From Inner City to Foreign City: A Student Exchange in Boston

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Geraldine McCarty Special to Education Week

Boston--Until a few weeks ago, Alan Lee, a 17-year-old junior at this city's Brighton High School, had never dreamed of spending a summer abroad. But now he has high hopes of going to France this summer as an exchange student. So does Sabrina Ware from Copley Square High School.

"You didn't know about it before," Alan says. "Nobody came up and asked you to join. I never would have thought of anything like that."

The two students are among 91 juniors and seniors in Boston public schools who have applied to be exchange students in a new program called the Boston Pilot Project for In-ternational Youth Exchange, explains Steven Sjoberg, student programs director of the World Affairs Council of Boston. About 40 of the applicants will be selected and provided with full or partial scholarships to spend the summer of 1984 in their choice of six countries--Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, or Japan.

The Boston project was conceived by a coalition of community, business, and educational groups--including School Volunteers for Boston, Freedom House, the World Affairs Council, and the Permanent Charity Fund--that wanted to make the President's Council for International Youth Exchange a reality for inner-city youths.

With a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Information Agency, which is spearheading the Administration initiative, and the cooperation of the Boston Public Schools and 16 youth-exchange organizations, the coalition set up a program that will "bring the benefits of youth exchange into the city" and "trigger the interest and curiosity of kids who before had been outside that activity," according to Mr. Sjoberg.

To accomplish that goal, the School Volunteers for Boston group designed an orientation program that last month introduced the concept of youth exchange to interested sophomores and juniors in 16 of the 17 high schools in the city. "What we like," said Jack Lisciandrello, a school volunteer, "is that this is an all-city effort. It's the first time the children in the neighborhoods of Boston have the opportunity to apply equally."

The assistance of the staff of Freedom House, a community-based organization with long experience in serving Boston's minority communities, helped guarantee the development of an orientation program "specifically geared to the needs and background of minority students," according to project officials.

A "travel abroad fair" held in February attracted about 100 interested students, who talked with representatives of the 16 participating youth-exchange organizations. The representatives helped students select a program and fill out their application for it.

For Alan and Sabrina, the next stage--waiting--is the hardest. Each exchange program will use its own acceptance procedures in selecting students to spend the summer abroad, project officials said.

When a student's application is accepted by a program, it will then be forwarded to a citywide selection committee, which will offer a partial or full scholarship depending on need. Students will stay with host families in the countries they visit, and most of the scholarship funds will be applied to travel expenses, according to project officials.

Just prior to leaving, the project's students will attend an orientation program designed to prepare them to take the fullest possible advantage of their exchange program's opportunities. On their return, they will share their experiences and any "attendant culture shock" during a special workshop, officials said.

In congratulating the network of people and organizations working on the Boston Pilot Project, Charles Z. Wick, director of the usia, said: "Your city is the first in which so many institutions and organizations have come together to offer overseas experiences to young people who would not otherwise have them. You have set a national example."

Alan Lee is also enthusiastic: "I get to meet a lot of new people, see things I never saw before. If I get picked, I'm going."

Vol. 03, Issue 26

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