LINCOLN PARK — A Lincoln Park teenager is in India to spend his junior year as an exchange student as the only Illinois resident among 60 selected to take part in a State Department program.
Alexander Aurin, who would have been a junior at GCE Lab School in Old Town, instead is in Dehli after spending last weekend in orientation in Washington, D.C., on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program, largely administered by the American Field Service. He's on a scholarship and will live with a host family and return home next May.
"Through Alexander’s participation in the YES Abroad program, he will be at the forefront of citizen diplomacy, serving as a 'youth ambassador' in his host country, enhancing cross-cultural understanding and deepening trust by building lasting relationships with his host family and peers, and engaging in volunteer service and leadership training to help his host community," the program stated in a news release.
"Through the YES Abroad experience, Alexander will be developing the skills to share American values, find new ways for America to compete effectively in the global marketplace and contribute to a more peaceful world."
"He applied and, son of a gun, he got it," his father, Robert Aurin, said Tuesday.
"Pretty active kid," Aurin said, adding that Alexander plays soccer and basketball. "He's a normal kid in that regard."
Even so, he beat out hundreds of other applicants to be the only Illinoisan selected this year in a program that's been sending U.S. students to Muslim countries since it was created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Five were assigned to India this year. The program emphasizes that it's "merit-based," but the criteria were somewhat elusive, Aurin said.
"Some of it's academic, obviously," he added, and Alexander is a straight-A student at GCE Lab. But there were also a phone interview and two face-to-face interviews.
"It's his sociability, it's his attitude, his demeanor. He's probably one of the most likable kids you'll ever meet. And I think all of that plays a factor in it," the father said.
It didn't hurt that the family has placed a persistent emphasis on foreign languages and international relations. "We figure that's where the 21st century is going," Aurin added.
Alexander and his twin sister, Marit, both attended Lycee Francais de Chicago, and his sister still goes there, fluent in French and Mandarin. An early teacher at the school said of Alexander, "You keep an eye on that boy. Someday he's going to be the ambassador to France."
While moving on to GCE Lab, Alexander maintained his French fluency. "Now it looks like he's going to pick up a good bit of understanding of Pashto and Hindi," Aurin said.
Not coincidentally, his wife and the twins' mother, Kathryn Engel, works at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is now in Paris with 10 students as part of a Sister Cities exchange program. "Our household is in kind of an uproar," Aurin said.
Aurin said Alexander has already shown an interest in pursuing a job in the diplomatic corps. "He's already talked about it," Aurin said. "It's something we've talked about with both kids, and they seem to like it."