A Tale of Two Exchange Students

      “There can be no better way to understanding and peace than through such exchanges.”

–Vernon Penner

      “Need homework help in Spanish?”

That’s how Vernon Penner recruited a family to host Parole Rotary’s incoming exchange student, Cristina Abella-Machín, 15, of Spain.

     Host mother Cristina Doria, originally from Italy, invited young ­Cristina in, not for help with Spanish homework but, she says, “to give back what others had given me when I moved to the U.S.”

      This year, Parole and Annapolis Rotary clubs are sponsoring students under The Rotary International Youth Study Exchange Program. Since 1958, the exchange program each year has enabled thousands of students ages 15 to 19 to live a year as a student in another country. More than 100 countries send students back and forth. Families pay only for round-trip airfare, travel insurance and travel documents.

     “I hope to bring the love of international studies and understanding to kids in the United States,” says Penner, a State Department retiree. 

     Cristina, now of Arnold, is studying at Broadneck High School, which has a two-way exchange with a single country, Spain.

     In turn, Patrick Oliver, 16, a Broadneck High School junior, is headed to Spain.

      Bay Weekly asked the two high-schoolers how and why they’d spend their year in a foreign country.

Cristina Abella-Machín

Bay Weekly What helped you decide to come to school in America?

Cristina Friends told me about their experiences traveling to the United States. When I found out it was possible for me to go, I knew I wanted to.

Bay Weekly How is your American home different from home?

Cristina I am from La Coruna, Spain. The house here in Maryland is big, like a mansion, completely different. Everything here is bigger. The food is also very different.

Bay Weekly How do your studies differ from your classes in Spain?

Cristina The way we learn in Spain is a lot different, it’s more interactive. Our school is much bigger; we have one school for students ages two to 18. There’s a lot more homework here, but overall school is easier in the United States.

Bay Weekly What do you plan to do besides study?

Cristina Football and baseball games, you know, American things. My goal is to become more American.

Bay Weekly Are you nervous to start at a new school?

Cristina I am, but my host family’s kids will be going to school with me. I also went for orientation and met the students I will be shadowing. My host family also plans to throw a party so I can meet more people. 

Bay Weekly What was the most important thing you packed?

Cristina My laptop.

Bay Weekly What will you miss most?

Cristina My family and friends and my puppy Shira, a ten-month-old poodle. 

Bay Weekly We hear you’re an avid sailor; are you excited to be in the sailing capital of the nation?

Cristina For sure. The weather is better here, and I plan to try and sail as much as I can.

Bay Weekly You have an upcoming birthday, your 16th. Here that is a big deal. What do you plan to do to celebrate?

Cristina In Spain, before I left, my mom had a big party. 

Bay Weekly What else are you excited to try?

Cristina I am excited to try ice-skating. Also second semester I am taking a forensic science class, like CSI. This is something I would never have been able to do in Spain. I am also excited for my trip this weekend to New York City, you know the Big City. I am super excited for that!


Patrick Oliver

Bay Weekly What helped you decide to go to Spain for a year?

Patrick My dad did it when he was my age. After my mom mentioned it, I did some research. Originally we had talked about going to Australia. I lived in Germany for a few years, and I like to travel and experience different cultures. When we heard about the opportunity to go to Spain, I decided to do it.

Bay Weekly Where will you be living for your year abroad?

Patrick In Valladolid, Spain, about two hours north of Madrid.

Bay Weekly What will the climate be like there? What are you packing?

Patrick I packed pretty light but made sure to pack my personal electronics, Annapolis-themed gifts for my host parents and plenty of Old Bay. 

Bay Weekly What is your course load looking like? How will it differ from school here?

Patrick I have no idea yet. Normal classes, I guess, nothing too hard or too easy. I have three years of high school Spanish, so I think I’ll be ok. 

Bay Weekly What do you expect to be different?

Patrick We will have a two-week break in February. There’s also a lot of festivals. My host family actually wanted me there earlier so I could experience one of them, Aste Nagusia. [It’s a nine-day festival with music and dancing, food and drink, plus wood chopping, stone carrying and strongman competitions, bullfights and nightly fireworks.]

Bay Weekly Where will you be traveling?

Patrick I want to see the Rock of Gibraltar. They say you can see Africa from there.

Bay Weekly Do you play any sports? 

Patrick Cross-country and track, but I don’t know how that will hold up over there. I do plan to continue playing in my Fantasy Football league.