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by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - West Linn High School student Alex Bailey (back row, third from left) visited Costa Rica this summer with an exchange program.New family, new school, new adventures, language and culture — that is what motivated more than 20 Oregon high school students to participate in a summer exchange program to Costa Rica.

The students spent four weeks with a Costa Rican host family before moving to a different family elsewhere in the country for another four weeks. Costa Rican high school students will have the opportunity to travel to Oregon this December for two months with the program. Many of the Oregon students who traveled south are now preparing to host a Costa Rican student in the coming months. The visiting students will experience school and family life that is typical for Oregon teens.

West Linn High School student Alex Bailey traveled June through August with the group. Almost without exception, both Costa Rican and Oregon students, both travelers and hosts, describe the experience as life changing and unforgettable.

These students are participants in Partners of the Americas High School Exchange Program. The program was established during the Kennedy administration to foster goodwill, friendship and cultural understanding between individual states and Latin American countries. Oregon’s partnership with Costa Rica was initiated in 1964 and the high school student exchange began in 1966. Oregon’s high school exchange program is one of the longest running such programs in the Partners of the Americas organization.

The nonprofit program is run entirely by volunteers. In addition, it is truly a reciprocal exchange program. The visiting Costa Ricans will host Oregon high school students traveling to Costa Rica this summer. Those same Oregon students are hosting or will host for a future Costa Rican travel group.

Often, lifelong relationships are formed. It is not a tour or a travel program; students attend school (no coursework or grading is required) with a host sibling and experience the daily life of a Costa Rican or Oregon family.

Each student spends four weeks with two different families, and so the organization needs to find about 50 volunteer host families each year. Host families need not have a traveler in the group, and no Spanish language skills are required to host. Applications to host are due in October. The high school exchange program for travel to Costa Rica in June is open to any Oregon high school sophomore, junior or senior who has completed at least two years of high school level Spanish. Applications are due Feb. 1. Fluency is not required, as the students become proficient in a matter of weeks when immersed in the culture.

For more information, visit studentexchange-oregoncostarica.com.

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