will open for your own family,” she said. “It’s not a stranger in your house after the first three or four days.”