Through the PWS Foreign Exchange program, high school students studying a world language–particularly German and Spanish–can make an “exchange” with a Waldorf student and school in another country where that language is spoken. Typically, a PWS student will host a student from abroad in our school, and they in turn will host our student in theirs. For Nico Stovall, Lily Jack-Goulart, and Maia Lanoff-Smith, the foreign language and exchange programs have had a big impact on their lives. These opportunities to live and learn in another country, language, and culture have been invaluable parts of their high school experience.
When Nico’s older sister, Seda (’19), returned from her “amazing” exchange, he decided to follow her example. Eager to improve his Spanish, he found a potential partner in Ramiro San Gil, a student in the San Miguel Arcangel Waldorf School in Buenos Aires. After getting to know each other online in the spring, they agreed to the exchange, and Nico packed his bags and headed off to Buenos Aires in the fall of 2018. He was at first apprehensive about going to a new country, having to speak a new language all the time, and interacting with an unfamiliar culture. Instead, Nico discovered an unexpected sense of normalcy. Once he shed his nervousness and relaxed into his new environment, he quickly began to learn and adjust. He was able to appreciate the culture and began to understand the language. Within weeks he was able to converse satisfactorily and even with ease. Nico found much to connect with in his host family and culture, but above all he appreciated the food, and particularly the ways that they cooked meat, including many recipes not found in the US. Says HS Spanish teacher Isabel Umanzor, “I saw Nico improve his Spanish after this exchange program. He came back fluent, but more importantly, his friendship with Ramiro was a true exchange in every sense and they continue to stay in touch. I’m also delighted that Nico continues to use his Spanish to connect with Latino families in his job as a life-guard.” If he could do it over again, Nico would start off less worried about speaking Spanish because, once he embraced the experience, he not only achieved fluency, he was also able to make lasting memories and lifetime friends.
High school German teacher Wibke Fretz first encouraged Lily to consider going on exchange, not only to improve her German, but also to have a break from “normal” school so that she could travel and experience a different culture from her familiar Portland. Lily was fortunate to connect with Noemi Assan, from the Rieselfeld Waldorf school in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is a beautiful, old university town, and Lily enjoyed her new experience from the start. To her, Germans seemed friendly, and she enjoyed meeting new people in school, talking with strangers on the street, and generally being her usual extroverted self–but in German. She also welcomed the freedom and ease to travel in Europe and the active youth nightlife in Germany. Lily’s enthusiasm for German popular music not only made her dance but also helped her to better understand the language. To this day, Lily’s German musical selections are staples of Waldorf dances. Says HS German teacher Wibke Fretz, “When an entire HS student body can sing along to the German songs at a high school dance, that is a teacher’s dream come true! Lily has been a real ambassador for my country. Her excitement is infectious and she has inspired so many of the other students with her love for everything German!”
When Maia joined the high school, she quickly fell in love with German language and culture. She especially liked the way that Frau Fretz created a learning environment that was both productive and fun. However, because she joined in the 11th grade, she did not have the time to plan and complete a foreign exchange experience. But Maia, who has considerable fortitude, did not let that stop her. Instead, she planned her own trip to Germany over summer break, and visited many places that had been on her list, including Freiburg, Hamburg, and Berlin. Wherever she went, she was embraced and welcomed as a tourist trying to learn the language. Says Frau Fretz, “She met with me on her own time before her trip to practice her fledgling conversational knowledge and it really paid off. Maia went on that trip honestly wanting to push her language skills, and not having to fall back on English. My mother in Hamburg was impressed by how hard Maia was trying to engage with her in German, and how willing she was to be dragged around the city in a rainstorm.” Maia made many new friends, made lots of progress in spoken German, and gained a deeper appreciation for the culture around her. She credits the PWS language program with providing a setting where even a later arrival like herself could feel included in the effort to learn a new language and even explore the world. Maia’s experience learning German and traveling in Germany has forged a deep connection, and she is considering the possibility of living and studying there in the future.