High School Study Abroad Offers ‘Transformative’ Opportunities

After a pause last year, Maine Coast Waldorf School’s unique exchange program is back in action. The High School has welcomed about ten students from Waldorf schools in Germany, Switzerland, and France, and will welcome a total of around 15 throughout the school year. The students will be in Maine and part of our school community for about three months.

Meanwhile, there are currently six students from MCWS abroad– and approximately 20 of our students plan to spend three months studying in another part of the world during the course of this school year. Because the families involved agree to host each others’ children, program costs are kept relatively low—not much more than the cost of the plane ticket.

Over half of Maine Coast students study abroad for part of their sophomore or junior year. The experience enhances the students’ nuanced understanding of cultural differences with first-hand perspective. Students return with a new-found confidence, and for those who choose to continue their study of French or German, a much greater proficiency in those languages prior to their abroad experience. 

“There are few things that can rival a culturally immersive experience of this duration,” explains Exchange Coordinator and German Teacher Cyrus Shahan. “It’s a unique opportunity for our students to be able to learn a lot in a very experiential way. It’s so personally transformative but also intellectually transformative.” 

Perhaps the most powerful part of the program is that the new students fall into the rhythms of the school day and community quickly. Exchange students attend all of the same classes as Maine Coast students, and participate in all of the same activities. 

“It really diversifies the student body in a way that is without tokenism… there’s this way to have a cross-cultural dialog in a very natural setting,” explains Shahan. 

It’s also a unique experience for many families at school. Jennifer Pochurek, a parent of a 10th grader who will be studying abroad in April, is currently hosting Ilian, a French exchange student. 

“The thought of having a child come live with our family and having our child go to their home was really special. They don’t just go to a stranger’s home, it’s an opportunity to build a longer term relationship between the kids and between families,” she explained. 

Their family has been trying to show Ilian experiences outside of the norm in France. In the past month they have gone apple picking, mountain biking, hiking, traveled around Maine to Sugarloaf, and are planning on a trip to Boston or New York to show him around a large American city. 

“I think it’s something that sets our high school apart from other schools, and I think it’s made our family more cohesive. It’s just a great opportunity for the children and the adults.”