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Students get a world view with exchange programs

Recruiter pushes benefits of studying abroad during high school

Feb. 5, 2013

Even in a world made more accessible by technology, Jessica Quass believes that foreign exchange education remains an invaluable experience for high school students.

That's the message Quaas is bringing to the Elmbrook School District as she works with guidance counselors to recruit students for next year. The representative of ASSE International Student Exchange Programs said foreign educational opportunities are a viable option.

"It can be a great experience," Quaas said. "I know because I was a foreign exchange student."

Now 30 and living on the western border of Wauwatosa, Quaas at 16 was an exchange student from Germany who lived for one school year in Sussex attending Hamilton High School. That experience led her to numerous return visits to friends and her exchange family as well as student teaching in several schools including Brookfield East.

Along the way, she met her future husband, David Munson of the Milwaukee area. They married last summer and now live in Wauwatosa. While that scenario is not the typical blueprint for an exchange student, Quaas said there is plenty of value to studying in another country.

Exchange benefits

She points to learning enhanced language skills, a rigorous academic experience and diverse cultural options as benefits.

"You can study a language for several years but never get a chance to use it in conversation on a regular basis," she said. "It takes time to learn. Exchange students get that opportunity.

"Students also get to see another educational system," Quaas said, noting that fewer electives in foreign schools are replaced by a more rigorous study of core subjects.

In fact, Quaas was ready for junior-level work in math when she came to Wisconsin as a sophomore.

The third advantage, she said, is the opportunity for students to experience not only the culture of their host country, but to travel to other countries that are close enough to be considered neighboring states in the U.S.

"A student may be studying in a country but want to visit another country of their family heritage," Quaas said. "It's so easy to get around."

Quaas said selling the exchange experience to students and their families is not always easy. Barriers include the prospect of time away from home and their classmates to expenses. She said the cost of a 10-month school year stay is $8,300 and that she urges parents to calculate the regular expenses of having a child stay home during that length of time.

"There are scholarships available," she said, adding that a portion to most of the expanses can be covered by the assistance.

Counselor as parent

When Quaas recently met with a group of guidance counselors from Brookfield East and Central, at least one of the district representatives was interested as a parent as well as an educator. Bruce Follo, a counselor at Central for the past 14 years, said his daughter, a sophomore at Oconomowoc High School, wants to spend her senior year in Germany.

He is not enthused by the idea.

"I know it's a good program," Follo said. "My biggest hesitation is safety. I know I'm overprotective because it's my daughter. My wife is actually more supportive of this than I am. I think it's a matter of I can't get there is 10 minutes if she needs me."

Follo said his daughter has taken German since elementary school, has worked hard to make sure she has all her required classes met before her senior year so that she can return and be on track to graduate with her class.

"I know that with AP classes being more and more popular and block scheduling being more challenging, kids are under a lot of pressure these days," Follo said. "At least I know that with Jessica being from Germany, we have access to a lot of information."

Program assurances

Quaas said exchange programs like ASSE carefully screen and match students to families.

"One of the other benefits of going through this program is that colleges and universities look favorably on applications from students who study abroad," Quaas said. "It was a great experience for me when I did it and it changed my life for the better in so many ways.

"I tell that to students, families and counselor all the time," she said. "I can walk them through the experience."

LEARNING ABROAD

WHAT:ASSE foreign exchange program

SEEKS: Local students for study abroad & local host families

WHO: Coordinator Jessica Quaas

CONTACT: JessicaQM.asse@gmail.com

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