Exploring Cultures and Building Connections: Waldorf School of the Peninsula’s High School Exchange Program

Mar 28, 2024 | Curriculum, Exchange Program, High School, Parent Experience, Student Life

by Melanie Ingler | Communications Coordinator

At Waldorf School of the Peninsula, education reaches far beyond the confines of the classroom and campus. Our High School Exchange program facilitates cultural immersion, offering students transformative experiences that extend across borders. I recently sat down with program participants—both students and parents—to ask them to share how these experiences have impacted their lives.

Sandy Welch, a parent of a current 11th grade student who went on an exchange to Argentina, shared that the experience provided her daughter with a cultural immersion that positively influenced her Spanish language proficiency. She also underscored the value of hosting a student as well, noting it offered her family a fresh perspective on their own culture, too. The exchange of customs and traditions facilitated mutual understanding with their host student. Sandy highlighted the joy of introducing their Argentinian student to the Bay Area and experiencing the excitement of our own cultures and customs through her eyes. Additionally, the exchange reignited the family’s commitment to regular family dinners, fostering meaningful conversation and connection. Sandy also offered some practical advice, suggesting that students concerned about missing school time can consider attending a South American school during WSP’s summer break.

“Hosting Morena brought joy, perspective, and humor to the family. It was wonderful to see our culture through her eyes.” — Sandy

Student in a historic village in FranceEmmery, a junior student whose exchange took her to a Waldorf School just outside of Paris, France at the end of her sophomore year, was inspired by her mother’s past exchange experience, and motivated to enhance her French proficiency. Reflecting on her time abroad, Emmery recalls exploring Paris with newfound friends, savoring local cuisine, and immersing herself in novel experiences such as learning rugby in physical education class to be highlights. Despite encountering differences in teaching styles and classroom dynamics, as the host school offered a little more hands-off learning style than WSP, Emmery found joy in expanding her horizons and forging meaningful connections with peers from diverse backgrounds. In terms of hosting another student here at home, she felt that learning to be responsible for another person had a positive impact on her, found it fun and would absolutely do it all over again.

“Best thing ever, highly recommend it!” — Ellen

Ellen Siminoff, parent of two WSP students who have studied abroad, offers firsthand experience with both hosting students and having her teens participate in exchanges to the Spanish-speaking countries Spain and Argentina. To put it bluntly, Ellen absolutely loved hosting students. She said, “Adding another teenager to your family brings a delightful experience. They are a teen who is new and exciting to everyone, and they are thrilled to be here and be in your family. They can elevate your household with a new dynamic.” For her students, she adds that their exchanges had a significantly positive impact on their Spanish language skills. She advises that no matter what level a student is starting with, they will get so much out of their exchange experience and improve their language skills.

Three students enjoying the beach in Santa CruzAshley Brickeen, mother of a current 10th-grade student who is hosting a student from a Waldorf School in Paris, France, shared her family’s hosting experience and their anticipation as their daughter prepares for her own exchange trip. Excited for her student to experience life in another country within the framework of a family, Ashley has found joy in witnessing their host student’s seamless integration into their household. This being their first hosting experience, Ashley is delighted to see the strong bond formed between their host student and all of the teens in the household. They’ve enjoyed shared experiences, such as a family trip to a cabin in Utah over the February break, where they introduced their host student to skiing and snow tubing for the first time. Shown here, they took their students and classmates to a nearby beach boardwalk for fun. Ashley has enjoyed witnessing her guest’s curiosity about typical life experiences, and the opportunity it provided for their family to explore their typical surroundings in new unique ways.

Current twelfth grade student Annika’s experience attending the Seoul Free Waldorf School in South Korea during her junior year speaks to the transformative power of international exchange. Despite initial challenges in establishing connections with a school that was brand-new to hosting international students, Annika’s perseverance led to a life-changing experience immersed in Korean language and culture. She emphasized the rewards of embracing new opportunities, regardless of initial uncertainties and challenges.

Two students in front of a European Castle.Elowyn, also a senior, felt her journey as both a host and visiting student helped reinforce the importance of adaptability and self-discovery. Having spent most of her junior year hosting two students, it was a completely new experience for her to not be the youngest in the family. She found it enjoyable to have others in the household who were her age to interact with. Upon arriving at her host family’s home, she found it interesting to navigate big cultural differences in family dynamics, which led her to a new-found independence in traveling and exploring a new city. This has given her the desire to explore solo travel in the future, and to both return to her host country of France, and other places around the world.

Each of the parents and students interviewed had so much valuable advice for prospective participants, far too much to list here, but some recurring points are:

  • be open-minded and adaptable to new experiences and cultures.
  • embrace the opportunity to learn a new language and immerse yourself in a different way of life.
  • take initiative in forming connections with your host family and local community.
  • engage in cultural activities and explore your surroundings to gain a deeper understanding of the host country.
  • communicate openly with your host family about expectations and preferences to foster a positive living experience.
  • actively participate in school and community events to integrate into the local community and build lasting friendships.
  • seek support from program coordinators and fellow exchange students to navigate challenges and maximize your exchange experience.

If all of this sounds intriguing, the first step for a WSP high school student with an interest in going on an exchange is to talk to their Spanish teacher about it. For families within the WSP community who have younger students or students who might not yet be considering participating in an exchange program but are intrigued by the idea of becoming a host family, please reach out to Audrey Lee, the HS Admissions Director. WSP frequently seeks host families for our International Student Program as well.

Our High School Exchange Program is designed to promote global citizenship and intercultural understanding. By welcoming diverse perspectives and facilitating connections across borders, both students and families embark on journeys of personal growth and mutual enrichment. Through this program, participants develop empathy, expand their horizons, and forge lifelong connections within our ever-changing global community.