Haylee Sovell will be a high-school senior this year.

Yet, her final year in secondary education will not be what one would consider a traditional one. In fact, it will be anything but ordinary.

Sovell, who has been attending the Redwood Area School District, will be studying thousands of miles away from her classmates, as she participates in a student exchange program in Macedonia.

“I leave on Aug. 16,” said Sovell.

Sovell will be participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program this school year. The YES Abroad program is sponsored by the United States Department of State.

“When I was in 10th grade I started looking at alternative forms of education,” said Sovell, adding the traditional program just was not a good fit for her.

What started with the post-secondary education option as a junior, is now taking a different direction for Sovell.

Keeping her options open, Sovell looked into the idea of becoming an exchange student, and she looked at a number of programs before applying to a few of them. 

What made the YES Abroad program so attractive was the fact that it is free.

“Being an exchange student can be expensive,” said Sovell, adding through YES Abroad that will not be an issue for her.

Sovell said she learned about the YES Abroad program while participating in an international camp a couple of years ago, adding others who were also there had talked about it. After looking into it, she applied and was accepted.

Sovell said it took a bit of convincing for family to get on board with the idea, but now they are more supportive of her plan to spend the next 10 months in Macedonia.

So, what does Sovell know about Macedonia?

“Not much,” she admitted, adding, however, earlier this summer she attended a training in Washington, D.C. to prepare her for the exchange, and as part of that she was able to visit the Macedonian embassy.

What she has since learned is Macedonia is a melting pot of cultures, which she said will be a great experience for her as she is exposed to people not only from Macedonia but around the world.

Getting into the YES Abroad program is not easy, said Sovell, as she said about 5 percent of the applicants are selected. She feels honored to have been chosen to take part in the program, adding she is committed to making the best use of the opportunity.

Sovell is not going alone, as there are others who will also be part of the exchange in Macedonia.

Naturally, education will be a big part of the experience, and Sovell said she will be attending an international high school.

“The classes will be in English,” Sovell said, adding for her the good news is that all of the work she does during the exchange will count toward her graduation.

With just a few credits left, Sovell should be able to call herself a high-school graduate by the end of her exchange experience.

During her stay, Sovell will be living with a host family, and at the time she spoke about her trip she had not learned who that is going to be.

Sovell added she will have the chance to get involved in service projects, but added she wants to wait until she gets there to decide where she will do that.

Sovell admitted to being a bit anxious about being away from home for so long, but she knows the experience is one that will change her life.