Virtual Exchanges at Athenian

International exchanges involve travel, but with restrictions due to the pandemic, how were they to continue in 2021? This is where the virtual exchange came into play. 

Round Square and Athenian adapted to the new reality by allowing students to attend classes virtually at schools around the world. While the usual cultural immersion was not the same, it was still a rich international learning experience. Athenian has both sent students to other Round Square schools and welcomed them to our school, where they attended classes, took part in clubs, and befriended their host students. 

“Is it as good as living in another country? Well, no,” said Athenian Round Square Director Mark Friedman. “But it seems like it went shockingly well, and some real connections were created.”

Midway through their exchange, Chloe and Bianca’s families hopped on a Zoom call to connect and get to know one another.

During Quarter 3, Athenian welcomed ten virtual exchange students: five visited from San Silvestre School in Peru, three from Markham, also in Peru, one from St. Cyprian’s in South Africa, and one from Vivek High School in India. While with in-person exchanges, there are some pairs that just don’t “click,” Mark said, all of the virtual exchanges got glowing reviews. 

One of our wonderful virtual visitors was Bianca A., who participated in the eight-week exchange during her summer vacation from San Silvestre, an all-girls British-Peruvian school in Lima, Peru. 

At first, Bianca wasn’t sure whether she would be able to attend Athenian classes during her summer break, but pushed herself to participate, and is glad that she did. She enjoyed taking Speech & Debate and ESL world History, where she gained an alternative perspective in both subjects. 

“I chose the speech and debate class because at San Silvestre I take debate too,” Bianca said in a Zoom call from Lima. “I wanted to learn new strategies and my experience was really [fulfilling] because I got to learn more strategies that I am going to surely use.” 

During her visit, she was able to shadow Athenian students as they prepared for a debate, learning skills she expected to be helpful in her debates at San Silvestre. 

In ESL World History, she enjoyed the opportunity to focus on American history, which she was eager to learn more about. 

Another highlight of Bianca’s time at Athenian was connecting online with her host, Chloe B. ‘22. “We had so much fun being able to connect via Zoom. It was really natural,” she said.

Chloe had attended San Silvestre virtually in the summer of 2020, where the main classes were in English and extracurricular classes were in Spanish. After this, Chloe was interested in hosting a virtual exchange student. 

“That was really awesome, and I wanted to offer someone the same opportunity,” she said. “It’s just really fun to get to know someone that doesn’t live in the same country.”

Being a host, or exchange buddy, involves regular Zoom calls and messaging with the visiting student to make sure they feel welcome at the school. Chloe and Bianca initially connected via Whatsapp.

“We also used Snapchat a lot, it’s just easier to send videos and such,” she said. 

The two enjoyed messaging, and Chloe met some of Bianca’s friends through Snapchat. 

Midway through the exchange, their families also got a chance to meet via Zoom. While connecting virtually was different from it would have been in person, both students felt they had made a friend, and really enjoyed the exchange. 

“It was definitely different than in person—in person would have been better, for sure, but it was pretty good, too,” she said. “I feel like we definitely became friends.”

Read more about this and other exchanges on The Athenian School Exchange Blog:

Here is Bianca’s blog entry on her exchange at Athenian.

Here is Chloe’s blog entry on her exchange at San Silvestre.

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