Emma Fischer| feature editor
She stared out of the window, a huge, terrified grin on her face as the plane landed. Junior Saori Nishira had started her new life, in a whole new country, language and family, like a story started over on a new blank page.
“I haven’t done foreign exchange before. The longest time I have been away from my family before this year was one week,” Nishira said. “I’m been here for almost eight months and I head back in June.”
To be a part of foreign exchange, Nishira used the YFU program.
“It’s only from Japan to the US and the US to Japan. I had no other options to go,” Nishira said. “I am from Japan. I’m from Osaka Japan.”
YFU isn’t the only program out there. Rotary, and CIEE are also other programs that have been used by multiple students, but the CIEE has partnered with Johnson to provide scholarships to students that wish to study language over the summer.
“Here at Johnson, this year, we were awarded the Global Navigator scholarship through CIEE. They promised $25000 to Johnson students in scholarships to be able to study this summer. We have six students this years. Last year we had two and this year we had six,” Spanish teacher Leann Henderson said.
Language study is not the only thing the CIEE offers.
“I have one student in my Spanish class who is already a native speaker of Spanish and he’s going to do his summer in Germany and his program is more about business,” Henderson said. “They offer language study, environmental trips, and then they offer business trips. They have so much more like theatre and arts as well.”
The CIEE wasn’t started very long ago, and was started for a very strong reason.
“The CIEE is really cool. It’s a non profit started after World War Two with the emphasis to never have another war,” Henderson said. “They thought that if we brought the cultures together, and understand each other, then we could prevent future conflicts.”
For years, the CIEE has brought cultures together and helped students see a whole different part of the world. Some programs allow that a student to be a beginner in a language, but may require at least a year to qualify for the exchange program.
“I know that for CIEE, the only ones that you can be a beginner are for Spanish and French. They expect students who study another language like German or Chinese or Japanese to have at least a year. Personally, I say that if you have the time and drive to go, that you do. Travel is never a regret. You will always learn something,” Henderson said.
Travel has been said to be a necessity to many people.
“I think travel is very important for everyone to experience. Coming from a small town in Texas, when I did that, it was so eye-opening and it was amazing how much I learned, not only about the language but the French people and culture, but how much we take for granted at home,” French teacher Kacee Saylors said. “It helps you not just have a broader view of the world, but it teaches how people are the same, that we are all human and we all deserve the same things.”
Both Henderson and Saylors have been all over the world, even if it wasn’t through the exchange program.
“I have done foreign exchange. I didn’t do it as a highschool student. I have gotten opportunities to travel to Costa Rica and to Spain. I lived with families to really be emerged in the culture and to get the experience of the country as a citizen and not a tourist,” Henderson said. “This summer I am going to Peru as a program leader for a month. I will be helping those students who are travelling to study language in Peru. I’ll kind of me their mom while they are away from home.”
Saylors has also been through the exchange as well.
“I have done foreign exchange. In my junior year in college, I went to Grenoble which is near the alps. That was for a semester. For grad school, I went to Anse. It’s a beautiful little town. That one, I stayed with a French lady. She only spoke to me in French and she invited me to her niece’s wedding,” Saylors said.
Currently, Henderson has a student who is originally from Spain, and has come over for the exchange program through ICES. Sophomore Alfonso Valero came from Madrid Spain and is staying until about four days after school gets out.
“I wanted to come to the USA to study. I saw a lot of movies inside the US but I knew that I could only really understand it if I was emerged in the culture,” Valero said. “I had already been to France, and with the French people. The USA seemed like a cool idea because it’s way out of what I’m used to. It’s not in Europe. I wanted to try something different.”
Different is what he got. Valero wanted to learn a new language and become fluent before moving on the the thousands of others.
“I speak Spanish, almost fluent English and some French since I studied French for two years,” Valero said. “I want to learn more languages but I have my basics, kind of. I want to be fluent in English first, then move on to other languages, like French, so then I have three basic languages.”
Students find out about different exchange programs in different ways. Sometimes, the resources are right their in front of them or not too far away.
“My mom’s friend’s children studied abroad so she used the same Spanish program. I had to make a lot of things to apply, like a video, a letter from me, my parents, my English teacher. I had to get a new passport, a new visa,” Valero said. “They contact a family here and then I was hosted.”
Language is difficult as it is. Many people have trouble with their first language, much less a second one, but slow and steady wins the race, and patience has helped Valero become more fluent every day.
“Listening has been the hardest. I’m used to British English and I had to get used to get to an American accent,” Valero said. “My family helped me a lot. They slowed their English down for me so then I understood it, before they sped it up.”
Just like Nishira, Valero has expressed differences between the two cultures
“The way of socializing is very different. Here, friends go to restaurants and fast-food places and maybe parties. In Spain, we often go to the park and have fun with a whole lot of people and we get along with a lot of people from different schools because schools there are very very different,” Valero said. “Everyone goes to public school here but everyone goes to private schools there. We don’t have high schools we have schools that start at pre-k and go to senior year. In my grade, there are only 150 people, but here, there are close to 700 people per grade so it’s very different. I’m used to knowing everyone at school, but here I see new people every day.”
Nishira has also had trouble with her second language, but continues to go at it full force and learn as much as she can before she heads back when the school year is over.
“Pronunciation has been the hardest for me and as well as grammar. In Japanese, there is no ‘th’ sound or ‘r’ sounds, so I had to really wok on those,” Nishira said. “I have learned English for five years, but I started practicing pronunciation when I came over here, but I enjoy the program anyway.”
Opportunities as this make people’s eyes open to a whole new world and make fantasies a reality.
“I love to learn English and to be emerged. I want to work here when I’m older, so I came here to make my dream come true. My exchange program has made my dream come true, to travel the world and see new places and see new people,” Nishira said. “Everyone should do the foreign exchange, like here, I have five host siblings, when in Japan I only have one sister, older sister. I learned a lot of things by coming over here.”
No matter where people are from; Spain, France, Japan, Peru, or even China, travelling is an experience that someone will never forget, a gift that can never grow old or ever be taken away.
“You can buy a new phone and it will be old within the year but if you go on a trip, you will always remember those moments,” Henderson said. “You grow as a person and you really become a different person. There is a quote that says ‘The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.'”
Click here to access an interactive Knighlab Map
Click here to watch a picture slideshow of Nishira and Emma Fischer’s exchange experience