For ten days in January, Auburn Riverside High School (ARHS) welcomed forty Australian exchange students. Australian based Educational World Travel (EWT) has been bringing this program to Auburn and the Pacific Northwest for roughly twenty years, with Kelly Jensen being the ARHS program coordinator for the last fifteen.
Three Weeks in the States
Each trip for an exchange student is 21 days, visiting three cities. Because the Australian school year is split into four terms, beginning in late January (their summer), it allows for exchange students to travel to the United States between terms, and not miss any of their own schooling. When choosing the US west coast, students are given the option of Arizona, San Diego or Seattle as Home Stay options.
The order in which the cities are visited are not always the same, however they will always go to these cities based on their final home stay choice. For the most recent ARHS exchange students, the first leg of the students’ journey was five days in Los Angeles, where they visited attractions such as Hollywood and Disneyland. One student shared his disappointed, stating that Hollywood was “very shady” and nothing at all what he expected it to be.
Dependent upon the final home stay destination, the second leg of the student’s trip will be San Diego or San Francisco. The ARHS exchange students spent three days in San Francisco before traveling north to Seattle.
Matching the Students to Families
Jensen begins seeking host families in September/October, to ensure plenty of time for matching and communication for matches. Only families with students at ARHS can host exchange students. Each exchange student must have their own bed, but can share a room with another teen. Families are not limited to hosting only one student. Additionally, Jensen shared that some families have hosted multiple times because they enjoyed the experience so much.
The exchange students range from ages 14 to 18 and have a variety of interests. To help ensure a good match to the host family, Jensen receives detailed bios from both the exchange student and the host families. The bios are in 2 parts: first reviewing interests, and then go into a more detailed narrative. Using these bios, Jensen carefully matches the incoming exchange students to host families. The matches are grouped by age, though at times a student’s maturity level may allow for alternative placement.
Once the exchange student and host family are matched, communication via social media and e-mail begin. The sooner communication starts, the better. This allows for a familiarity to be formed so that when the students are here it is a more natural experience. Some host families have shared that they feel the matches are so good, it feels just like their own kids.
The students that stayed in January were from Maitland Grossmann High School in New South Wales, Australia. Traveling with them was chaperone Nicole Crowe, and four EWT chaperones.
A Packed Ten Days
The exchange students arrived on January 5th and were brought to ARHS for a welcome potluck. They were then sent home for the weekend with their host families. Over the next ten days the exchange students, with their chaperones, experienced local attractions.
Some of the locations they visited were Snoqualmie Falls, The EMP, The Seattle Underground, and Pike Place Market. As the Space Needle was under construction, the students went to The Museum of Flight instead, which some said was only ‘okay.’ One student shared that the best part of the museum was the cheeseburger she ate. Wanting to ensure the Australian exchange students had a PNW experience they wouldn’t forget, they were taken to Snoqualmie Pass to have a snow day.
The exchange students also experience two in school days with their host student. As the Australian students are used to more portable, outdoor, style school buildings, the large indoor school building of ARHS is quite the change for them. As Martin Luther King Day occurred during the exchange students’ visit, this was an additional cultural experience.
In Australia schools do not have team sports, so another unique experience the exchange students had was attending the ARHS Girls’ Varsity Basketball game against Thomas Jefferson High School. During half time a highly competitive game of US vs. Australia was played, with Crowe as the referee. The only winner was the audience, as it quickly became clear no one on the court knew how to play Basketball; but everyone was having a great time.
After the rousing basketball game, the students had an American dessert potluck. As they snacked on sugary treats, Mayor Nancy Backus spoke to them of Auburn’s history and local government. Backus answered questions from all of the students, sharing her background and how she became an elected official.
Before the night concluded a round table interview was held, allowing the exchange students to share information about Australia, comparing it to the US. Discussions were had about the differences (and similarities) in the education systems, sports, social media, music, politics and general culture. As only a few of the exchange students had been to the US prior to this program the dialogue allowed for further cultural learning
At the end of the ten days, an emotional good bye is said by the host families and exchange students at ARHS. When asked what the best part of their entire trip was, every student asked said without hesitation that it was the time spent with their host family. One pair of students declared a trip to Australia was already in the making.
Approximately 500 exchange students will pepper the PNW between the end of December to June, in a leap frog manner as to not inundate the area. Jensen remains hopeful that with the continued success of this program, EWT will reciprocate and soon have a program that brings US students to Australia.