International Experiences

Alysa Kennedy and Alivia Beabout

You may be hesitant when it comes to welcoming a stranger into your home. In this case, however, it might be worth considering! Michelle Waller, an International Exchange Coordinator from Lawrenceville Illinois, will guide you in the process of opening your home and sharing your family with an exchange student from another part of the world.

A non-profit educational organization called EF High School Exchange Year annually sends international exchange students to the Midwest for 5-10 months at a time. The program considers exchange students who are between the ages of 15-18, who can speak English, and who have demonstrated that they have the maturity and academic ability to succeed in a host family and American high school environment. Their goal is to overcome cultural barriers and bring people together from around the world. EF High School Exchange Year provides families the opportunity to learn about another culture, bring cultural awareness into communities and schools, and create lifelong friendships with students and their host family.

Student profiles can be reviewed by host families to find which student will be a good fit for their family. The student profiles will include where that student is from, how old they are, and what hobbies and interests they have. This way families are able to get a better understanding of the student they are hosting and possibly help with some uneasiness they may have about the process. 

The EF High School Exchange Year program allows students from across the country to engage in experiences that they never would have had the chance to at home. Exchange programs not only benefit the exchange students in this way, but also their new peers and family. Coming to America, exchange students are able to explore and experience a whole new culture, and in return we are able to learn more about their culture as well. Little things we don’t think twice about can be an entirely new and exciting experience for an exchange student. 

Madelyn and Kody Taylor, of Palestine, have recently gone through this process themselves. The Taylors happily welcomed exchange student Peio Lapiedra into their home this past August. Peio came all the way from Laudio, Spain, to spend the 2022-2023 school year here in Palestine. He received a call that he had been connected with a family in Palestine, and just four short days later he was on his way. He explained that he was nervous about coming to America and meeting his host family; however, it wasn’t long before he felt as if he was part of the Taylor family. It is undeniable how grateful Peio is for the Taylor family and everything that they have done for him. 

Never having met an exchange student before, many of the students at PHS were thrilled to meet and have the chance to talk to Peio. His first few weeks were spent table hopping at lunch so that he could meet everyone. Anyone who has met Peio knows that he is very sociable. Once he was no longer nervous, it was just a short time before he became friends with over half the student body. Peio has already made so many memories with his friends here in Palestine. Peio said hanging out with friends in America is much different than in Spain. In Spain Peio and his friends would typically hang out on a park bench eating sunflower seeds. If he and his friends would go to town, they would take the public transport; however, in Palestine they all just pile in a car and go.

The second day Elliott texted me…to come eat lunch with you all and that made me happy. I remember asking him if it was a joke.

— Peio Lapiedra

Homecoming week was one of the first big events that Peio got to experience. At PHS Homecoming week is packed with daily dress up days, games, and a whole lot of friendly competition. Peio attended the Homecoming dance with some of his friends and tore up the dance floor. He said that back home, his school doesn’t have dances, so he liked having an excuse to get dressed up.

Among many other things, one new experience for Peio was being a student athlete. He shared that his school in Spain doesn’t have school sports. He did, however, play for a club soccer team. To get the whole American high school experience, Peio played for both the football and baseball teams. He really enjoyed learning how to play a new sport, and he had the chance to make more friends. How exciting is it that he got a hit at his first baseball game?

There is no doubt that Peio has become a part of the Pioneer family. We are thankful for the experience of having an exchange student at PHS. We have learned a lot from Peio, and he has had many new experiences here in Palestine. Many students have been able to make long lasting friendships with Peio, and he will be greatly missed. Peio commented that he is ready to go back home and sleep in his own bed, but more so to be with his friends and family.