By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN Many students and teachers often look forward to summer as a time to kick back and relax.
Yet, for John Fitzer, Spanish teacher at Delano High School, each and every summer marks the beginning of a new adventure.
Fitzer got involved in the Intercultural Student Experience (ISE) program 19 years ago. According to Fitzer, ISE is a local non-profit organization that emphasizes speaking a different language when in a foreign country.
“My goals for the program are simple: What is a typical American family?” Fitzer said. “I want students and host families to discover that kids are the same all around the world.”
Marin Beaupre, an ISE host and 2010 graduate of Delano High School, feels she has learned a lot about other cultures by participating in this program.
“You realize that there is so much you have in common with these students, even though they live halfway around the world,” Beaupre said. “It keeps you busy during the summer.”
According to its website, students from all over the world come to the United States through the ISE program.
In addition, the goal of the organization as a whole is to bring together people from all over the world in order to promote education, the importance of the school system, and the significance of students in different countries.
Fitzer has taught Spanish classes at Delano High School for 21 years, and he previously taught math and Spanish at two other schools.
“I knew, even before I finished high school, that I wanted to teach,” Fitzer said. “My favorite teacher was my high school Spanish teacher. She had very high expectations for all of us, but she had a fun way of teaching it.”
Because of this, Fitzer’s career as a Spanish teacher has lasted 25 years. When it comes to his involvement in the ISE program, Fitzer has shown dedication to both exchange students and host families.
“My favorite part of the program is getting to know the kids, both the students from Spain and the host families,” Fitzer said. “I get a chance to really get to know them in the time they are here.”
Fitzer got involved in this program when he received a letter from ISE looking for local coordinators and English teachers. After reviewing the letter, Fitzer decided to become the local coordinator of the program for Delano Schools and the surrounding area.
“I originally got involved in this program because I was in need of a summer job, and this was a perfect fit,” Fitzer said. “I didn’t realize that I would benefit so much from the program.”
Since then, Fitzer has found host families for the 10 to 12 exchange students that come from Spain to the United States each summer. Because Fitzer has done the program for 19 years, he has found hosts for nearly 200 Spanish students.
Furthermore, Fitzer has been the host of four Spanish students that have come to the United States over the course of his involvement in the ISE program.
“All four of the students that we have hosted have been wonderful,” Fitzer said. “The first student we hosted, Javier Utande, is someone we still keep in touch with.”
In fact, every time he has traveled to Spain, Fitzer has visited Javier and his family.
“The other student that sticks out is Lucia, who was with us last summer,” Fitzer said. “We had a chance to meet Lucia and her family this past March.”
According to Fitzer, his daughter Anna was able to stay with Lucia and her family for five days.
“My wife, Dawn, and I also got a chance to get to know her family as well,” Fitzer said. “I believe that we will always have a connection with both famlies.”
Many individuals who hosted a Spanish student this summer have hosted for the ISE program in the past.
“We had a really good experience the last time we hosted,” Beaupre said. “You make a new friend at the same time.”
Because she had such a great experience with the program in the past, Beaupre decided to host her second student from Spain this summer.
“I’ve learned a lot of Spanish just from being around them,” Beaupre said. “After taking four years of Spanish and going to Spain, it’s the extra step. It gives you a connection with another country.”
Students from Delano High School also participate in the ISE exchange program by traveling to Spain periodically and living with families there.
“When my students go to Spain, Interway, ISE’s counterpart in Spain, finds host families for my students,” Fitzer said. “I have traveled most of my teaching career, and most of the time, I have traveled with ISE.”
According to Fitzer, when Interway sends students from Spain to the United States, ISE finds host families for them. This is where Fitzer steps in as the Delano area’s local coordinator.
“The students are here for five weeks,” Fitzer said. “During their time in the United States, I do activities with them.”
According to Beaupre, Spanish students enjoy seeing the country landscape in the local area.
“One thing that our student really liked was the fact that there was open land here,” Beaupre said. “We went out to the cabin, you could just see in his eyes that he was in awe of everything that we showed him.”
Fitzer’s curriculum for the five-week-long exchange program consists of visits to the Mall of America, Fort Snelling, Valleyfair, and a Minnesota Twins game. Spanish students also visit restaurants in the local area and get a taste of food served in the United States.
What’s more, the exchange students are given a tour of Delano Schools to learn about the school system in the United States. In addition, Fitzer states that learning English has been an important aspect of the program in the past.
“The original intent of the program was an English class,” Fitzer said. “It has developed into a cultural learning class in English.”
Basically, the ISE program is now concerned with showing Spanish students common activities done in the United States.
“Each unit has activities and vocabulary that go with it,” Fitzer said. “We may have differences in what we eat, our language, and our culture, but when you get down to it, people are the same everywhere.”
Ten students from Spain came to the United States June 25 to spend five weeks of their summer. In addition to Fitzer’s usual activities, the group also toured Landscape Structures and attended a rodeo.
According to Fitzer, he tries to find host families for the exchange students within the Delano School District, but students have stayed in the Orono, Wayzata, and Buffalo districts as well.
“Working with other districts has made the most challenging part of my job, finding host families, a lot easier,” Fitzer said.
According to Fitzer, the first year that he participated in the ISE program involved placing 12 Spanish students in homes throughout the Delano area. Once Fitzer expanded the program into other school districts, he was able to find host families quickly and easily.
According to past and present host families, Fitzer does an excellent job pairing exchange students with a host.
“Somehow, he is able to put the right students with the right families,” Beaupre said.
Because the student and host are paired together so well, they develop deep connections during the course of the program.
“You can tell who had the greatest connections with their students on the last day at the airport,” Beaupre said. “You get so close with the people in five weeks, and I think everyone just had a good experience.”
When it comes to the future of the program, Fitzer hopes that, locally, ISE will continue to stay strong and inspire students at Delano Schools.
“My hopes for the program have been realized, that is, for American families and Spanish students to make a lifelong friendship, and realize that all people are pretty much the same everywhere in the world,” Fitzer said.