Abroad from the Quad: A Look at Exchange Programs
by Sophie Cloherty on Friday, May 16th, 2014
Milton offers two exchange opportunities through the language department. About twenty students in level three and above of each language can choose to travel to Aix, France or Madrid, Spain. The exchanges vary in length, and their purposes, according to the Milton website, are to “build upon the language [students] have acquired at Milton but also come face to face with the cultures [students] have studied in the classroom.”
In talking to previous participants of the exchange programs and in attending the French Exchange program myself, I have found that the programs to uphold their goals; however, these exchanges also have their flaws.
The French program consists of a total of four weeks; students from a French school coming to Milton for two, while Milton students travel to France for the remaining weeks. On the other hand, the Spanish Exchange lasts eight weeks.
Those from past exchanges talk extensively about the lifelong friendships they have made and recall their eye-opening exposure to a new culture was. Arooshee Giroti (II), who went on the French Exchange last year said, “The exchange is one of the best things someone at Milton can do. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.” Very similar responses came from students who participated in the Spanish Exchange.
It seems everyone walks away from the experience with both more cultural awareness and a stronger vocabulary. However, the length of the exchanges does make a difference. Arooshee wishes the exchange had lasted longer, saying, “You just begin to become acclimated with the people and the culture, and then you have to leave. One month is probably a much more effective amount of time.”
If one wishes to fully immerse himself in a language, he should spend at least a month in his or her respective country. Language undoubtedly takes time and practice, and it goes without saying that the longer one spends speaking a different language, the easier normal conversation becomes. The Spanish Exchange immerses its members for a longer time, and students return home feeling more confident in the language than those who participated in the French exchange. Gavin Baker-Greene (III), who is participating in the Spanish exchange this spring, hopes to both challenge and improve his speaking abilities in Spain. He said, “My end goal is to be able to fluently speak Spanish. I think one month is the perfect amount of time. Any shorter and you don’t fully adopt the Spanish lifestyle.”
An article from the University of Pennsylvania further suggests the benefits of studying abroad at a young age, articulating, “not only does this encourage intercultural education, a love for travel, and a greater appreciation for diversity and other cultures at a younger age – it also creates a stronger sense of independence earlier in one’s life.”
I believe that nothing can compare to experiences. Stepping outside the so-called ‘Milton bubble’ has an extensive list of benefits.
Students from France recently came to the end of their stay at Milton. The experience was completely new for them, but it was also very new for their hosts. Around the world, English is one of the most frequently taught languages. Those from Milton, including myself, found that almost all the French students were nearly fluent in English, having had more rigorous studies. The school Milton exchanges with is also an international school, and some of the students were from the international section, meaning they speak English at home.
A myth exists surrounding the idea that living in a country, even for a short period of time, can induce fluency in the country’s language. One cannot expect to simply become fluent in a country’s language by placing himself in the middle of its native culture. One’s understanding of the culture and traditions will definitely improve, but understanding the mechanics of the language takes time and work. Most members of the exchange find that if they really want to improve their speaking abilities, they need to force themselves to commit to staying in the mindset of the other language, whether or not their counterparts are fluent in English. Two weeks, sadly, does not encourage this immersion.
Overall, Milton does its best in offering its students traveling opportunities most high school students do not receive. If you are considering about participating in any exchanges program, know that it can be a great and worthwhile experience, but also recognize that fluency takes time and commitment no matter the length of time you plan to spend there.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=6314