ACA Student Going to Costa Rica in Exchange Program

By Sydney Starr

The Charter Features – 5/2/19

Siena Geren poses in the ACA forest. Photo taken by Natalie Ramsey on April 24, 2019.

Siena Geren, a 16 year-old ACA Sophomore, will be going to Costa Rica as an exchange student in 2019-2020 for six months. Geren will be the first student from ACA to be a part of an exchange program, according to Diana Brainerd, lead ES and Associate Director.

Geren says that there are still many details that need to be worked out, “I still don’t know where my host family is, I could not know that [until] two weeks before I should be leaving; so it’s stressful.” Geren also mentions it’s not guaranteed that she’ll get a host family for the time she is planning to go, July 2019 – January 2020, but then it would be guaranteed she would get one for February 2020 – August 2020.

Motivation for Going

Geren mentions, “Well, I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country…My mom’s from Chile, so I’ve grown up bilingual…and there was a selection of seven countries, I think, and since it’s not a cheap program we had to [choose a country] that I could get a scholarship for.” She continues to say “And also I want to go to a tropical place because none of my family likes tropical [places].”

Geren tells how the six months she spent in India with her family on a teacher exchange had a part in motivating her to want to be an exchange student. She also says that both of her parents were exchange students in high school, and that encouraged her to have this experience.

Geren goes on to explain: “I have challenges I have faced my whole life, like dyslexia…just reading a book takes me so long, and when I’m writing, [my] spelling is so bad. I’ll put numbers while I’m writing just cause of my dyslexia. Like, I can’t, it’s just, it’s so frustrating.” She also hopes that this change of location will help her to get a much needed break from competitive swimming.

“And I just wanna, I just wanna experience the world by myself.” Geren says this is a trip to find out more who she is, and to build self-confidence. “Because of…struggling with math, and reading, and writing, it’s lowered my self-confidence significantly. Because, those are big parts of just living…and having to struggle with that every single time I sit down to write, I just want something new to struggle with.”

Family’s Reactions

Geren says, “My dad is the most understanding; my brother he leaves the room every time we talk about it…My mom…just doesn’t want to lose me…Now that it’s kind of final, my mom has done her thing — she’s making lists. When she starts making lists, it’s going to happen.”

Geren mentions sadly, “We’re so close, and every night we always have dinner together, we’re a close family. I know it’s going to be hard [on all of us].”

Academic Impacts

This will not only be difficult and exciting for Geren’s family, but at ACA, too, where the school is trying to break new ground to accommodate her plan. Brainerd says of the administrative team, “…we are excited to support the idea of a student being able to study abroad. We still have many details to work out to ensure we set a clear and fair policy.”

Megan Burt, Geren’s Education Specialist (ES), says, “If the program comes to pass, which I believe it will, she will take the opportunity as it is presented and deal with the credits in the future. She understands that she may be prolonging her time in high school or adding some summer school in order to do this. She is so excited about it! I know she feels like what she stands to gain is way bigger than the cost of taking some summer classes to make up her missed credits.”

Burt concludes saying, “I am thrilled for her. Her eyes sparkle when she talks about it and she is just so excited! One thing I know about Siena is that, when she sets her mind on something, she finds a way to bring it to success. I know this will be no exception. She wants it to happen and she is determined to grow from it. She is viewing it as a growing experience and I think that shows amazing maturity. I can’t wait to see what she is like when she returns.”

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Burt, Megan. Personal Email Interview. April 24, 2019.

Brainerd, Diana. Press Statement. April 24, 2019.

Geren, Siena. Personal Interview. April 17, 2019.