Spanish exchange student returns to WHS for senior year


It took some doing, but WHS exchange student Fatima Travanco is back in Weiser for her senior year of high school. Pictured, from left, Lilly Janicek, Travanco, McKenna Mansor, Madi Janicek, and Coltyn Janicek. Courtesy photo.
By: 
Nancy Grindstaff
Homecoming holds a bigger meaning this fall with the return of exchange student Fatima Travanco for a second year at Weiser High School, where she will complete her senior year and graduate with the WHS class of 2024.  
 After two months back home this summer with her family in Madrid, Spain, Travanco (Fati to those who know her) arrived back in Weiser just in time for the start of the 2023-24 school year. 
 She immediately started practicing with the girls’ soccer team, getting in her 10th practice last Wednesday, qualifying to play in games. The popular and athletic student was one of five senior girls nominated to this year’s homecoming court on Thursday.
 Hosted by Weiser’s Ben and Tami Janicek family, Tami said they had always thought it would be fun to host an exchange student, and as their oldest daughter Lilly was starting her junior year of high school last year, “we thought it would be a good time to have someone.”
 Their younger daughter, Madi, who was a freshman last year, said having two older sisters was better than one.
 “It was better to have Fati. Lilly and I didn’t argue as much, because we were all more like friends,” Madi said.
 All three girls are involved in different things, both in and out of school. Madi plays softball on the Boise Blast club team in Boise, going to practices a couple of times a week, with games and tournaments scheduled on weekends well into the fall. 
 She’ll play her second season on the school team in the spring. Lilly has been a flyer on the WHS cheer squad since she was a freshman, with practices almost year around.
 A fifth grader, younger brother, Coltyn, wrestles and plays baseball. Late last week, he was at the Eastern Idaho Fair with his grandparents, watching his cousin show a steer. It’s a busy family, enjoying all the possibilities life has to offer.
 In Spain, Travanco has attended a private Catholic school, but before coming to the U.S. she also spent a year as an exchange student in Ireland. She said she misses her family like anyone would, but is accustomed to being apart from them.
 “In Spain we watch a lot of American high school movies, and it’s really different from our school there,” she said. “It’s always like the dream of a lot of people to go to that kind of school and do cool stuff. Mostly for the sports, too, because you have multiple opportunities to do team sports here, and I like team sports.”
 She’s played roller hockey since she was very small in Spain, but was introduced to soccer, basketball, and tennis last year, proving her Wolverine worth in all three.
 Asked how her experience in Weiser compares to her perceptions from the movies, “all the football games and all the cheerleaders, it’s like I’m living inside the movie,” she laughed. “Homecoming, too.”
 That feeling, like she was inside the movie, is where the line is drawn on her interest in arts and theater. Sports are her thing, as well as intense academia. She is currently earning dual credits in calculus, Spanish, and English.
 Because the accreditation at WHS and her school in Spain align so closely, she will receive a high school diploma from both schools next summer.
 By this past February, the Janiceks and Fati started talking about her returning for a second year, which would be a first for any exchange student in Weiser. It also holds a little more red tape for both the school and exchange student.
 WSD special certification
 During May’s monthly school board meeting, the Janiceks asked the district to investigate a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification. That same evening the trustees unanimously approved a motion to move forward with an application to become SEVP certified.
 Moving into the position of WSD’s Director of Federal Programs, former WHS Principal Dave Davies said, “We began the process to become a certified SEVP School through Homeland Security in June of this year and completed the process in mid-August. With this certification we are authorized to accept non-immigrant students who have an F-1 visa, a visa that is different from the J-1 visa issued to traditional foreign exchange students.”
 Families of international students are obligated to pay tuition for their students attending beyond a first year, and the school district pays an initial $3,000 SEVP application fee, plus $644 for a site visit. SEVP recertification is $1,250 every two years, if the school finds there are more students interested in attending more than one year.
 On Travanco’s part, changing her visa from J-1 to F-1 required some extra steps.
 “Once the school was certified, Mr. Davies had to fill out a specific form and sign it, then it had to be sent to her family,” Tami said. “Then, they had to sign it.”
 “Once we had that, then we had to book an appointment at the embassy,” Travanco said. “We were really lucky, because normally it takes about two months, and we got in, in about three days.”
 She added, “They did all of my fingerprints on both hands, and then they ask you where you are going, basically making sure you’re not a terrorist. They saw that I came here last year.”
 There is one more challenge that she and the Janiceks are hoping to overcome: Tami said that second-year exchange students aren’t generally allowed to play sports on varsity teams, adding that it has something to do with preventing coaches from recruiting exchange students.
 “Fati hadn’t ever played soccer, basketball, or tennis before coming to Weiser,” Tami said. 
 “It’s not a situation where a coach would have been scouting and recruiting her, and especially a school as small as Weiser. We’re going to try to see if she can be approved to play on the varsity teams.”

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