Foreign exchange programs are an incredible opportunity for students to experience life in a different country, learn about a new culture, and make lifelong connections. One family from Spain has made studying abroad at Bardstown High School a tradition, with three children participating in the program.
It all started five years ago when Carles Alias became the first member of his family to study abroad in the U.S. at Bardstown High School.
Carles was able to fully embrace American culture through his American high school experience. He found his place that year in the classroom and beyond. While at BHS, Carles became a member of the basketball and baseball teams. He attributes his positive experience at BHS to the teachers and friendships he made.
“Teachers understood that I was an exchange student and always helped make sure I wasn’t having any issues,” says Carles. “The memories and the friends I made here will be for my whole life.”
Carles’ foreign exchange experience has left a lasting impact on him and those around him. Not only did he achieve his initial goals of improving his English language skills and gaining independence, but he also returned home with newfound maturity and lifelong friendships. Several of his Bardstown friends have flown across the Atlantic ocean to travel Europe with him. His time as a Bardstown Tiger even inspired two relatives to spend a school year abroad at BHS.
After being stuck overnight in the Atlanta airport, Jana Alias arrived at Bardstown High School in time to begin the 2021-2022 school year. Jana was admittedly nervous about moving in with strangers and starting school with no familiar faces, but she remembered her previous visit to Bardstown when her brother was an exchange student. During her visit, Jana had a great experience with his host families and felt safe in the small town. These previous experiences comforted Jana and encouraged her to bravely face an exciting adventure thousands of miles from her home.
Jana began dancing at the age of two, and although cheerleading is not a commonly offered program in Spain, it felt like a perfect match for her. She had grown up watching cheerleading in American movies and now was one. Jana also found a home on the tennis team. Like her brother, Jana was able to fully embrace an American high school experience through multiple opportunities to participate on a team with other students.
According to Jana’s mother, her daughter was shy and introverted, but she blossomed during her experience abroad.
While at BHS Jana had the opportunity to explore different career paths. She took advantage of the teaching and learning courses and observed students in primary classrooms. She even credits discovering her chosen career path to a psychology class she had with Mr. Mark St.Peter.
This fall, Marc Alias became the third Alives-Alias family member to study abroad at BHS. Like his cousins, Marc wanted to improve his English language fluency and gain independence. He’s quickly found a home on the basketball team just like his older cousin, Carles. He’s looking forward to the school dances that he has heard so much about. Recently, Marc spent a weekend in New York City exploring museums and Times Square. Over winter break, his family including Jana and Carles, traveled to Bardstown to spend time with Marc’s host family and watch him play basketball.
The family is grateful to Bardstown City Schools for welcoming foreign exchange students and helping them to experience American high school life. It’s an experience they recommend every kid to have. Carles, Jana, and Marc left their homes over 4,000 miles from Kentucky on a brave adventure, but they found a new community, a new family, and another place to call home. These experiences will forever shape the rest of their lives.
“The first time Carles called his American mom ‘mom’ it was hard but now we have an American family here,” shared Monica Perez Gonzalez, mother of Carlos and Jana. “The exchange program is about exchanging cultures and now we go back and forth.”
Not all public school districts are willing to work with foreign exchange organizations, but Bardstown City Schools has always been welcoming. In the past three years, the district has hosted eight students from multiple countries. According to Wendi Newsome, Program Manager for International Student Exchange, “What sets BCS apart is that the school district allows students to experience American high school life fully.”
The Bardstown City Schools community aspires to grow students into global citizens who can see and consider the world beyond. Our participation in the foreign student exchange is a mutually beneficial program that allows our students to see the world beyond our city and humanize the larger world.
Carles, Jana, and Marc always remember, “Once a tiger, always a tiger!”
Anyone with an interest in being a host family should contact Wendi Newsome or Rebecca Mudd to help continue this tradition.