LHS Exchange Students Return Home with Memories for a Lifetime

Students Tiffany, Maurice and Rafaela (l to r)

The United States is a big place, but for some foreign exchange students, there is nowhere they’d rather be than here in Lowell.

During the 2023-24 school year, Lowell Area Schools hosted 11 students from around the globe who were enrolled as sophomores in the high school. They lived with area families, attended local events and immersed themselves in the Lowell High School community.

Lowell’s First Look caught up with three of those students before they headed home this summer: Rafaela from Brazil, Tiffany from Vietnam, and Maurice from Taiwan. All say their experience here was unforgettable and created memories that will last a lifetime.

Attracted to Lowell from Across the Globe

Foreign exchange students make the decision to study in the United States for many reasons. In some cases, a parent might first make the suggestion. In others, a student might have an interest in American culture.

The latter was the case for Maurice, an 18-year-old from Taiwan. He was drawn to the United States because of the NBA and a desire to play basketball, something that wasn’t an option at his home school. Unfortunately, he was injured at the start of Lowell’s season but that did allow him to pursue a different activity: playing the violin in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony.

Rafaela, 16 and from Brazil, said she and a family member sat down and looked through binders of information about prospective schools. Those highlighted everything from class options to the lunch menu, and after considering her options, Rafaela decided Lowell was the place for her.

Meanwhile, Tiffany – who is also 16 and hails from Vietman – spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about international students to learn what it would be like to study in a foreign country. Once she got to Lowell, she discovered a welcoming community.

“I really like the way everyone here treats me,” she said. “They are so nice.” Tiffany also found a close friend in Rafaela as the two shared the same host family.

New Experiences in a New Environment

When students come to Lowell, they receive ongoing support from Educatius, the company that facilitates their stay.

“They come one week before school starts,” explains Ashley Riley, a regional manager with Educatius. During that week, students meet their host families, go to an orientation and enjoy a welcome potluck.

In total, 40 students from Educatius were placed in schools within the Kent Intermediate School District last year, and for many, Michigan was a far cry from their home country.

“It was my first time seeing snow,” Rafaela shared. And while it was a mild winter for Michiganders, the little snowfall we did have was quite enough for this Brazilian. However, she did appreciate having the chance to try tubing at Cannonsburg Ski Area – and the hot chocolate that followed.

Students participated in Halloween parties, Christmas parties and some attended prom. All also had the chance to walk in the May graduation ceremony.

And then there were activities and events with their host families, which included taking vacations and learning hobbies. For instance, Tiffany learned how to knit, thanks to her host mother.

Beyond the cultural and climate differences, there were academic differences as well.

“School is totally different,” Tiffany said. “In my country, we don’t move to different classrooms. The teachers move.” Meanwhile, Rafaela found herself shocked by how big the school itself was.

Looking to the future, all three said they could see themselves studying abroad again. In fact, Tiffany already has plans to be in Texas for school next year.

Maurice, who has 10 months of school remaining, says he would like to return to the U.S. to study further, but nothing has been finalized yet. With only five months left before college, Rafaela says she wouldn’t mind going to college here although her plan A is a college in São Paulo, Brazil, where she hopes to study biology.

Host Families Needed for 2024-25

Lowell Area Schools is expected to host 10 students through Educatius for the 2024-25 school year, and Riley says there is still a need for host families. She notes that many families choose to host a student year after year because they find the experience to be so fulfilling.

There are home visits and background checks for all potential host families, and a monthly stipend is provided to help cover any costs. Students arrive with their own spending money and health insurance.

Educatius provides ongoing support for host families, and Riley says someone is always available to answer questions and provide assistance throughout the year as needed.

“We had such a great group of kids this year,” Riley notes. “I’m very proud of each of them for their impressive accomplishments and for all our Lowell host families who loved these kids like their own.”

If you would like to join this group and host a student next year, check out the document below to see which students have already committed to attending Lowell High School. Each has written a letter to prospective families to share more about their background and interests.

For further information, you can contact the Lowell coordinator, Tuesday Gough, at [email protected] or visit the Educatius website.

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