The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Great Exchange

Junior Anna Lindholm is the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl at her school this year. In fact, she’s the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed person around.

Lindholm is spending this year as a international exchange student in Manta, a city of about 200,000 people on the central coast of Ecuador.

“I am constantly stared at because I’m the only foreigner around and the only person with blonde hair. They really like my blue eyes,” Lindholm said. “I’m pretty sure every other guy I’ve met has asked me if I have a boyfriend or asked me why I don’t have a boyfriend.”

According to the International Institute of Education, 15 percent of students from the United States go to Latin American countries like Ecuador. Lindholm specifically chose Ecuador because they have a break from school in February and March, during which she will be able to do volunteer work.

Lindholm is in Ecuador via Youth for Understanding (YFU). One of many international exchange programs students can choose from, YFU was founded in 1951 to encourage understanding between Germany and the United States after World War II. Since its founding, 250,000 students have studied around the world through the program. According to their website,, “students gain skills and perspectives necessary to meet the challenges of and benefit from the opportunities the fast-changing global community has to offer.”

“In seventh grade, world language class at Hocker Grove middle school,” Lindholm said. “I had Murphy as a teacher. I remember him talking to us about studying abroad in that class. It caught my attention so much that I looked into it right away.”

Junior Anna Lindholm waves to her family and friends as she enters the gate at Kansas City International Airport Aug. 19. Lindholm is spending this year as an international exchange student in Manta, Ecuador. Photo by Mikala Compton.


By her freshman year, Lindholm knew that she wanted to be a international exchange student during her high school career.

“I didn’t want to go my senior year because I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to everybody a year early,” Lindholm said. “Plus, I was excited and wanted to go sooner.”

When she knew she was going to spend a year as a international exchange student, Lindholm decided to go to a Spanish-speaking country because she had already taken Spanish at Hocker and Northwest.
But even with three years of Spanish classes, communicating with her family and the other students in her school was difficult, especially during her first few days in Ecuador. According to Lindholm, the students in her school are nice, but she had a hard time making friends because of the language barrier.

“I can communicate anything I’m trying to say usually,” Lindholm said, “but I can’t understand anything. My sister Daniela puts everything in simple words for me. She is wonderful.”
According to social worker Susan Hartman, the language barrier is also one of the most difficult parts of the experience for international exchange students coming to Northwest.

“Even if their English is good, it’s overwhelming to hear everything taught in English, and have all the social stuff in English. This year I tried to brace them for that when they enrolled,” Hartman said. “A lot of them fly in a day or two before school starts, so they’re dealing with the time change, plus the language, plus adjusting to a new family.”

But once students are situated with their host families and in school, the language barrier begins to break.

“At first, I couldn’t understand my host dad because he used a bit of slang,” senior Jule Kurbjeweit said. “But now I can really understand him.”

Kurbjeweit studied English for two years in her native Germany before arriving here as an exchange student Although she wants to improve her English, it’s not her main motive for coming to the U.S.

“The language isn’t the real reason ,” Kurbjeweit said. “I want to be on my own without anything I’m used to. I like trying new things, like seeing and understanding the culture here. When I decided to , I didn’t know what I wanted, but I think I’ll know after I’m gone.”


According to Kurbjeweit and Finnish exchange student Anna Moilanen, everything they knew about American high schools came from the movies. Although they still agree with the movie stereotypes, they’ve found many differences.

“It’s a lot like ,” Kurbjeweit said. “I love the school spirit here. In Europe, school is more of a place to learn and to make friends. There’s not this whole thing about it, like sports teams, colors and dances.”

International exchange students coming to Northwest, no matter what grade or age, are required to take American Government, U.S. History and English 11.

“Other than that, we try to match them up with that aren’t too difficult,” Hartman said. “For example, they might know math but not know the math language, like words like ‘adjacent’ or stuff like that. That’s where kids get tripped up. We try to make sure they are in classes that they will do OK in.”

