Discovery through International Exchange at YHS

Michelle, Gr. 9, with her exchange partner, Georgia, in Australia (March 2018).

“I learned to trust my instincts” reflected a York House School student on her recent International Exchange experience in Australia in March of 2018. Michelle (Grade 9) travelled to Adelaide for one month to live with her exchange partner and family and to attend Seymour College. Shortly after arriving in Adelaide, Michelle’s exchange partner and family experienced the sad loss of an extended family member. Preparing for the funeral, the family kindly offered Michelle a choice to attend the service with them or to stay with a family friend for the afternoon. As Michelle reflected back on her decision, she explained, “I asked myself what I would have wanted if I were in my exchange partner’s shoes. I decided that I would want privacy, and so I stayed with the family friend for the afternoon to give my partner and her family the space to grieve and to be together. That was the right choice. And I realized then that I can trust my instincts.”

Sofia, Gr. 9, with exchange partner, Mia, in Australia (March 2018).

This is one gem of personal discovery of many quiet sorts that York House students make while on international exchange. Other students have expressed “feeling alive” through the experience, and growing in their confidence and independence by developing new insights about a local or global issue, overcoming feelings of homesickness, or communicating in Spanish with success with a host family at the dinner table. Adele discovered that she was stronger than she had previously thought by stretching outside of her comfort zone. Sofia, a second exchange student who journeyed to Adelaide this year, cherished making a new friend, Mia, and creating close relationships with her siblings – Hugo, aged six and Rory, aged twelve. As Sofia expressed, “I got along well with Mia’s parents, too. Living in a different household took a few days to adjust to, but after about a week, it felt like my home, and I didn’t want to leave.”

The aim of the program at YHS is for students to learn about themselves and the world through the experience of 1) hosting a visiting student for one month; 2) living with an exchange partner and attending school in another country for a month, and 3) reflecting on their growth. Currently, York House School offers this experience to ten Grade 9 students. Over the past two years, our program has grown from six to ten YHS student placements, and from three to five partner schools. YHS partners with two schools in England, two schools in Australia, and one school in Mexico. We understand that students and families are interested in having more of these opportunities, and we are in the process of expanding and diversifying these opportunities. Our commitment is to grow these partnerships with care to cultivate strong institutional relationships that support a safe and meaningful learning experience for students.

Tash, Alice, Georgina, and Frances at YHS (October 2017).

Over the years of exchange at YHS, students have expressed curiosity about the differences they encounter through their experiences with a new friend, family, school, and country. More often, however, they are struck what they have in common with others. Tash (Grade 9) shared her experiences with Alice from Abingdon, England: “When Alice first arrived in Vancouver, we were a bit awkward with one another, but by the last night in England we were up talking until two in the morning. There are differences in the ways we live and learn at school for sure. Tash laughed, “I say, ‘parkade’ and she says, ‘carpark’; I say ‘binder,’ and she says ‘folder.’ But we have so much in common: Alice and her friends talk about school, sports, …boys, and memes just like my friends and I do.”

Sabina and Mika, Gr. 9, at the YVR Airport with their families and Ms. McDonald, to meet Amelia and Erin from England (October 2017).

Students have the opportunity to cultivate relationships through the experience. In most cases, students develop a positive relationship with their exchange partners and create a special memory. In some cases, these relationships continue to grow and deepen well beyond the exchange experience. Elizabeth Duxbury, a parent of a student at King Edward VI School for Girls in Birmingham, England recently wrote this about hosting a York House student: “We all had a great time with Mika, who is our third daughter, and the girls’ second sister!” Rachel’s (Grade 11) connection with her Mexico exchange partner, Constanza, has grown into a family affair. Since Constanza’s arrival to Vancouver in 2016, members of both families have travelled to and from Mexico and Canada. This summer, Constanza and her brother will join Rachel and her family for some holiday time in British Columbia. As Rachel feels, “One of the best parts of this program, is that we’ve stayed really close to their family. It sounds cheesy, but this is a relationship that will last forever.”

Claire and Izzy (Gr. 9) with Arantxa and Dani and friends in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

We hope that the International Exchange experience inspires students to stretch intellectually, socially, and emotionally, and to realize that they can create their lives with confidence. Mika (Grade 9) expressed this aspiration in this way: “On exchange, I loved learning how to make strong bonds with people. What makes this and any experience powerful is the realization that we can decide whether and how to get the most out of a situation. It really is a personal choice to create a good time while you’re at it. That’s what I discovered. It really is about a mindset. What we get out of any situation depends on how we approach the experience. Wonderful things really are possible.”

Four International Exchange Students Visit YHS

exchangestudents_nov2016-0668In early October, India Whitton and Lilly Smith joined us from Seymour College in Adelaide, Australia. Noemi Jester and Alice Fenton joined us from King Edward School for Girls in Birmingham, England. They spent one month in our midst, plugged into life at YHS and British Columbia, and touched the lives of many at YHS in so many positive ways.

exchangestudents_nov2016-0661One of our priorities at YHS is to personalize and to deepen students’ learning and connection through the experience of international exchange. Highlights for India, Lilly, Noemi, and Alice included the exploration of Vancouver, Tofino, and Whistler; Thanksgiving and Halloween festivities with their host families; volunteering in Junior School classes; weekly International Exchange lunch gatherings; learning across the disciplines; an excursion to Victoria with the Field Hockey team; a Science field excursion; and a leadership opportunity at the Grade 5 Outdoor Education camp. Many thanks to Grade 10 students Kathryn, Matteya, Fiona, Lucy, and their families who opened up their lives to these young women and facilitated their exploration of British Columbia. Thank you, also, to the many York House school educators and coaches in the Junior and Senior Schools who generously included these students in a wide variety of unique classroom activities.

internationalexchangeIn January, two students from Cuernevaca, Mexico will join us at YHS. In March and July of 2017, Tess and Adele, Gr. 9, and Matteya, Gr. 10, will visit Adelaide. Jacqueline, Gr. 9, and AJ will visit Cuernevaca, Mexico, and Gr. 10 students Lucy and Fiona will visit Birmingham, England. They will share their experiences and learning with the YHS community through a school assembly and through the blog upon their return.

International Exchange opportunities are open to students in Grade 9 and 10. Currently we offer six places for students with partner schools, and we intend to increase these offerings because there is such interest among our student body. In February, students will learn of these opportunities for the 2017-18 school year. In April, they will hear from their classmates about their exchange experiences in assembly. At that time, we will host student and parent information sessions and invite applications for placements for the following year. Participating students host a visiting student for one month, and then participate in the life of the partner school and family for one month that coincides with the YHS two week spring break. For more information, please contact Kara McDonald, Global Programs Coordinator at