Lindsey Giles

Higley High senior Lindsey Giles said her three weeks in Northern Ireland as part of the Gilbert Sister Cities Program was an eye-opening experience. (Courtesy HUSD)

Some Higley Unified students and teachers spent part of their summer studying and teaching abroad.

The teens — Jonah Call, a senior at Williams Field High, and Lindsey Giles, a Higley High senior — were student ambassadors through the Gilbert Sister Cities program.

Jonah spent two weeks with a family in Leshan, China, while Lindsey spent three weeks with a family in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland. 

Meanwhile four teachers spent two weeks instructing students in China. Kathy Kalinke from Power Ranch Elementary and Sossaman Middle School teachers Haleigh Rohner, Beth Knudsvig and Brennan Hallock taught students various subjects at a summer camp in Shijiazhuang, China.

During their time overseas, both Jonah and Lindsey “were blown away by some the intricacies of the cultures in China and Northern Ireland, as well as the countries themselves,” district spokeswoman Michelle Reese said.

“It was unexpected how small Ireland was,” Lindsey said. “There, you can drive for six hours and go coast-to-coast, where here, you can drive six hours and barely be in the next state over.” 

Jonah found Chinese people “extremely friendly” and the country more like the United States than he expected, noting teens there seemed no different than their American counterparts. 

Lindsey was grateful for being able to be immersed in a new culture and get to experience somebody else’s life. 

“It’s such an eye-opening experience to be somewhere else and live with someone else and see somebody else’s daily life,” she said. “They were so kind to me and their house was always so full of laughter.” 

“Both students were happy they took their trips and viewed their respective experiences as a privilege,” Reese said. 

“I’ll try to tell anybody I know who’s a junior at Williams Field,” Jonah said. “It’s such a cool experience that realistically you probably won’t ever get again. You get to have a friendship with somebody from the other side of the world.” 

The two students endured a rigorous selection process in order to receive the honor of representing their schools and town. 

The application and interview process included nearly five months of events, fundraisers and socials, all while being watched and graded by the selection committee on how well they talked to different people at different functions.

They also participated in a group interview, followed by an individual interview for the finalists. 

Meanwhile, the four Higley teachers taught two week-long sessions to around 900 Chinese students. 

Kalinke taught physical education and Hallock taught music while Knudsvig taught English and Rohner taught science. 

 The four teachers taught together in a group and rotated through the four classes they handled.

The Higley teachers made weekend excursions to Xi’An and Beijing and got to visit the Great Wall in Beijing. 

“Each teacher was so grateful for the experiences they had getting to teach students on the other side of the world,” Reese said.