Exchange student program gives Global Excellence Award

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin High School received the Education First Foundations Global Excellence Award last week. From left: Principal Darin Barnard, secretary Lisa Burton, EF Foundation student Matilde Guazzelli (from Italy), Laura Kosloff (EF Foundation International Exchange Coordinator), and EF Foundation student Sara Bjoerk (from Sweden).When Matilde Guazzelli decided to sample the American high school experience, she knew which two extracurricular activities would satisfy her dream of studying in the United States: cheerleading and lacrosse.

Lacrosse may not register as quintessentially American, but as Education First Foundation coordinator Laura Kosloff points out, it’s not a team sport offered at Italian high schools.

Nor is it standard fare for Swedish teenagers, as Sara Bjoerk pointed out.

For more information about the EFF exchange program, click here

Guazzelli and Bjoerk, both 17, are exchange students at Tualatin High School, which was recently given the EFF Global Excellent Award – a nationwide distinction.

According to Kosloff, who places foreign students in area high schools, the distinction is well deserved.

“(Tualatin High School) takes each student as an individual,” explained Kosloff, an environmental lawyer who has worked with the school through EFF since 2007. “The exchange students are this important part of their community.”

She added that more than the average high school, TuHS emphasizes the cultural exchange aspect of the program.

“They want their own students — the American kids — to benefit from the cultural exchange,” Kosloff said.

Bjoerk agreed, saying faculty and classmates made her feel “welcome all year.”

Kosloff was impressed by the faculty and administration’s response earlier this year to a German exchange student’s illness, which compelled her to return home early.

“Many of her teachers came to the going away party for her, even though she'd only been at the school half a year,” Kosloff explained. “To me, that's an example of the above and beyond.”

Although culture shock can prove a burden for foreign exchange students embarking on their year of American high school, Kosloff said the impact wasn’t much greater than the normal stresses that affect your average teenager.

Guazelli hails from Pistoia in northwest Italy, which boasts a population of about 90,000. Bjoerk comes from Loddekopinge, in southern Sweden, a town of fewer than 7,000 residents. While Kosloff takes several considerations into account when assigning students host families and high schools, she said she typically matches students who are athletically inclined with Tualatin High.

Guazelli noted that while being on the cheerleading squad had been a central focus when she decided to study in the U.S., she was impressed by how easy it was to make friends on the lacrosse team — and how well the teammates all worked together.

“The lacrosse coach (E. Jay Sibayan) deserves an award of her own for having four exchange students who had never played lacrosse before,” Kosloff said.

Guazzelli and Bjoerk are considered seniors, and both will get to walk during graduation, even though they will receive certificates of attendance in place of an actual diploma. More importantly, perhaps, they will be able to participate in grad night festivities with the rest of their classmates before returning to their respective home countries at the end of June.

Sherwood High School was also recognized with an EFF Global Excellence Award.

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