Lucia Montavez, 16, of Spain, shares what she loves about the people here and local sports
Lucia Montavez loves her sports and even has an award to show for her contributions last fall on the Bluejacket girls soccer team.Montavez, 16, of Spain, is part of a contingent of exchange students from nations across the globe who are experiencing a slice of American life by attending Cambridge-Isanti High School. Their placement was made possible through the Education First Foundation, which arranges for 2,600 students a year to live with families in the United States.
Coordinating on the local end are longtime Cambridge residents Wayne and Jane Sommars who serve as international exchange coordinators at the high school.
“Mitch (principal Clausen) and the whole staff at CIHS are wonderful,” Wayne Sommars said. “I believe that few schools in the nation appreciate the benefits provided by our students as much as CIHS.”
The exchange students include Bas Baartmans of the Netherlands; Sofie Jensen, Denmark; Lucia Montavez, Spain; Emilie Paaby, Denmark; Lene Eriksen, Norway; Ronja Aune, Sweden; Silvia Carraro, Italy; Cate Ryeng, Norway; Adrian Geldner, Germany; and Wei Wu of Taiwan.
As many of her fellow exchange peers, Montavez arrived in August and has already experienced a slice of Americana with a Minnesota twist.
“It was scary for the first few weeks,” she admitted during a recent interview at the high school.
As students in many other countries, Montavez began to learn English at an early age in her native Picanya, a town near the large city of Valencia, and is quite fluent with the language. She also speaks Valnciano, which is similar yet very different to her native Spanish tongue.
With a younger brother back in Spain, she now considers the daughter of her host family to be her sister. And they are bonding like all siblings do. “She’s kind of like a sister; now we fight like sisters,” Montavez said with a smile.
She noted how impressed she is with how friendly and sincere folks from the school community have been in terms of communicating and even lending a helping hand. “People want to know who you are; they are kind and always have a smile,” she said.
For instance, Montavez said she lost her wallet on the bus and instantly thought it was gone forever. Thanks to a caring staffer at CIHS, however, a call to the bus garage ultimately led to the return of the coveted possession.
She said it would have been a different story back where she lives in Spain, where buses are part of the public tranportation system. In other words, there likely isn’t a lost and found or means to find a misplaced belonging.
“Someone was willing to help me here,” said Montavez, who chuckled over also losing and then having her camera returned, too. “The people are so nice here.”
Several of the foreign exchange students at CIHS are involved in volunteering and extracurricular activities, as well, since activities including sports, band, choir and theater are not always offered at their schools back home.
For Montavez, who plays soccer in a private club setting in Spain, she joined the Bluejacket girls soccer team last fall and enjoyed a productive season. For her efforts, especially on the offensive end of the field, she earned the Attacker Award at the team’s season-ending banquet.
“I’m really happy I received the award,” she said. “I first played defense, and then I was moved to offense.”
Montavez is now playing basketball and falling in love with the school sports scene complete with school spirit. “Sports is one of my favorite things in my free time,” she said. “I enjoy the defense in basketball; my coach in Spain is big on defense.”
Outside of Cambridge, she and fellow students got to do some shopping at the Mall of America and even cheered for the Lynx in the WNBA Finals.
“I was on the big screen at Target Center, and my mouth was wide open,” she recalled. “It wasn’t a dream. I spent two days flying around the high school. I love Maya Moore. She was born for that; she has the gift for basketball. When you see someone like that play, they’re a good role model for life. Try to be the best.”
According to literature provided by the Sommars, student exchanges began more than a half century ago as a way to increase cultural understanding between the United States and countries around the world. Today, worldwide interest in spending a year at an American high school is on the rise, and the U.S. is the leading destination for international students wishing to study abroad.
For more than 30 years, the Education First Foundation for Foreign Study has been committed to promoting global awareness through student exchange. As the leader in the field, it brings more international students to the United States than any other program of its kind. Since 1979, the foundation has matched more than 100,000 students from around the globe with caring host families across America.
The nonprofit organization is designated by the U.S. Department of State as an Exchange Program Sponsor, and it is listed by the exchange industry’s accrediting agency — the Council on Standards for International Education Travel. It also is a member of the Alliance for International Education and Foreign Exchange.