New friends, new experiences, and new cultures are teaching lessons outside the classroom for a few new faces around campus. Each year the tenth grade class receives two new students from Aquinas American School in Madrid. The foreign exchange program, a collaboration between Providence Academy and the Aquinas American School, is in its seventh year and going strong. Each group of students get to experience each other’s culture and customs. This year Javier Berczely Marzo and Diego Torres joined the PA community for the fall semester.  

Host brothers Eli and Javier pose for a quick picture before walking to their next class together.

“It is a life changing experience”, stated Annie Heitzmann, head of the foreign exchange student program. She continued, “the opportunity to study abroad is priceless; students can continue their same classes while also getting the chance to switch up their routine outside of school”. PA has structured this experience so that students still earn enough credits to graduate on time with their class in Madrid (or Plymouth). 

Being far away from home is not a completely new experience for Javier, who spent his eighth grade year in Germany. Diego on the other hand, had never been outside of Spain for an extended period of time before this fall.  He shares, “the hardest thing about being an exchange student is being away from family”. Both Javier and Diego believe the American routine is very hard to get used to. For instance, the American meal schedule is much earlier. In Spain, lunch is around two o’clock and dinner isn’t until nine or ten in the evening, when most Americans are going to bed.

Diego and his host family–the Donohues–pose for a picture after spending some time at the lake with their dog. PAW photo courtesy of the Donohue family. 


Some adjustments are easier to make. Javier and Diego took a quick liking to some American pastimes, for example.  The two have been enjoying their American experience by getting to know Minnesota “lake life”, hiking in the mountains of Colorado, and teaching their host families–the Schmidts and the Donohues–how to play Fifa (a Spanish Football video game). The Schmidts, who have hosted many exchange students, say that their favorite part is being able to make connections with the kids that will last a lifetime, and of course to have someone to visit if they ever get the chance to go to Spain.

Providence would love to bring in more foreign exchange students, but the problem is finding host families for them to stay with. A family that is interested in hosting has certain criteria that they have to fulfill: Virtus Training, attending weekly mass, and a willingness to share their community and ways of life with the student are just a few of the requirements.

Both boys are very happy with their families and are enjoying learning about America. They will continue their experience here until finals will head back home for Christmas. Both boys will be truly missed when the time comes for them to go.