High School Should Go Beyond the Classroom

We can use foreign exchanges to give students an opportunity to learn about other cultures and develop their language and social skills.


When we enter high school, we generally expect that we will be at that school for the next four years of our lives. Perhaps we might change schools, but we almost always stay in the same

city. But I don’t think that should be the way we consider our high school years– going abroad should be an expectation, if not a requirement.

When the Open House announcement for my Berlin school was made a few months ago, there was an unusual addition to what I was used to. After mentioning the time and date, it was shared that there would be an info session a half-hour before the Open House started– about exchange programs.

In Berlin, they are much more common. Lots of students– around 5 percent of the school population– leave for a semester or year and go to places like Canada, Costa Rica, and the US.

This makes for a school experience that expands beyond the classroom. It gives students the opportunity to grow in many different ways– bettering their language skills, entering a new social setting, and exploring a different place.

“I want to get back speaking better English, but also there’s going to be a whole new community and culture,” Jon Faecks– a sophomore that will be going to Canada next semester– told me.

An optional exchange semester/year isn’t the only venue through which students at my school are able to get experience a different lifestyle.

At the school I go to, every 9th grader gets to spend a week living with a host family in Spain, and then the child of that host family comes and lives in Berlin for a week. The two groups of kids show each other how their daily lives look, as well as giving students a refreshing break and language-learning opportunity.

“I definitely learned a lot about Spanish culture,” says Joshua Barack, a sophomore that did the exchange last year. “I also learned that I want to have a long siesta like there is in Spain.”

Students got to watch a training session of the Real Madrid soccer team, one of the world’s best.

The benefits of properly living in another country, even if it is for just a short time, are vast. In an ever-more globalized world, having a deepened understanding of other cultures and being proficient in several languages can provide huge advantages when entering the workplace.

In 2010, there were approximately 240,000 job listings that were directed specifically at bilinguals; by 2015, that figure hat almost tripled to 630,000 listings, according to a New American Economy (NEA) report.” On top of that, the report shows that “the fastest growth in bilingual listings was for so-called “high-prestige” jobs, a category including financial managers, editors, and industrial engineers.”

Living abroad also gives students the opportunity to experience diversity and multiculturalism firsthand, allows them to understand and dismiss stereotypes, and become adept at communicating with strangers, making new friends, and adapting quickly to an unknown environment– again, all skills that are highly valued all over the world.

By 2015, that figure hat almost tripled to 630,000 listings, according to a New American Economy (NEA) report.

Part of Carnegie’s mission statement reads that they “prepare the diverse gifted and talented population of Houston Independent School District for leadership in a global society.”

And giving students concrete opportunities to experience other parts of the world is exactly what builds a global leader– they have to act independently, in a foreign environment. It is an invaluable experience that simply cannot be replicated in the classroom, but also shouldn’t be dismissed because it takes more effort or planning to do.

There is one problem that many critics of study abroad programs raise: cost. Rather than deepening class divides, they say, by giving wealthier students better opportunities and options, we should focus on bettering the education system within the US to give everyone opportunities.

But I don’t think that giving students exchange opportunities should be thought of as separate from bettering the US education system as a whole. While cost certainly isn’t something that can be dismissed, it also isn’t an obstacle that can’t be overcome. Students at my school only had to pay for their flight for a one-week exchange.

If the money permits for all students to be able to go on a short exchange, it is definitely worth it. Being immersed in a cultural experience completely different than your own is a kind of learning that cannot be replicated in a classroom.