Burnt River may have only 15 students, but this tiny western high school in Eastern Oregon has become an unlikely hub of global interaction, growth, and discovery. And since life in this small town revolves primarily around agriculture, it’s fitting that a small but vibrant FFA chapter is leading the way!

combineUnlike most schools, Burnt River is composed primarily of exchange students! Just 3 of the 15 students are Americans, and the other 12 come from abroad to live either in the school dorms or with a local family. And since most of the families in the community are involved in agriculture, the students become quickly inundated as well.

“Agriculture plays a huge part in their experience here, whether that’s visiting the ranches and homes during weekend homestays or just interacting with ag in the classroom,” shares Jessica Wilson, Burnt River’s FFA Advisor. “A lot of classwork is geared toward agriculture, and of course our FFA is very active. Since they can’t go out and do a lot in the town, FFA gives them a way to engage and stay busy.”


In this unique setting, with such a large percentage of exchange students, the focus naturally shifts to include world issues and concerns as well as local ones. Jessica shared that the high percentage of exchange students provides a unique benefit in this way, since Burnt River students of all backgrounds are challenged to look beyond their own backyard – whether that’s a mile away or a continent away. Even at the high school level, these students are inspired to tackle world issues while working together with other world citizens. This would be remarkable anywhere, and is particularly noteworthy in such a small town!

FFA picThis year, two previous Burnt River exchange students, Tim and Gustavo, were able to showcase their investigative project on a larger scale at the National FFA Convention!

Simply qualifying for the national convention is a huge accomplishment, proving the chapter ranks among the top 12 in the entire nation!

Though these students had already completed their time in the US and had returned home, they were excited by the chance to return to the US and present their work.

“I made a deal with them,” shared Jessica, “That if they qualified, I’d help pay for the flight back to attend.”

To get to nationals, Tim and Gustavo executed a unique project that required collaboration across 13 countries in order to compare agricultural structures worldwide.

results FFA project

They created an agricultural test, translated it into 9 languages, and sent it to high school students in 13 different countries. After gathering the data, they were able to evaluate and rank it.  They were surprised by their findings!

“Even in a country with an extremely effective agricultural education with FFA and subjects like animal science, ag mechanics, ag business and plant science, urban areas have a huge problem,” iE exchange student Tim Barabas shared. “In our opinion, the lack of agricultural knowledge is an international problem, which can be solved even better by the cooperation of nations.”

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Exposing our future leaders to other nations will better equip everyone to solve world problems and to interact on a global stage.[/perfectpullquote]

As these students have demonstrated, the “cooperation of nations” does not need to be limited to politicians or even to adults – but can instead begin to flourish among our youth.

THIS is the power of student exchange! Exposing youth and our future leaders to other nations will better equip everyone to solve world problems and to interact on a global stage.


Jessica, who graduated from Burnt River in 2008, comes from a legacy of welcoming exchange students. Her mom hosted students on the weekends when she was younger, and she has carried on the tradition by hosting students as an adult as well.

“Exchange students benefit the entire community,” shares Jessica. “Most people have been born here and plan to continue to live here for the rest of their lives, so [exchange students] broaden everyone’s perspective a bit. They are able to learn from the exchange students and see through their eyes.”

people having coffeeAs Burnt River is infused year after year with an ongoing rotation of young ambassadors from other countries, an interesting transformation has taken place: a town that may have been among the most homogeneous in all of America has instead become a constantly shifting mosaic of cultural diversity.

And in this environment, students are being raised up not only to engage with complex world questions, but to actually become leaders on world issues. This tiny town, potentially easy to dismiss on a map, is carving out a unique place in international influence – with student exchange as a key partner in that effort!

What might happen if a similar model was duplicated elsewhere? If a similar ideology could be replicated everywhere?! Imagine the global impact in just a few short decades!

THIS is the power of student exchange.

Join us on this life-changing journey. Learn more about our mission at ie-usa.org.