Eight members of the Class of 2024 and 2025 embarked on a month-long foreign exchange program last Friday, January 13. Four students traveled to Spain and four to France. Taking full advantage of an opportunity to be truly engaged citizen leaders and globally competitive, these students will immerse themselves in another culture and language. Before they left each student shared their thoughts on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Charlie Duerr, Class of 2024, who was heading to Spain, shared that he chose to do the Spanish Exchange because his brother had done it and had a great experience. He said, “I wanted to have that experience for myself. I wanted to explore a new culture, a new country on my own at a young age.” He also highlighted the importance of practicing Spanish with native speakers, saying, “It’s one thing to learn in class but being in an environment where everyone is speaking the language and you have to follow along or you won’t be able to communicate, I think that’s really powerful and a great way to learn.”

Alyssa Gershon-Palma, Class of 2024 who was heading to France, expressed her excitement to experience what it’s like to be a student in France, saying, “I’m interested in how other people live their lives. So I get to live someone else’s life but it’s going to be my life! I’ll have new experiences with new friends I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life.”

Blythe Graham, Class of 2024, also heading to France shared that she has already formed a relationship with her counterpart, saying “I talk with her every day. Her name is Igram. She’s so cool. I’ve learned a little about her like that she speaks four languages, is Italian, and moved to France four years ago. I can’t wait to learn more.” She also expressed her excitement about what she will do when she gets there, saying “I’m most looking forward to the food and of course, being able to be in France. I don’t know how to explain it, just being in another country and immersing myself in an entirely different environment will be so cool.”

Beau Reinking, Class of 2025, heading to Spain shared that he and his counterpart, Ilario, decided Beau will join his club soccer team, “Ilario is a serious soccer player. He asked if I was going to play soccer with him on his team and I’m like ‘sure, is that allowed?’ He said he talked to his coach and I wouldn’t get any game playtime, but I could join in anytime at practice. So I’ll practice with them and make friends while I’m doing it!”

Zoe Embleton, Class of 2025 and a student going to France has also made plans with her counterpart. When asked what they had been talking about she explained, “We talk like every day. We talk about what we are going to do when I get there, what we are going to do when she gets here, and things we are excited about. We have already started talking about going to go see Avatar Two in French. And all I could think was ‘wow. I’m literally going to be there on Sunday and be able to do stuff on Sunday.’ We’ll probably make a weekend trip to Paris, and go to museums. We talked about going to go see the catacombs. Which is the town underneath Paris. The tunnels are made with skulls! We’ll go to Luxembourg which is just a completely different country and we’re casually going to get on a train and an hour later we’ll be there.”

Frankie Whelan, Class of 2025, who was headed to Spain is well-traveled and passionate about learning about other cultures. She has been to Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska, and Mexico and plans to do a lot more traveling. Frankie said, “I like to broaden my mindset. I think we get so caught up in our experiences here that we forget that there is so much more out there. I want to have a more worldwide perspective and staying in Georgia is not the way to do that.”

Lily Stanford, Class of 2025 who is going to France likes the idea of having a similar experience as her best friend, Frankie, who is going to Spain. She mentioned how she and Frankie first heard about the program, “So Frankie and I are doing this together. When they first announced the program we turned to each other like, oh my gosh, we should do that. So much has happened since then. I have talked to my counterpart a lot. We talk on Snapchat mostly and she speaks English pretty well. But I’m really trying to practice my French with her before I get there.”

Edee Morman, Class of 2024 who is going to Spain explained how good this would look on a college application, “I think that it’s also like terrific for colleges to see that we’re interested in experiencing new things, going to new places and that we’re not afraid of change”. Edee and Charlie are the authors of Mustang Memo, a bi-weekly publication sent to students and teachers at the School that includes highlights from the last two weeks and upcoming events. She said, “While we are in Spain, we are going to write about our experiences there instead of about what’s happening at Mount Vernon. I’m excited to share my experience with the school in real time.”

These eight students did a considerable amount of preparation in anticipation of their outbound international flights last Friday. From developing long-distance relationships with their European counterparts to gathering with other exchange students and discussing cultural norms, expectations, and concerns with their parents and teachers, they have made sure to be as informed and ready as possible. Not only will this experience improve their foreign language skills and cultural proficiency, but this journey will also be an opportunity that will broaden their perspective, open their minds, and foster the development of their critical thinking skills and self-awareness. They will undoubtedly come back with a sense of independence, adaptability, and resiliency, that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. We look forward to meeting the 8 host students when they come to Mount Vernon in March. After a three-year hiatus due to the global pandemic, our students are excited to gain more global and cultural perspectives. We look forward to following along in their learning and adventures.

Mount Vernon’s Arrival In Spain:

Mount Vernon’s Arrival In Spain: