EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The pandemic meant the education system looked very different this past year for many different reasons.
One of the less obvious: foreign exchange student programs put on hold. One Wisconsin town noticed that change more than most.
With a population of less than 200, Blair-Taylor High School welcomed eight students from outside of the US as foreign exchange students in 2019.
“We are so fortunate that we have so many families that are very interested in having foreign exchange students into their home and into our school and its good for those students of course but really good for our students too to have those experiences first hand with other cultures around the world,” said Principal Dana Eide.
Eide says the programs came to a screeching halt in 2020 as all students studying abroad were sent home.
Amy Schultz, of Blair, was hosting a German student at the time. Schultz told WEAU,
“Last year our student ended up being absolutely phenomenal. To me she was like a daughter. We got about a 24 hour notice of her leaving and it was absolutely awful. We had an online going away party with the school and it was very hard.”
Schultz’s daughter Madyson says the school felt a void without their presence.
“When you go to such a small school you basically see the same faces every year so when you get foreign exchange students it’s really nice to make friends with them and have someone new,” said Madyson.
Now, those opportunities are opening up again, with much more interest from students abroad.
“This year there’s actually about double the amount of students because they couldn’t travel last year so it was really hard to pick this year because there were students writing about how they couldn’t go last year and this is their last year,” said Schultz.
All of those students need host families, to be a part of the program.
“Tor families that are interested in having an exchange student, we have a number of wonderful coordinators in the area who will reach out and give some information about the students and really help the families pick a good match,” Eide says.
While a small town in Wisconsin might not be exactly where these students may have guessed they would be studying, Eide and Schultz say it offers more opportunities to be involved in sports and a close knit community to help them adjust.
Schultz says one of the most common things the foreign exchange students say they are excited to experience is the “American school spirit!”
For more information on the program that Schultz uses or how to become a host family – click here.
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