On Exchange: 'I wouldn't change it for anything'
The average Lake Oswego High School student probably doesn't eat a lot of churrasco or celebrate the Festa de Agosto, but Jane Filiault's junior year has been anything but average.
Filiault is participating in a student exchange program created by the Kruse Way and Lake Oswego Rotary clubs and has spent the past month and a half in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Back in Lake Oswego, meanwhile, the Filiault family is hosting Jade Chou, an exchange student from Taiwan.
Filiault says her desire to travel and participate in an exchange program began when she was very young, when her family lived in Bolivia for a year and traveled around much of South America.
"I guess the bug was planted early," she says.
Filiault has been keeping busy while on exchange — volunteering at a preschool near her host family's house, exploring the country with her friends and family, and celebrating a variety of new holidays.
Sept. 7 was Brazilian Independence Day, and Filiault spent her days off from school exploring the mountains of Minas Gerais with her friend Ben, an exchange student from a Rotary Club in Germany.
"It's easy to connect with other exchange students because they're in the same position as you," she says. "Making Brazilian friends has been tougher, because everyone has known each other forever."
Filiault says the hardest part of being an exchange student has been attending school. While she is fluent in Spanish, she says Portuguese has been challenging to pick up and she often finds her mind wandering at school because she can't understand what's happening.
Still, Filiault knows how long she has been working to go on exchange, so she doesn't let the obstacles stand in her way.
"It's been such an amazing experience so far," she says. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The exchange program has been equally rewarding for Chou, a Taiwanese student now attending Lake Oswego High School.
"Everyone has been really welcoming," she says. "The kids at school have been
nice and my host family is great."
Chou speaks English very well, so she hasn't faced the same language barrier as Filiault. She says she has really enjoyed her time in America so far, and feels very lucky to have this opportunity to learn about the country.
The Rotary Club's exchange program provides students and host families with a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture. Molly Mullen, a Lake Oswego resident, hosted an exchange student from Italy last year.
"Lolly Pasotti was just a joy to have around. It was nice to have someone around with new ideas," says Mullen. "She was always willing to talk and share her stories."
Mullen says that Pasotti became a member of the family in the months that she stayed with them.
"She was a great older sister to both of my girls," she says.
Mullen says it wasn't just Pasotti who got to be immersed in a new culture, but that her family did as well. The student taught them board games and card games from Italy, and occasionally cooked her grandmother's recipes for her host family.
The Mullen family played host to Pasotti for the first half of her year on exchange before she moved in with the Sandblast family. Similarly, Chou will only be spending half of the year living with the Filiaults, and the Rotary Club is currently looking for a host family to take her in for the second half of her stay.
For students interested in participating in the exchange program, Filiault says not to hesitate to get involved.
"I think a lot of people in the United States are just comfortable, and some are afraid to travel," she says. "But it's an opportunity to experience something once in a lifetime. You have four years of high school, so spending one on this amazing experience is totally worth it."