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Westminster exchange programs provide life-changing opportunities

Mount Kenya Exchange Students and Westminster Host students. Credit: David McMahan and Nyaboke Machini

Love. Challenge. Lead. Change. That’s the motto Westminster lives by, and it is known by each and every one of its students. It’s reflected in the discussions of every classroom, the curriculums of every JanTerm, and nearly every aspect of the school. Underlyingly, though, one of the most significant and beneficial manifestations of the motto is the numerous global exchange programs that the school provides. As Westminster emphasizes in its global courses pamphlet, “through intentional transformative experiences, students participating in global programs return to Westminster as stronger leaders of conscience with larger hearts, sharper vision, and clearer voices to shape their world.” Undoubtedly, these global exchange programs stand as crucial opportunities for students to gain a global perspective and undergo personal growth through fresh experiences. 

Westminster provides three distinct exchange programs: the Mount Kenya Academy Exchange Program, the French Exchange Program, and the Argentinean Exchange Program. These global programs foster immersion across three different continents, cultures, and regions, ensuring a diverse range of unique opportunities for the student body. 

The partnership between Mount Kenya Academy and Westminster has existed since 2006 and stands as one of the most established global programs that the school offers. Notably unique from the other two exchanges, the Kenyan program does not have a language requirement, meaning that any interested student can participate. Beyond experiencing campus life at Mount Kenya Academy, students partake in a diverse range of activities, including a safari. The exchange program also serves as a powerful tool to undermine prevalent misconceptions about Kenya and Africa. 

“The continent of Africa has really been misunderstood in deep ways, and this trip is a wonderful springboard for educating faculty and students alike about it,” said Michael Reese, faculty head of the Kenyan Exchange program. “It’s really eye-opening from the vantage point of an American to see how Africa is viewed through a very misinformed lens.” 

Another opportunity at Westminster is the French Exchange Program. In this program, students visit the city of Strasbourg and not only absorb all facets of authentic French life, but also forge meaningful bonds with their host families. 

“It’s really life-changing,” said Manuela Kelly, faculty head of the French Exchange program. “Students stay with these families that they’ve never met before, but they then go on to create these beautiful relationships with someone in another country that they can eventually visit again.” 

Accordingly, the program also offers a chance for students to improve their grasp of the French language. During their stay in Strasbourg, students constantly utilize conversational French in ways that simply can’t be simulated in language classes on campus. Students come back from France feeling more confident in their French than ever before.  

The third exchange program is the Argentinean Exchange Program, also known by its course name of “Argentina: Literature of El Sur.” This program functions as a collaboration between Westminster and Holy Trinity College. In addition to staying with host families in Mar del Plata and going to classes at Holy Trinity, students tour museums in Buenos Aires, go on sightseeing tours, and even take tango lessons. Mirroring the French Exchange Program, this immersion in Argentine culture in turn acts as a catalyst for students to strengthen their oral and written Spanish skills. 

Fulfilling the other half of the exchange program, Westminster students also serve as hosts for the international students when they come to Atlanta. In August, the school welcomed students from Mount Kenya Academy. Just recently, French exchange students from Strasbourg arrived in Atlanta and spent time experiencing daily life at Westminster. They also visited the Carter Center, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park as part of their trip’s focus on the Civil Rights movement. The Argentinian exchange students from Holy Trinity College in Mar del Plata will soon follow in a few months. On this front, it is clear that these global engagement programs create mutualistic partnerships that benefit both schools and students. 

If you are interested in applying for any of these programs, be sure to reach out to Manuela Kelly, Micheal Reese, Mario Chard, or Dave McMahan for more information. 

As McMahan says, “Some of the biggest moments of my life, those that truly transformed me, were the ones where I was the most afraid . . . So take that leap and travel, because I can assure you that those experiences will change you for the better.”

Edited by Anjini Naidu

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