Two years ago, Hailey Johnson visited Waupaca’s sister city in Japan.
A year ago, she learned about the opportunity to spend a longer time abroad as a Rotary exchange student.
Now, she is preparing to spend her junior year of high school in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, as one of those students.
“I always knew I wanted to do something adventurous. I wanted to travel. Why not start now?” she said.
Johnson leaves sometime in August and will return to Waupaca by July 7.
Before deciding to become an exchange student, she did her homework. Johnson talked to the Waupaca high students who had been Rotary exchange students.
Both short- and long-term exchanges are possible, and she decided to apply for a long-term exchange.
“I figured that if I did a short term, I’d get home and want to do more,” she said.
The application process was lengthy.
Her parents, Stacia Fields and Chris Johnson, had to send for her birth certificate in California, where she was born.
The family moved here about six years ago. Johnson’s parents are Wisconsin natives who decided to return here. Johnson has one brother, 13-year-old Maxwell.
In addition to her birth certificate and medical records, Johnson also had to answer questions about why she wants to be an exchange student and what she hopes to get out of the experience.
Johnson learned on 10-10-10, which happened to be her 15th birthday, that the Waupaca Rotary Club wanted her to be one of their exchange students.
Deciding on which countries she would like to visit was next on her list.
She had 42 countries from which to choose. Her top four choices were Spain, Croatia, Hungary and Bolivia.
“I want to go to Europe or South America. I was conflicted,” Johnson said. “I decided whichever one I don’t go to, I will go to later.”
She thinks that subconsciously she put Bolivia on her list because “no one knows where Bolivia is.”
What does she know about Bolivia?
Johnson knows that 80 percent of the people who live there speak Spanish and 20 percent speak indigenous languages.
“There’s a large indigenous culture, so people who go there learn a little of each language,” she said.
Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, is the country’s first indigenous president.
Johnson, who is a member of Waupaca High School’s Green Team, is particularly excited to watch discussion about Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth.
She said the proposed environmental law would take things to the next level. “I really hope it passes while I’m down there,” she said.
During her months in Santa Cruz, Johnson will stay with a family who has a 16-year-old son. Their son will be a Rotary exchange student in Washington, and Johnson will be taking his place at a private French Bolivian school.
What she knows thus far about the school is that students may select to focus on different areas, such as math and science. She is hoping to be able to focus on the social sciences.
Johnson has taken Spanish since sixth grade and believes that will be helpful.
She will be living in a city of 2 million people and will be two hours from mountains and four hours from the Amazon River. One thing she wants to see during her stay are the Bolivian salt flats.
Johnson will also be blogging while she is in Bolivia. Follow her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of her upcoming exchange, she said, “It’s just a fun time – something different, something out of the ordinary.”