Nine teens from the St. Louis area have won full scholarships from the local Quest scholarship project to spend the summer in countries around the world. The students come from high schools across the metropolitan area. They have chosen Italy, Ghana, Costa Rica, Japan and Argentina as their international destinations.
Antoinette Bates and Kahalia Adams are in Ghana this summer exploring the roots of that nation’s culture and learning about community issues in Africa.
“We are working on a project to bring clean water to a school,” Bates said. “I am very excited about that.”
Opportunities to study abroad have been available to students in the St. Louis area for many years but the cost has prohibited many outstanding students – including those from low-income neighborhoods, those of color, and those with immigrant parents.
That changed in 2017 when local volunteers learned that national matching scholarships for study abroad were available to students from diverse backgrounds.
“A study-abroad experience greatly increases a student’s confidence, language skills and global awareness,” said Debbie Veatch, one of the Quest project’s founders.
“Intercultural skills and a global perspective will be important components of success in business, science, education and technology in the years ahead. St. Louis needs to nurture and grow a fully diverse talent pool for the next generation.”
Shyla Granberry from Carnahan High School is taking an intensive course in Japanese while she lives with a host family in Tokyo.
“The language school says that within 30 days we will be able to have a simple conversation in Japanese,” Granberry said.
Jayla Fitch from University City High School is studying Spanish and attending high school with a host sister in the small mountainous community of Tarrazu, Costa Rica.
“I am thinking about a college major in international relations with a focus on Latin America,” Fitch said. “I hope that studying in Costa Rica this summer will start me on the way.”
AFS Intercultural Programs provides the international programs in which the Quest students participate. AFS is a non-profit, non-sectarian, non-governmental organization that has been providing educational exchange opportunities for high school students since 1947.
National donors to the AFS Faces of America program contribute 50 percent of the fee for low-income students from under-represented groups if the local community provides the other 50 percent. Quest was founded to raise money for the required community match for St. Louis area students. Quest is a component fund of the St. Louis Community Foundation. It is the only scholarship fund at the foundation that is focused on pre-college study.
The project not only provides equity of opportunity for high-achieving teens from low-income high schools, it allows countries abroad to gain a more accurate picture of the strength and diversity of American youth.
All of the exchange students live with host families during their stays to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of their host countries.
Joshua Rhodes from Clyde C. Miller Career Academy and Kaitlan Agins from Metro High School selected Italy as their summer destination because they wanted to explore the history and experience the daily life of that country.
“The host family is awesome,” Rhodes said. “They are really helping me learn Italian. The days are going so fast.”
Catalina Mundin from Ritenour High School, Gyasi Bromley-Perry from Carnahan High School and Taylor Marshall from Vashon High School are five thousand miles south of St. Louis attending high schools in three different regions of Argentina.
Seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, so the three St. Louis students are experiencing the cool of winter while St. Louis endures summer heat.
To be considered for a Quest scholarship, St. Louis students must be nominated by their high school counselor or pre-college mentoring program.
Teens must be near the top of their class and have demonstrated outstanding character and leadership skills. They must live in a neighborhood in which at least 75 percent of the students are eligible for free lunch.
Quest students go abroad after their junior year so they will return to share their experiences with their classmates during their senior year.
Quest currently partners with the St. Louis Public Schools, University City Schools, Ritenour School District, East St. Louis Charter School, Lift for Life Academy, the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis, and the Marian Middle School program.
Additional schools and organizations are waiting to join the project as funds become available.