International education awaits Palliser student

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BreAnn Wyatt of County Central High School, at right, and her Spanish exchange student, Sonia Arévalo Migueláñez, pose at a nearby tourist attraction last fall.

BreAnn Wyatt is off on her first visit to Spain but don’t expect the Palliser Regional Schools’ student to be lining up for many sight-seeing tours during her stay.

The Grade 11 student from Vulcan’s Country Central High School (CCHS) will be getting an insider’s look at life there during her 10-week visit as part of Alberta Education’s International Education Exchange Program (IEEP).

“I just want to go there and see the country and get to live there like someone who actually lives there,” said Wyatt, just prior to her departure for Europe this past weekend. “Instead of just being a tourist, you can actually see the real culture. And getting better at my Spanish is part of it.”

She’ll also have her own personal tour guide in Sonia Arévalo Migueláñez, the exchange student who attended CCHS and lived with Wyatt’s family on their farm outside Vulcan for 10 weeks before she returned home to Spain in November.

The reunion on Spanish ground will be a welcome one for Wyatt, who admits she was a little nervous that first day when they picked up Migueláñez at the airport.

“Once she was here it took a bit of adjusting but then we got to know each other and it was pretty good,” she said. “I’m excited to see her again. We got pretty close.”

In addition to providing the opportunity to be immersed in both the language and culture of a foreign country, the exchange program offers students the chance to discover more about themselves and develop new skills as they face new challenges.

Wyatt first took Spanish last year through Palliser Beyond Borders’ outreach program and learned of the exchange through her teacher.

Since it is a reciprocal program, school fees are waived and the two respective families are responsible for the costs associated with hosting the exchange partner. Despite needing to cover only airfare and spending money on her end, she needed to be convinced by her mother it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“It didn’t really seem like something I would normally do, but I’m doing it,” said the 16-year-old. “I can be fairly independent but I’m just content to stay home and don’t need to go here and there and do other stuff.”

Wyatt doesn’t have a long list of things she wants to do while in Spain with the exception of sampling some of the country’s famous tapas, finger foods served on tiny plates in what has become its own cuisine.

She’s also excited about accompanying Migueláñez on a school trip to Italy and curious about her home-to-be for the next couple of months. A community about an hour’s drive from Spain’s capital Madrid,  Carbonero el Mayor is similar in population to Vulcan but much smaller in area.

“When I first took (Migueláñez ) around Vulcan she said ‘there’s so much grass!’ They don’t have grass in between the buildings there because there’s no space,” Wyatt said, adding farmers there live in town and travel to the countryside each day to work their fields.

She concedes her grasp of the Spanish language is basic at best, but isn’t overly concerned. Migueláñez told her that children there start learning English in kindergarten and most people are anxious to practice it whenever the opportunity presents itself. Wyatt’s biggest test, in that regard, will likely be her friend’s mother and father, who don’t speak a word of English.

The differences in the two education systems will also be an eye-opener, even though her marks there won’t count and her participation is mostly a chance to meet friends.

Her host told Wyatt schools in Spain focus on the core subjects and don’t offer options like foods and drama. Neither do students enjoy spares in their timetable, although an exception will be made in her case so she can keep up with schoolwork assigned her by CCHS.

Sacrifices were still necessary on her part, however, to take part in the exchange. Wyatt took courses through the outreach program over the summer to allow her a lighter workload this semester. She’ll also miss a good portion of the girls’ rugby season while away and her participation in the annual drama production had to be limited to assistant stage manager instead of actor.

The International Education Exchange Program, which also offers opportunities in Germany, Japan, Mexico and China, is administered by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. For more information on the program go to