New People in New Places

Damian Guldiman with friends at the IHS Senior Prom

Damian Guldiman with friends at the IHS Senior Prom

Collin Adams and Chad Keveny

Often described as some of the best years of a young person’s life, foreign exchange programs offer eye-opening experiences for students of all ages. When looking back on past experiences, many adults credit a semester or year-long exchange program to their current view and outlook on the world. In fact, a study by the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) found that those who studied abroad described it as a defining moment in their lives. Not only are the impacts on students drastic, but the experiences resonate with them for years afterward. “It has been nearly ten years since I was a student in Vienna, but not a single day goes by where its impact is not felt in my life,” says Jason Thornberg (IES Abroad Vienna, 1994). But how are students supposed to know if foreign exchange is right for them? 

Luckily for students who are hesitant to commit to a full-length program, IHS has a solution. The French exchange program at IHS allows students to host French students for ten days in the fall, and provides the opportunity for these students to then travel to France for a week in the spring. This program allows students from IHS to get a taste of an exchange program while not committing to a longer-term program.

To get a better view of the French exchange program, we decided to interview Chris Folan, an IHS senior who hosted a French student during this program this fall. When asked about his experience hosting a French student this fall, Chris said, “It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had up to this point in my life. It was like taking a brother in for two weeks. We got along very well and still talk on snap all the time.” Chris stated that while he thought the short length of the program was good, he wished that it could have been slightly longer, “to experience all of spirit week and homecoming.” Chris wanted to give his French student, “the full American experience,” but he felt that this wasn’t possible in the two short weeks he had. 

This past fall was Chris’s first year hosting an exchange student, despite it being his third year taking the language. He claimed that, “Every year my interest increased as I watched my friends host students.” Chris is glad that he decided to host, as he became close with many of the exchange students, but the biggest perk is yet to come. This spring Chris is looking forward to going to France with other Ipswich students who hosted this fall. He is excited to see all the friends he made this fall and to experience a culture and society different from his own. When asked if this program made him want to do a long term exchange program, Chris answered, “Definitely. I think that this program showed me the bonds that you can make with people in a short amount of time. And I would definitely consider doing a longer-term program abroad because of it.” It is clear that Ipswich’s short program is the ideal fit for students just looking to explore the world of exchange programs and what they have to offer.

Searching for a different viewpoint of the foreign exchange program offered at Ipswich, we discussed the logistics of the program with the director of the program, Sra. Killian, as well as Spanish teacher Sra. Marattoa. Foreign exchange programs offer students unique experiences to make connections on a global scale. “The connections you make in these experiences are permanent,” says Sra. Killian, “You gain a lot of cultural perspectives and can appreciate different cultures.” When asked if the French students who visit IHS can be a distraction to daily lessons, Sra. Marotta stated that the students are always well behaved and, “mix well with the Ipswich kids,” with some teachers take steps to include them in lessons. 

When inquired about personal experiences, Sra. Marotta recounted how she hosted a girl from Spain for a few weeks and then visited her in the spring for a week stating, “It was one of my most memorable high school experiences and I would recommend an exchange program to all students.” Exchange programs such as the one offered in Ipswich is greatly valued by all participants. It gives the residents of the small coastal town that lacks diversity an opportunity to experience a different way of life. 

Our local exchange program here at Ipswich High School is not exclusive to French students, and is open to all willing to participate. Interested students can sign up in May to both host an exchange student in October for 10 days and travel to France during April break (one week) to experience the French Culture. Although a highly rewarding experience, Sra. Killian warned prospecting students that hosting a student is a big responsibility, as your family will have to care for, feed, and transport an extra member of your family. In terms of criteria, there are no grade/GPA cutoffs or any deterrent for students who have disciplinary actions on their transcript. Any students interested should get in touch with Sra. Killian. 

Foreign exchange programs vary in duration, location, and through which group/organization the exchange is executed. Despite the French exchange program being the most well-known program in Ipswich, the Rotary Club offers a year-long exchange for students interested in expanding their world views and learning about different cultures of the world. During the 2018-2019 school year, Swiss native Damian Guildman spent a year in the Ipswich Public school system. When asked about his experience away from home, Damian was pleased to report that, “[the exchange] was very positive and I enjoyed every second of it. I met so many great people and made lifetime friends while learning a lot about a new culture.” A common point of discussion and argument pertains to the perfect duration of an exchange program. While personal preference and how comfortable the student will be away from home will always be the deciding factor, many believe that the longer the stay, the better. A longer stay in a foreign country gives the student more time to assimilate deeper into the culture and society of their new home. IES Abroad reported that year-long exchanges were down 52% from 1950-1990. With this apparent downward trend duration of exchange programs, finding the perfect length for an exchange program is highly debated. When asked about the length of his stay Damian responded, “I think one year is good length but I would have stayed a bit longer if I could have. You need some time to adjust to the new place, to make friends and learn the language and after that, you want to enjoy the time.”

Opening a student’s view of the world is a major selling point to foreign exchange programs. Students can experience first hand a different culture and compare it to that of their home country. Damian had a similar eye-opening experience but not from his experience in America, but rather from his conversations with the other participants of the exchange program from different countries. “When [I and the other exchange students] talked about our countries I realized how good life in Switzerland is and that there could be more serious problems than the ones we face.” Damian is a prime example of how an extended exchange program can greatly benefit the student and those who interact with the exchange student. Many of us here at IHS, as well as others, became very close friends with Damian. His contrasting viewpoints of the world and daily tasks greatly opened our eyes to how those around us can be so different yet so similar. Damian’s relationship with us all left a lasting impact and we routinely keep in touch with him. 

Whether it’s Damian and the relationship he formed with many of us over the course of his year here, or Chris and his exchange student Louison, exchange programs allow people from different countries and backgrounds to connect and form strong bonds. While there are some cons for both long and short term programs, it’s clear that both programs have pros that outweigh the cons. At IHS, we have the opportunity to explore these pros and cons with our French exchange program, allowing students to discover what it is like to host an exchange student, or to study abroad. These programs, regardless of length, allow the next generation of world leaders, economic decision-makers, and powerful people to study abroad, enhancing their understanding of different societies and cultures.


Chris Folan with his foreign exchange student Louison Deshayes