Exchange program

Markus Skogsmo, Petia Davidova, Fernanda Fuentealba and Valentin Gabry are spending a school year in the Phoenix area as part of an international exchange program.

Travis Roemhild/AFN

The day after flying from her home country of Bulgaria, located south of Romania and northwest of Turkey, Petia Davidova had her first day of high school in America.

Hours after a flight that took her half way around the world, the 16-year-old was stepping into her first class at Mountain Pointe High School.

“It was a little scary at first,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone or where to go.”

Luckily, she wasn’t all alone in a new country. Through an international exchange student program, there were 25 others from around the world that enrolled in Phoenix-area high schools, beginning in August.

The program, called AFS Intercultural Programs USA (formerly American Field Service-USA), builds partnerships between countries and, while international students come here to study, American students are sent abroad.

Markus Skogsmo, 18, from Sweden, is also attending Mountain Pointe High School for the year.

His father visited America at one point and he said that drove him to want to visit and study here.

“I’ve always wanted to go,” he said. “My goal here is just to discover and explore and meet new people here.”

Fernanda Fuentealba, 17, came from Chile and said the process of applying, and ultimately being accepted, to AFS Intercultural Programs USA took months of testing and interviews.

“It took a long time,” she said. “You’d pass one section, wait a month, pass another, wait another month. You do a lot of things to get accepted and it is a very long process.”

The hallways of a new high school can be intimidating as well.

Valetin Gabry, from France, said in his first week he was walking around Tempe High School and, although the other students were treating him nice enough, it was difficult to navigate the halls and find his next classroom.

“It was hard to bounce around to different classes because everyone was going different ways,” he said.

Unlike the others, Davidova came to America because of a scholarship through the Youth Exchange and Study program.

Her way to and from was paid by the U.S. State Department, and part of the program involves her volunteering a certain amount of time.

For more information about hosting an exchange student, visit the website at

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or

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