Enriching was the word used most often used by the students, families and school officials to describe Queensbury High School’s new “Global Scholars” program.
The school introduced the program this year, which allowed the school to host students with F1 visas, a temporary visa that allows foreign nationals to study in the U.S.
Each group said they think the program is truly an exchange which gives a new, larger perspective on the world and the people who live in it to everyone involved.
“If you’re open to it and you really just dive right in, there’s nothing to lose,” said Luca Etalle, a senior from Tilburg in the Netherlands.
Queensbury High School has hosted a rotary student, a different kind of visa that prioritizes cultural exchange over academic work, for many years, but the 2018-19 school year saw the exchange student tally quadruple.
In its first year, the program has three students, and all three said the experience has been tremendous.
Carlota Conty de Andres, a sophomore from Castro-Urdiales, said she thinks the people here are nicer than in her home country of Spain, and senior Lorenzo Cicogna from Rovagnate, Italy said the process has been smoother than he thought.
They said the programs they went through prioritized the family and living situation over the location or school, a decision they agreed with because of how crucial getting along with the host family is to having a positive experience.
Andres said she calls her host mother “mommy” and views the entire family as a second set of relatives. Etalle and Cicogna said they feel the same way and attribute the success of their stays to living situations that came naturally.
The family plays an important role, but the students said there were other attributes that drew them to Queensbury as well. For instance, Cicogna said access to a school soccer team as well as an opportunity to take architecture courses made the school a top choice.
Etalle agreed and said a strong arts program, in addition to living with two host brothers that were near his age and participated in sports he was interested in, had a strong influence on his decision.
The students were not completely free of gripes about the area, though. The regular coatings of snow was not something they were used to, and the sprawl of American towns makes life without a car practically impossible for students involved in clubs or sports teams.
Etalle said in The Netherlands, a bicycle was more than enough to get around town, and all three agreed that having to find a ride to get anywhere could sometimes be a pain.
Despite the minor problems, they agreed the experience has been rewarding and the community has welcomed them completely.
A second family
Etalle’s arrival with at the Fedele house almost didn’t happen.
After being paired with two other host-family candidates that were not good fits, Etalle and the Fedele family committed to the program with less than a month to go before the start of the school year.
Even though they had no time for Skype interviews or extended conversations beforehand, Etalle thought the mix of others his age and similar interests would make for a good fit, and neither side has looked back since.
Andy and Lisa Fidele, the host mother and father, have hosted other exchange students in the past, but for much shorter stays. They said they were a bit nervous to have another person in their home, but they quickly acclimated to Etalle, and now he’s like “son number three.”
The host brothers, Tony and Drew, said they had apprehensions about being stuck trying to find things for Etalle to do, but quickly found that what can seem mundane is still a novel experience.
“We don’t have to constantly entertain him,” Tony said. “Even the little things are new.”
All four remarked that the experience has been less of a commitment than they thought it would be because of the way Etalle has fit into their family, and they are planning to host another student for Tony and Drew’s senior year.
The Fedele parents also encouraged others families to consider the program because it is rewarding and educational for everyone involved. They said for other families that may be on the fence, the program has also introduced them to a network of others in town they may not have met otherwise.
Learning from each other
Queensbury Union Free School District Superintendent Douglas Huntley said establishing the program was about a two-year process.
“The application is fairly lengthy,” Huntley said. “We have to describe our district and meet certain criteria, and then send all of that to Washington to have it approved.”
Huntley said the effort was well worth it, though, because these students add another dimension to the student body that cannot be replicated in any other way.
Huntley and his family have been hosts themselves in the past, and he said the experience informed his decision to pursue the new program.
Huntley said the program has been popular with students, and he would like to see it continue to grow to eight or ten students in years to come.
The benefits extend to Queensbury students as well, according to Huntley.
“When our students are learning about a different culture, they tend to appreciate what they have here a little bit more,” Huntley said. “Some of these friendships will last a lifetime and the more internationally aware our students are, the better.”