The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Eighth Grade Exchange Program Returns After Three Year Hiatus

Classes of 2023, 2024 and 2026 during their various language exchange experiences: Class of 2023 students in Paris, the last regular language trip before the pandemic. Class of 2024 students in the French program, who received correspondents, but did not travel to Paris due to the pandemic. Class of 2026 on a non-exchange trip to Puerto Rico last year. (Photos courtesy of Abigail Bown, Zoë Hällstrom and Federico Pisano)

The annual eighth grade language exchange program is making a comeback for the Class of 2027 this school year. For the past three years, the typical exchange was on hiatus, due to the pandemic and the sudden end of the Peruvian exchange in 2019. 

WIS cut ties with Colegio Santa Margarita, which is in Lima, Peru, in 2019 due to the school’s unwillingness to place their students in households with same-sex, divorced or single parents. Instead, WIS administrators and teachers organized a non-exchange trip for Spanish language students in the Class of 2024 with travel agent EdOdyssey, but it was canceled with the start of the pandemic in March 2020. French language students, on the other hand, received correspondents in the fall of 2019, but their trip to Paris was also canceled in 2020.

All middle school trips that followed were suspended indefinitely until the Class of 2026 went on non-exchange trips to Puerto Rico and Québec in the spring of 2022. The trips still focused on language immersion but did not include the homestay aspect, which wasn’t possible due to the pandemic. 

Now, WIS is beginning a new exchange program with Colegio Estudio, a school in Madrid, for students in the Spanish section. The French program will resume with Parisian school Collège Sévigné, which they have been partnered with since 2015, according to Middle School Principal Randy Althaus.

Story continues below advertisement

“For the most part, everything that would have happened in a normal school year exchange, likely will be the experience of the students this year,” Althaus said. 

The experience consists of WIS eighth graders hosting an exchange student in their homes in the fall, and then staying with their correspondent in their respective country in the spring. Students will participate in a variety of activities organized by the school with their classmates, and spend the rest of the time with their correspondents and their families. 

Althaus is looking forward to beginning the program with Colegio Estudio, which is an independent secular school that has been around for about as long as WIS. He believes the two schools are very compatible, as the school is very well established in Madrid and has exchanges with other schools around the world.

“They have a strong tradition of [doing exchanges], and they’re very open and flexible, and they are certainly not prescriptive in their morality or perceptions of morality,” Althaus said.

They have a strong tradition of [doing exchanges], and they’re very open and flexible, and they are certainly not prescriptive in their morality or perceptions of morality.

Middle School Principal Randy Althaus

Class of 2027 students in the French section will host their correspondents from Oct. 25 to Nov. 2. The Spanish correspondents will stay from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. WIS students will travel to Paris and Madrid from March 14 to 24, right before Spring Break.

Middle School Spanish teacher Gema León discovered Colegio Estudio while scouting Madrid schools in 2019. She had started to look at schools online after uncertainty of the program in Peru began to arise. While she was in town that summer, León toured Colegio Estudio and met with the teacher in charge of the exchange.

“They have the same philosophy [as us],” León said. “[For example,] they do some Project Zero themes. So pretty much, they are at the same level as us.”

Althaus began conversing with the school’s principal that fall. If it hadn’t been for lingering concerns over the pandemic, Althaus would have started the program during the 2021-2022 school year for the Class of 2026. 

He was finally able to visit the school in June 2022, after the WIS school year ended and pandemic concerns diminished. He loved the campus and saw many similarities to WIS, as it is also a bilingual school, and has native English speakers teaching English. Additionally, most students are Spanish, so there will be authentic immersion for WIS students.

“I’m very, very excited about the compatibility and the similarity and vision for this exchange,” Althaus said.

One thing Althaus regrets to give up is the unique experience of visiting the country of Peru. “Many of [the students] had never been to Peru, and generally came back a lot more transformed from the trip than a place like Spain, where many families have already been,” he said. But the challenges of finding a compatible school in Peru and previous setbacks made it necessary to turn to other options.

In terms of COVID protocols for the trips, WIS students will follow the typical guidelines and rules of the country. The schools have Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that includes COVID contingency plans if a student gets infected. There will be testing and monitoring students’ health, and teachers will facilitate an extension stay, paid for by the schools, if needed for the quarantine period. In terms of masking, if there are no clear guidelines, WIS will use their own. 

León is looking forward to the exchange and is excited about the partnership with Colegio Estudio, but still doesn’t fully know what the experience will be like, as this is new for everyone. “We know in theory [what to expect], but we haven’t been there. We haven’t been in the process, in the exchange,” she said.

Currently, she is in the midst of planning and scheduling the student activities in Madrid with the other Spanish teachers. She plans to alter some parts of the program from previous years, so that students will become more in touch with the local culture.

“[We want] something more, where you can integrate more [with] the people who live in the city,” León said. “More than just the history and the monuments and the architecture.”

Althaus looks forward to seeing student growth and ending the year with a more unified class, something he believes was lost in the past few years during the pandemic. “My hope is that we get back to what I used to see, as the large transformation of student responsibility, independence and connection,” he said.

By Naomi Breuer

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Naomi Breuer
Naomi Breuer, Editor-in-Chief
I am Editor-in-Chief of Dateline this year. As a junior last year, I was a Publications Editor and Middle School News Advisor. As a sophomore, I was WIS News Editor, and Arts Editor as a freshman. Other than Dateline, I enjoy baking, playing guitar, biking and participating in Model UN.

Comments (0)

All International Dateline Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *