Early applications by Feb. 1, 2016 are encouraged; EIL coordinators expect a large response based on their recent presentations at Keys high schools. 

Essay contest winners will receive scholarships

By Susan Chiappone

Monroe County’s students will have a special opportunity to participate in the Experiment in International Living, (EIL) when 15 scholarships from $500 to full price will be offered through an essay contest. 

Heather Beard, director of admissions for the EIL program, was in South Florida recently to meet with recent EIL participants and their families and talk about the opportunities available for high school students in 2016.  She said several organizations including local Rotary Clubs and Take Stock in Children are supportive of this unique learning experience that immerses teenagers in foreign cultures. 

“Monroe County sends more students than any other area outside of New York City,” said Beard. She attributed the positive response to the people in the area who carry open-minded views and accept the cultures and diversity of many other people. The EIL program offers group instruction and in-home stays in many countries. Last year, 550 students were sent to 26 countries. 

“I think the people in the Monroe County area reflect positively on their inter-cultural experiences,” she said.  

Beard’s hopes are that 15 to 20 students from south Florida will sign up for this year.  The process includes visiting the website at www.experiment.org, and starting an application.  Students will be asked for answers to questions about their opinions about different cultures and global ideas. 

Themes for the program include learning a new language, promoting peace and sustaining the environment. Kaitlin Darrow, a junior at Coral Shores High School went to Mexico. Her interests were in marine biology and her trip included visits on the Baja and Yucatán Peninsulas.

“The most memorable part of this trip was visiting the ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins, the Cenotes in Tulum, swimming with wild sea lions, and creating an inseparable bond with my group members,” she said. 

Her sister, Marissa Darrow, traveled to Costa Rica where she studied biodiversity, ecology and sustainability for four weeks. 

The travels can be scheduled for three to five weeks and will include in-home stays with local families. 

Natalia Gonzalez, also a Coral Shores High School Student, went to Vietnam over this past summer for a month. She is a senior in high school. 

“My favorite part of my trip was when we built a system for a small, poor family in a village that harvested the methane from pigs’ waste to use for cooking,” said Natalia. “It was amazing seeing the family’s faces after the project was complete.”  

“I couldn’t speak the same language as them but we shared an exchange of the universal language that requires no words, and it that told me they were truly happy,” she said. 

Students who have completed their freshmen year in high school, through seniors, may apply. Current ninth grade students may apply in early 2016 for summer placement.  Beard said the average age of students is 16 to 17.  Students may also participate in the summer after they have completed their senior year.  A full-paid scholarship could be worth between $5,000 and $7,500. 

Students are encouraged to reflect on their plans for future interests, their own goals and their ideas about other cultures before submitting answers to the questions and applying for scholarship.  Early applications by Feb. 1, 2016 are encouraged; EIL coordinators expect a large response based on their presentations at area high schools in the Keys. 

Roughly 95 percent of the Keys students partaking in the EIL experience are Take Stock in Children scholarship students, and the trip is funded through the Monroe County Education Foundation, the parent organization. However, the essay contest opens up opportunities for “self pay” students up and down the Keys.

“Students who have returned from the trip speak passionately about food they’ve never tried before, to discussing politics and world events,” said Jeff Frost, Monroe County Education Foundation board member. “The most important thing is that they gain a new perspective — even though people might not be like us, we still have so much in common and so much to learn from each other.”

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