Athenians Go on Exchange in Record Numbers

by Amalia Gradie ‘17

In the past two years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Athenian students going on exchange to other Round Square schools. This is a result of the growing popularity of the Round Square program. Community Service Director and Round Square Coordinator Mark Friedman has had first-hand experience with the challenges and rewards created by the increase.

“In some classes, the fact that students have lived abroad enriches the class for everyone,” Friedman said.

However, more students going on exchange means more exchange students coming here, and not always at the most ideal times. Due to the fact that the schools in the southern hemisphere tend to send their students to Athenian in the second quarter and no Athenian students go on exchange during this time, classrooms can become a little crowded.

There is also the concern that having students on exchange from other schools who aren’t motivated by a grade will mean a low level of contribution or presence in the classroom, according to Friedman. The biggest challenge of having foreign exchange students come to Athenian is the effort put into supporting them.

“The nurse has to approve their health forms, the admissions office has to issue an I24 form for their student visa, and their information has to be entered into the school database.” Friedman said. “The amount of school staffing support that goes into supporting exchanges hasn’t gone up in a few years and the number of students going on exchange has doubled since then. It’s a challenge at this point managing all of the people and trying to make it possible for everyone who can go to go.”

The number of students going on exchange has been growing rapidly over the years, starting with only one in 1982 and now at an all time high of 26. Approximately one-fourth of all the exchanges Athenian has organized belong to this year’s applicants.

“If that was a life form, you would have a monster,” Friedman said, regarding the dramatic increase in Round Square exchanges.

Previously, only juniors and seniors were allowed to go on exchange per the school policy, and only recently, around 2011, were sophomores permitted to go.

“That’s the big change that has lead to the explosion,” Friedman said.Screenshot (17)

Another concern that has gained attention due to the spike in exchanges is the academic challenges students face coming back from their host country.

“Mostly we send students on exchange in the summer,” Friedman said. “For the students who go in the fourth quarter, they are coming back [to Athenian] in the fall and most courses begin with some sort of review so that hasn’t been a big challenge. The students who go on exchange in the third quarter are mostly seniors, and second-semester seniors have a reputation for not being super attached to their academic outcomes anyway.”

The 10th-grade student sent to The Gordonstoun School in Scotland each year has the most challenging time coming back.

“Probably the person it’s hardest for is the one student a year we send to Gordonstoun in the third quarter as a 10th grader,” Friedman said. “And that person still has to do the Cold War paper even though they are gone. Of all the people who go on exchange, that’s the person who it’s most challenging for. And no one who’s done that has ever said, ‘Mark, I wish I’d never gone.’”

The other academic concern is the placement options for students going on exchange during the school year. The option of taking an honors or AP course in the year after the exchange and the policy surrounding it varies from department to department. Depending on a student’s academic performance on the final exam or in class when he or she returns, and on how strong a student he or she is, honors and AP classes are an option, but not always a realistic one.

“Sometimes the exchange can limit your ability to participate in certain [advanced] classes,” Friedman said.

The greater challenge, according to Friedman, is the reintegration back into the home culture.

“One thing that I think is often surprising is that the coming home is often very challenging,” Friedman said. “You obviously get yourself jazzed for going abroad and you’re in a new country and a new culture and new people and so you knew that that was going to be challenging and that there was going to be culture shock,” Friedman said. “But what people don’t realize is that you go through the same process [culture shock] coming back. You feel like you don’t quite belong and you’ve changed a lot while other people haven’t… It can be a little disconcerting if you’re not expecting it.”

Athenian students are currently on exchange through Round Square in India, Germany, South Africa, and other countries.  Follow their adventures on the Round Square Blog!