Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost
When asked for a snapshot of her study abroad program in Xi'an, China, Bend teen, Linnea Lane, recalls, "Walking down the street outside of the school gate to explore or find something for lunch. No two days in the program were ever the same." She continues, "There were brand new sights, sounds and tastes every day." When asked what she enjoyed most, Linnea says, "Having the opportunity to absorb the culture with a host family."
- Courtesy of Linnea Lane
- Linnea in Xi'an, China
Linnea Lane's educational fork in the road began when she became the recipient of the National Security Language Youth Scholarship (NSLIY) to study Mandarin Chinese for six weeks in Xi'an, China this past summer. The U.S. Department of State program awards merit-based scholarships to 15 to18-year-old high school students to study critical languages through overseas immersion.
While attending language classes in the morning and cultural field trips in the afternoon, Lane says her exchange was full of adventure. "Some of my favorite parts were the connections and friendships that I made with my classmates, teachers, and other community members and spending time with my host family traveling or learning about their lives."
- Courtesy of Linnea Lane
- Linnea Lane hangs out with friends during her study abroad program in China.
Lane explained that living in China was an amazing growth opportunity not only for her language skills, but also as a way to build confidence and independence as well as practice resilience and patience in challenging situations. "To gain the most from a study abroad experience, you have to keep an open mind and be willing to put yourself out there - especially for language study abroad programs. One of the best ways to improve is by just speaking as much of the target language as possible and to be OK with getting it wrong sometimes."
Besides the National Security Language program, numerous other organizations facilitate study abroad programs for youth. American Field Service is one that offers intercultural programs including high school study abroad as well as opportunities to host a student from another country.
- Courtesy of the Price family
- Earn shares a hug with her "brother" during her study abroad program in Bend.
Hosting an overseas student was always a goal of the Price family who live in Bend. William Price elaborates, "Our family wanted to experience someone from another culture participating in our family. We were interested in having a daughter in the house to balance out the family and provide my wife and I with the experience of parenting a girl. We also wanted our son to experience life with a sibling and to get a different perspective on his parents and teenage life here in Bend."
Paul Primak, the American Field Service representative who organized the Price's placement explains, "For families who wish to host students, the most important step is to decide what their motivations are." Hosting involves a home inspection, with the goal of ensuring that there is adequate space for the hosted student (a place to sleep and study) and that the family will provide meals and interaction.
Last year, the Price family welcomed their first exchange student: Kunlanit 'Earn' Hantrakool, a 17-year-old girl from Thailand who enrolled at Bend High, while their 15-year-old son continued to attend Summit High.
The Prices say the pros of hosting far outweighed the cons. The highlights were learning to parent a daughter, having a connection in Thailand and getting to revisit local tourist destinations. "They are all brand-new experiences for your student and that makes them more engaging for the whole family." Newberry Monument, Benham and Tumalo Falls, Smith Rock, Shevlin Park, Pilot Butte, and the Sisters Rodeo are just a few places in the Prices' travel log with Earn.
"There are challenges. There are going to be cultural misunderstandings and effective communication will take work, especially in the beginning," the Prices reflect. "It's a journey that takes effort from both sides and I think that no two exchange experiences are going to be the same, that is what makes it interesting. In the end, the whole family fell in love with Earn and when she left, there was a lot of sadness. Brace yourself for the end of the program and make plans to see each other again in the future."
- Courtesy of the Price family.
- The Price family with their "daughter," Earn, from Thailand.
Whether embarking on a cultural adventure overseas or hosting a student from a different country, the experiences are invaluable. Lane recalls navigating dramatically new environments and new social situations. "Be a joiner, be engaged and curious about your surroundings and ask questions. Go with your host family on their weekly trip to the grocery store, practice language by asking a shopkeeper the price of an item." She continues, "I caution future study abroad students to avoid preconceived ideas about their experience. My best advice is to just be present in the moment, whatever that moment may be."
Study abroad program resources
High School NSLI-Y: nsliforyouth.org
American Field Service: afs.org
Rotary Youth Exchange: rotary.org/en/our-programs/ youth-exchanges
Greenheart Exchange: greenheartexchange.org
Youth for Understanding: yfu.org
CIEE Study Abroad: ciee.org
Additional local exchange opportunities: bend.k12.or.us/ application/files/8114/5072/4938/Foreign_Exchange_Programs.pdf