The Vanishing High School Year Abroad

In his junior year of high school in 1970, Doug Renfield-Miller was flunking out. It didn’t help to also get ejected from school for passing out anti-war posters. To escape, Doug took his mother’s suggestion and applied for a year of study abroad. Hear the story of how a young man was changed by the full measure of a school year away, and of a kind of immersion that is fading from the American tableau.

 Douglas' cancelled passport from 1979
“I was an indifferent student.” Doug Renfield-Miller

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America the Bilingual is a storytelling podcast for people who think bilingualism is good for themselves, for their families, and for their country.

The noble mission of student exchange

In the 20th century, in the wake of the first World War, some who had seen the battlefields decided to try to help global understanding by inviting international high school students to America and sending young Americans overseas. Due to the constraints of travel and communication, the early exchange programs lasted a full year during which students lived with families. They enjoyed a kind of cultural and language immersion that is hard to imagine today. The benefits were many, including acquiring true fluency in another language that is hard to come by in the shorter programs favored today.

Can we remedy that?

In this episode, I talk with a number of experts who weigh in on the future of the longer-term immersion programs as well as the benefits that even the shorter programs provide — intercultural competency being among them.

At School Year Abroad (SYA), my thanks to Thomas Hassen; at AFS, to Jorge Castro, Marlene Baker and Caitlin Belt; and at the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) to Christopher Page. At IvyWise, my thanks to Kat Cohen and Avery Kaye.

The Renfield-Miller Family in red coats with penguins standing on a rock in the background

The Renfield-Miller Family, missing one child, today

Want to host an international exchange student? “This Old House” can help

Staff members at “This Old House” reached out to us in 2023 with a helpful tip sheet they’ve prepared. Take a look:


The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languages campaign of ACTFL — The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

This episode was written by me, Steve Leveen, our producer Fernando Hernández, who also does our sound design and mixing, and our associate producer, Beckie Rankin.

Stasia with her French teacher, associate producer Beckie Rankin

Stasia with her French teacher, associate producer Beckie Rankin

Our brand and editorial director is Mim Harrison. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio.

Music in this episode with a Creative Commons Attribution License by:

Kevin Macleod — Quasi Motion

Francisco Penilla — Chicle Bombita

Lee Rosevere — More on That LaterWhat’s Behind the Door

Komiku — Action Investigation