Intercambio: Finding Fellowship in School and Beyond

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Daniel works on an assignment in Intercambio while advisor Chris Lieuallen speaks to Mia.
Daniel works on an assignment in Intercambio while advisor Chris Lieuallen speaks to Mia.
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As they wrap up their 8th-grade year, a small group of Hazlebrook students might have a smoother transition to high school in the fall, thanks to their participation in Intercambio. 

This program – which runs at both Tualatin and Tigard High Schools – connects juniors and seniors as mentors to 8th graders in the district. The mentors meet with them regularly throughout the school year to help with homework, talk about school, offer advice on life challenges, and have fun together on outings. The mentors also help prepare the younger students for the big switch from middle to high school.

Having a support system like this could be more important than ever for today’s students. Many students are struggling now, impacted by how COVID-19 interrupted their schooling. Through Intercambio, students are finding a helping hand, leading some of the 8th graders to re-engage with school after disconnecting because they felt angry or withdrawn. Ella, a senior mentor, said she feels like she’s been able to help her mentee through some challenges this year through their mentoring sessions. 

Alyssa and Teejay share a moment together during Intercambio.
Alyssa and Teejay share a moment together during Intercambio.

All of these mentor-mentee conversations, and especially when they’re able to get together for activities, give the students a chance to build fellowship. At a recent visit to the Rotary Club of Tualatin’s lunch meeting, a group of Intercambio students spoke repeatedly about the sense of community they feel within the group. 

“I have found my family, my community,” said Teejay about Intercambio. Teejay is a graduating senior headed to Portland State University this fall. He credits Intercambio as a crucial ingredient to his success. He was a mentee as an 8th grader and became a mentor as a junior, returning to the program in his senior year. 

Teejay and his friends were visiting because of Rotary’s longstanding support of Intercambio. Donations from our club help support their field trips and other activities. These trips combine students from all the participating schools and are planned by the high school students (with oversight from their school advisors). Planning their outings, as well as their in-class activities, help the students gain skills in communication, collaboration, and more.  

These experiences help students like Ella break out of their shells. “I’m usually quiet,” she said. “Intercambio has helped me experience different things and get out of my comfort zone.” 

Chris Lieuallen, the Intercambio advisor at Tualatin High School, takes a “whole-person perspective” when considering student success. He loves seeing how much the mentors grow through their participation in the program. “Facilitation skills, relationship building, problem-solving,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to develop … leadership skills.”

At her Rotary visit, Jaden shared that she has high expectations for herself, but through Intercambio, she has “learned how to adapt myself for others. It’s also an opportunity for me to improve my communication skills.” 

“It has helped me outside of school, too, like at work,” said Joyse. “I’ve learned how to self-advocate and work with others. It has impacted my whole life.” 

Mr. Lieuallen credits the Tualatin Rotary Club for advocating for Intercambio several years ago when the program was at risk of being discontinued. Since then, Rotary has continued to support Intercambio in several ways. 

Through its partnership, Rotary members occasionally visit Intercambio, participating in regular activities like Circle Time, sharing stories about their life experiences, as well as running mock interviews to give students practice.  

Teejay said that through helping plan Intercambio activities, he has learned how to speak up for himself and how to be a leader, skills validated in his selection as a Rotary scholarship recipient. Teejay appreciates how Mr. Lieuallen encourages them, giving them space – and guidance when needed – to decide how to use the group’s resources to further opportunities for connection and personal growth. 

For Daniel, a junior at Tualatin High, Intercambio has been an uplifting experience. “I like the aspect of helping out,” he said. “Everyone here is so motivated to help and is kind to each other.” 

Many of the second-year mentors said they keep up their relationships with the younger students after the school year ends. The friendships formed often last for years. After advancing to college, some former students come back to be informal mentors for the current high school students.   

Rotarians believe in the value of fellowship to promote better goodwill and know that our connections to others make us stronger. Intercambio gives local students opportunities for service and success through fellowship, putting them on a path to be tomorrow’s leaders. 

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