Tallwood Lions return to trotting the Globe


Inaissa Sylla

Tallwood student hosts: Salima Juarez, Brenna Pope, Jenna Hentrich, Paytyn Carr, and Roi Dela Cruz

Bella Bejarano

“Any travel is amazing,” says Jessica Windish, the Global Studies and World Languages Academy(GSWLA) coordinator and the administrator of the exchange program at Tallwood High School. She is a firm believer in the benefits of traveling as a high school student and visiting other countries to experience new cultures and languages.

Since 2009, Tallwood High School has been the proud home of a global student exchange program. Before COVID, the program sent an average of 60 students to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In return, Tallwood students have hosted a plethora of exchange students and introduced them to American culture and our school.

“It’s just a team effort,” explains Jessica Windish, “between me as the coordinator of the academy and the teachers that are shadowing and Mrs. Berberich who manages a large portion of the administrative information.”

The exchange program has historically partnered with schools in China, Jordan, Israel, the Philippines, France, Germany, Spain, and Northern Ireland. Over the years and especially after COVID, that list has shortened. This year it is just France, Germany, Spain, and Israel (though Tallwood students were not able to travel to Israel) with the possibility of a trip to the Philippines in the works.

During the majority of the COVID pandemic, travel restrictions prevented everyone from going anywhere. While Tallwood was closed, so was the travel program, and when everything opened up again, Mrs. Windish and a team of teachers worked together to bring the travel program back in a safe way.

“So we definitely send two chaperones with all of our travel to ensure that if one is sick that the other is able to be there. We do not have any requirements other than what the countries requirements are. We follow the guidelines of the places we visit,” explains Windish on the new travel policies in place.

The exchange program is a source of great pride in the GSWLA community, and both teachers and students step up to make it work. “The hosting process was intense and enjoyable,” says Courtney Pope, Tallwood’s Economics and Personal Finance teacher. She and her family hosted an exchange student from the Israel exchange program.

According to Mrs. Pope, the hosting process went like this: “Our family filled out paperwork, went through background checks and had a home visit from a Tallwood representative prior to being approved to host.”

Though the process was intense, the results were worth it. “We were constantly asking her questions and learned a lot about her life and Israel. We were curious about everything from her daily life in high school, what she & her friends do for fun, to what it is like living in Israel. It was a great experience for my family and I hope our exchange student enjoyed her time in Virginia Beach,” says Mrs. Pope.

On the flip side, the program also benefits students from Tallwood, and recently our students have returned from a trip to France. A group of students were chosen to travel to Coutances, France and stay with host families while exploring the country.

“I definitely enjoyed and will forever appreciate the experiences I embarked on whilst on the French Delegation,” says Eva Bantelas, a senior in the GSWLA who went on the trip to Coutances, France. “We got the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the French culture and experience what life is like on that side of the world.”

The Tallwood students not only explored France, but also spent time at our partner school, Lycée Lebrun in Coutances. “We also got to experience what schooling is like for teenagers in France, and it was so interesting to compare the differences between their school life and school at Tallwood,” says Eva.

All in all, the Tallwood Travel and Exchange program has bounced back from its brief intermission during the height of the COVID pandemic. Now Tallwood students are back to traveling the world and exploring other cultures and languages. This program is an essential part of the Lion experience and adds an important aspect to the education students receive here.