At an April Learning Exhibition, some students shared their learning through these experiences and there was a great buzz. An aim of the international excursions at YHS is to help students learn about themselves, investigate the world, and connect with people of diverse perspectives and experiences, and adventure together in the company of friends and mentors.
In February, forty-seven students joined the Modern Languages team for a trip to Quebec City in the heart of winter and Carnaval. A few weeks later, a team of YHS musicians, including Dawn Haylett, Ellie Froese, and Kathy Kealey travelled to Cuba and joined with local musicians and dancers to experience music in a host of lively ways. Ten exchange students had a host of varied experiences in England, Mexico, and Australia with their partners and families and our Aussie partner students will attend school at YHS this coming fall.
In March, a group headed to France as part of our long-term partnership with Saint-Louis Saint-Bruno in Lyon, France. As Alexis Lum, expressed, “We take a team of 14 Senior students to Lyon, France every second year and host a team of students from Lyon in between. The aim of the program is to immerse our students in French culture and language and build bridges among teenagers through meaningful, authentic experiences.” With Madame Jensen and Monsieur Lum as the animated leads, the students stayed with an exchange partner and family and participated in a host of activities including a visit with Monsieur Lum’s grandmother for tea. Thank you to Monsieur Lum and Madame Jensen for accompanying the group on this adventure this year.
Finally, fourteen students, Ms. Baldissera, and Ms. McInnis travelled to Poland and Germany in March. Reflecting on the trip, Ms. Baldissera expressed this about the excursion: “There is one thing to read about history; it is another to be in the place where it took place and see it, touch it, and feel it. What an extraordinary trip this was to share with such a fabulous group of students! We enjoyed so many moments: learning about the history as we visited incredible sites and museums, experiencing the culture through sampling the delicious food and wandering the old town squares, getting to know the Polish families who welcomed us into their homes, and the many silly conversations on trains and van rides. It was a trip of laughter, smiles, and tears.”
We thank students, families, and teachers, and partners who made this possible.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Australian exchange students Adele, Harriet, Georgia, and Tess.
Australian exchange students Harriet, Georgia, Adele, and Tess play in the snow.
International Exchange Team and Ms McDonald carving pumpkins (October 2017).
Tess (Gr. 10), Harriet, Adele (Gr. 10), and Georgia carving pumpkins at YHS (October 2017.
Olivia with exchange partner in Melbourne, Australia.
Sofia and friends swimming in Adelaide, Australia.
Sophie, Gr. 9, and friends in Melbourne, Australia.