Navigating the strange new landscape of America and its different customs, Barcelona, Spain, freshman Juan Camilo pointed to many differences between his hometown and small-town Monroe across the Atlantic, but one of the first he noted involved local fast food restaurants.
“Refills,” Juan, 15, said. “In Spain, you have to pay for refills. Here, they’re free.”
That may have been one of the most minor differences between the two cultures, but it was nevertheless one of many Juan and his five fellow Spanish students have noticed in the past few weeks as transplanted pupils at George Walton Academy.
The six exchange students at GWA are the first batch of what school officials hope will be many to come as they work to build up their program of bringing in students from abroad and sending their own pupils out into the world.
“We have six ninth-grade students who are all here from Barcelona,” Femke Côté, director of global studies for GWA. “They’re here for about four weeks, each of them staying with a GWA family who has their own ninth grader. Those students who they stayed with will then head to Spain in April and stay with them for about three weeks.”
It all started last year with a visit from another student from the St. Paul’s School in Barcelona.
“They’re basically GWA in Europe,” Côté said. “We have similar enrollment, similar ideals and the like. We started the connection between our schools last year through a family connection and now we’re working to grow that connection.”
Juan and his fellow exchange students — who all speak fluent English, which is taught as part of the curriculum at their school in Spain — have settled in with their host families and discovered the normalities, and the oddities, of living American style.
Juan said going from urban living in Barcelona to staying in a rural farm-style home in Monroe meant a bit of an adjustment.
“You look outside and there’s just nothing out there,” Juan said. “Except horses.”
It’s been more than fast food dining and the great outdoors, though. The six students have done a bit of sight-seeing, including a visit together to the World of Coke in Atlanta.
“I’ve visited a lot of places, like the Coke museum,” Juan said. “And I’ve done some shopping. I wanted ot learn more about the United States and it’s been very interesting.”
Côté said she wants to expand the exchange offerings in the future and is already working out connections with places like Rome and South Africa, as well as a study abroad trip planned to the Galapagos Islands.
“You can’t just think locally anymore, like nothing matters outside of Monroe,” she said. “We want to develop our students as global citizens with cultural competency.”
Sometimes, though, that also means welcoming a student like Juan, who’s never had a free refill before and was pleased to meet so many friendly faces in Monroe, Georgia.
“People here are very nice,” Juan said. “I’ve had a lot of fun.”