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American Exchange Students Swap Red and Blue States to Learn Valuable Lessons

With each exchange, an innovative exchange initiative is providing youngsters from states with differing political affiliations a complimentary pass to discover the varied landscapes of America, aiming to challenge any preconceived notions they may hold about regions distant from their own.

“It’s difficult to resist a no-cost journey, but I had this strong desire to explore as many places as possible, particularly regions within the country. It’s truly remarkable, especially the Midwest,” shared Z.J. Schwartz, a former participant from California.

The American Exchange Program offers senior high school students from metropolitan hubs like New York City and Los Angeles a glimpse into rural America, and vice versa, dispelling stereotypes about varying ways of life and fostering a mindset open to fresh opportunities—all in an effort to bridge divides within the nation.

NYC skyline

As the sun dips below the skyline of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center in New York City, casting a golden glow over the Hudson River on February 25, 2024, in Jersey City, New Jersey, Brook Roozen embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to the Big Apple. (Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Reflecting on his experience, Schwartz journeyed to where he anticipated encountering mostly desolate landscapes with sporadic dwellings but was pleasantly surprised by the array of activities available.NYC skyline

“Coming from a densely populated area, witnessing vast fields, farms, and other sights I never imagined I’d see, those moments were truly enriching because it exposed me to an entirely new facet of the country. It almost felt like exploring a different nation,” he remarked.

Brook Roozen, a program graduate from South Dakota who ventured to the bustling metropolis for her exchange, admitted entering the experience burdened with apprehension fueled by urban safety myths.

South Dakota landscape

On June 17, 2020, in South Dakota, USA, Z.J. Schwartz embarked on his own unique adventure through the Mount Rushmore State as part of the American Exchange Project. (Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I had numerous individuals warning me, saying things like, ‘You’ll be robbed. The strangers you’re staying with will harm you.’ It was all quite absurd, so I was understandably nervous. I was definitely a bit frightened,” she recounted.

The immersion proved to be a profound revelation for both Roozen and Schwartz, as they realized that the actuality of their exchanges starkly contrasted with their initial expectations.

“It genuinely was the most extraordinary experience of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I encountered such wonderful individuals during the journey that my heart is brimming with gratitude,” Roozen expressed.

Schwartz’s perceptions of the Mount Rushmore State were shattered when he encountered unexpected facets and engaged in a variety of enjoyable activities that shaped his perspective.

“Upon arrival in Sioux Falls, a vibrant and charming city, and then Flandreau, a quaint town of surprising beauty, with shops lining every street, numerous farms housing alpacas, bison, and other unexpected sights, along with the incredibly hospitable locals,” he recounted.

“We attended a baseball game and engaged in various activities. I hadn’t really considered the recreational pursuits people enjoy.”

The students partaking in the initiative, receive financial support from dedicated donors eager to provide them with the chance to delve deeper into U.S. culture and connect with their fellow compatriots.South Dakota landscape

Taylor Penley serves as an associate editor at Fox News.