Knack for Spanish prompted exchange trip to Ecuador

By Meghan Nelson • Last Updated 5:29 pm on Friday, May 19, 2017

Front from left, Mayla Morgan from Oregon, Lea Rolfes from Germany, Lillian Blaisdell from Stanton and Nina Ahnfeldt-Mollerup from Denmark were part of a group of exchange students who studied in Ecuador for the 2016-2017 school year. — Courtesy photo

STANTON — Last August, Central Montcalm High School senior Lillian Blaisdell left her hometown of Stanton to study for nine months in Ecuador.

Prompted by her “knack and passion” for Spanish and her Spanish teacher’s experiences as an exchange student, Blaisdell decided she wanted to study abroad.

“I remember her saying, ‘I’ve done musical, and I’ve gone to homecoming. This is my chance to do something different,’” said Central Montcalm’s Spanish teacher Sheena Sanders.

Blaisdell’s only requirement was that she would home in time to walk with her class at Sunday’s graduation. She knew her freshman year she wanted to be able to study abroad.

“Amy Staten came in and talked to my Spanish II class (my freshman year) about what it was like to be an exchange student in Germany, which really inspired me,” Blaisdell said. “I had never heard of an American being an exchange student in high school.”

From left, Andres Palacios, Alexandra Palacios Aldaz, Lillian Blaisdell, Roberto Palacios Aldaz, Sofia Palacios Alvarez and Andrea Palacios Aldaz pose for a picture. Blaisdell lived in Ecuador with the Aldazes for nine months while she was an exchange student.

Sanders, who is the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA) coordinator, saw how Staten, a 2013 Greenville High School graduate, sparked something in Blaisdell.

Blaisdell wanted to be able to study in a Spanish-speaking country in order to become fluent in the language.

“I believe that in order to be fluent in (and) learn a language, you have to be surrounded by it,” she said.

With the help of Sanders, Blaisdell with her parents looked into different options for her to study abroad, primarily looking at Spain or Ecuador. Eventually, they settled on the latter.

“Ultimately, I don’t think there is a huge difference between Ecuador and Spain, but Ecuador does function on the U.S. dollar,” Sanders said. “As a previous exchange student, I have a huge network of my host family. If something should arise, she has the support of the organization and my connection.”

Sanders suggested Blaisdell and her family host a student from Ecuador before the trip, so she would have a chance to learn about the culture and ask questions before living in a foreign country. The foreign exchange student, Andrea Palacios Aldaz, ended up being Blaisdell’s host sister in Ecuador.

“My host family was very kind and loving and very excited about showing me new things (well, new for me) and special things about their home and country,” Blaisdell said.

In Ecuador, she was fully immersed in the culture she had learned about from Aldaz and Sanders.

One difference from the U.S. Blaisdell noted was the style of education. The classes are the same difficulty level, but students don’t get to pick their classes. The closest thing to an elective is a mandatory gym class. Another difference is every day features a different class schedule and teachers move rooms, not the students.

“The hardest adjustment to Ecuador was living in a big city because I lived in Quito,” Blaisdell said. “Traffic, public transportation, having to worry about pickpockets, etc. (was a challenge).”

Blaisdell came back to Stanton on May 4 to surprise her boyfriend with a “promposal” and to participate in some of the final senior activities.

After nine months of being in Ecuador, Blaisdell told Sanders she missed the food the most — which happened to be what Sanders craved as well.

“The hardest adjustment being back home is suddenly having to speak English all the time,” Blaisdell said. “Even though it’s my first language, I mess up a lot more than I’d like to admit.”

Sanders has had a chance to meet with Blaisdell and talk about her experience and looks forward to being able to sit down and talk more in depth once the whirlwind of graduation season dies down. Blaisdell has already started sharing her experiences with the community.

“Not only is she the type of person that she wants this for herself, but she wants to be able to help and share her experience with others,” Sanders said.

Blaisdell kept a blog of her adventures and experiences in Ecuador, which can be read at online.


If you go …

This is the second in a series of stories showcasing local graduates and previewing upcoming commencement ceremonies.

• What: Central Montcalm High School’s commencement ceremony.

• When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Central Montcalm High School gymnasium.

• Who: Valedictorians Alisa Loew and Jenna Spitzer and Salutatorian Sydney Wagner will be the featured speakers, along with Superintendent Amy Meinhardt and High School Principal Marty James.

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