The Overseas Experience: Language Immersion Abroad

  • Student Features
Andrew Hayenga

Starting in third grade, the International School of Indiana (ISI) introduces students to the importance of travel to help build independence, confidence, and curiosity about the world beyond Indiana. In the Primary Years Program (PYP), students begin with overnight trips that progress into middle and high school. Then, in sixth, ninth, and tenth grade, the students travel abroad to countries of their languages of study as part of the ISI travel exchange program. These trips are teacher-chaperoned and expected of all students as part of their ISI learning experience.

Most recently, in March 2019, students traveled all around the world to:

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica; Beijing, China; Talca, Chile

Corrales, Spain; Montpellier and Strasbourg, France

Quebec, Canada; Prague, Czech Republic

Claire Kaneshiro, set to be an ISI junior in the 2019-2020 academic year, chose to visit China for her sophomore exchange trip and studied in Beijing, Changzhou, and Shanghai. Kaneshiro picked China because of her dedication to Mandarin, her track language. In fact, her goal is to graduate high school proficient in Mandarin. She described studying abroad as an “immersion classroom, where my host friends are my teachers.”

                     Kaneshiro (center) in China

While ISI students are abroad, they spend 10 to 14 days living with either a host family or in group accommodations. Students visit the classrooms of well-respected partner schools, take part in service activities and other culturally relevant projects, and make educational excursions to sites of historical and cultural relevance.  

“My favorite part of this experience was traveling to the countryside to visit my host family’s grandparents and extended family,” said Kaneshiro. “They were so welcoming and kind to me, and even as I used imperfect Chinese at times, they listened and helped me. That night, we all sat around a table and shared a traditional Chinese home-cooked meal, with rice and fish from the family farm.”

Students are fully immersed in their target language during this time. They have engaging conversations with their host families and exchange classmates; they order food and buy items in the markets; they learn about the history and complexity of the communities they visit, deepening not only their language skills but also their understanding and appreciation for the culture of their host country. During the trips, new friendships are sparked that will remain special throughout the students’ lives.

Although the goal of the exchange program is to provide the students with experience in the culture and practice of their target language, the value of the trips reaches far beyond the students’ two-week experience. While Kaneshiro was in China, she was able to reflect on the deep cultural, political, educational, culinary and economic differences between China and the U.S. The experience gave her a newfound appreciation for her own culture and a deeper sense of belonging.

The language immersion that the students encounter is a vehicle to cross-cultural connections, and it opens the door to creating internationally minded and tolerant students with a global appreciation for other cultures. The program is one more way that ISI helps shape students into confident world citizens.

“I think it's so important to experience other cultures as a student because it gives you a new perspective on the world,” Kaneshiro said. “I truly feel like a global student, who belongs to the world. Through this experience, I have come to understand my small place in this expansive world.”

A group of ISI study abroad students in Beijing, China, March 2019

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