Because schools don’t want to jeopardize exchange students academically, both Moilanen and Kurbjeweit’s classes are very easy for them.

“We are so ahead of you,” Moilanen said. “For example, in my math class, I’m doing things I did two years ago.”

Although their classes are easy, exchange students are required to keep a C average in their classes, Kurbjeweit said.

“A lot like to take some of the P.E. classes, like team games, gymnastics and aquatics because those things aren’t offered ,” Hartman said. “Some, if they’re artsy, like to take art classes.”

Moilanen said she is impressed with the number of elective classes that are offered to NW students. She also said the attitude of the teachers here is different than those in Europe.

“What I like about school here is that teachers seem to be very interested in what they teach and their students,” Moilanen said. “To me, there’s just a really good relationship between the kids.”


During her junior year of college, Spanish teacher Susanne Kissane studied at the Complutense University of Madrid. At the time, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was in power.

During the year Kissane spent in Spain, there was a lot of unrest in Madrid, where she was living and attending school, and specifically on the university campus.

“It was very different from the Spain that you would go to today,” Kissane said. “I had never ever paid attention to what it was like to live in a dictatorship. It was a very eye-opening experience. I fear that if my mom had really read up on it, she might have said no. A dictatorship is a very militant state. The army presence was everywhere. I wasn’t used to facing a tank as I walked onto the college campus.”

But Kissane said she wouldn’t have traded her experience for anything.

“Aside from the military presence, Spain was beautiful. I loved it. I couldn’t believe how different it was from the United States,” she said.

When Kissane decided she wanted to spend a year in Spain, she was attending the University of Missouri. Because they didn’t yet offer a study abroad program, she had to go through the University if Arizona to get credit for her year in Spain, which would cost $4,000. At the time, University of Missouri tuition was $1,700 a semester and tuition at the University of Madrid was only $100 a year. Kissane eventually convinced her mother that it would be more cost-effective to do the year in Spain without getting college credit in the United States.

“I told , ‘Even if I don’t receive credit, nobody can take my brain away. What I learn is mine to keep forever,’” Kissane said. “I wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years, but I thought I could do it with an extra summer and an extra semester.”

Kissane highly recommends spending time in a foreign country. She also recommends going through a program affiliated with a school in the United States, because the number of international exchange and study abroad programs available to students has grown dramatically since she was in school. Most major universities have study abroad programs in which students can receive credit for the time they spend outside the country. Spain, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Chile have been some of the most popular countries among her students. And, according to Kissane, those students often come back from studying abroad telling her how much the experience changed their lives.

“I think it’s really important to see how people live around the world,” Kissane said. “We think we know how people live, but we’re just one tiny little element of the world. It’s most important to see how other cultures work, to see how people celebrate life and what they do in order to live their lives.”


International exchange students met with Hartman a few weeks ago to discuss their experience so far. Several of the students told Hartman that students had been open and welcoming.

“I think I was very surprised at how very outgoing people are. I didn’t expect people to be so open to strangers. I don’t know if they would be in Germany,” Kurbjeweit said.

According to Hartman, exchange students often have a great experience in the United States, even if they had trouble adjusting at first.

“, a lot of them had trouble going back home. I think they have a really good experience,” Hartman said. “They love school activities, like bonfire and football games; they don’t have anything like that. It’s not quite the school activity it is over there.”

Kurbjeweit said she will be glad to return home in a year, but for now, she is happy to be studying in the United States.

“I’m so thankful for everything I experience,” Kurbjeweit said. “It’s been a month now, and I’ve already learned a lot.”

Even though their homes are a world apart, Lindholm and her family echo Kurbjewiet’s sentiments toward the educational and life experiences found in international exchange programs.

“We miss her but we’re excited for her,” Lindholm’s mom, Lyla, said. “We know she’s with a good organization that has placed her in a good school system and with a good family.”

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    Brendan DavisonOct 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Yay! the full story. I like it a lot. Why do kids in America do foreign exchange programs less than kids from other countries?

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The Great Exchange