Every August, eight to 12 high school seniors from distant countries that include Germany, Japan, Korea, Paraguay, Bangladesh, Denmark and Finland fill their suitcases, say goodbye to their families, pack up their hopes and dreams, and board planes headed for Minnesota to be a part of the International Exchange Program at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School.
Although they stay with host families, it’s Jamie Dukowitz’s job as exchange student coordinator at the high school to make sure their transition is a smooth one.
“I introduce myself, register them in classes and answer their questions in the first few days of school so they know where they are going,” Dukowitz says. “I want them to know they have someone to go to if they have any questions. After that, we meet two to three times a month to make sure everything is going well, and we also go on a few field trips throughout the year.”
Because customs and traditions are different here than in the students’ home countries, the counselor often has to explain things like prom, homecoming and holidays.
“They’ll ask if they have to dress up for [X event],” he says. “Homecoming is hard for many of them to understand. The students are curious as to why we wear different clothes and have so many activities during the week, but once they learn what it is, they are always excited to get involved.”
This excitement carries over into other areas as well, adding to their semester-long or full-year experience. The students often get involved in school sports and activities, create strong friendships and happily participate in the graduation ceremonies, where flags from each country represented are hung on the podium.
“I think our students, and myself included, wind up learning just as much from the exchange students as the exchange students do by coming here,” Dukowitz says. “It’s definitely a win-win.”