Satire: Foreign exchange program launched between Missouri and Illinois

A network of regional high schools has announced the creation of a foreign exchange program to let students study across the big pond: the Mississippi River.

The program, dubbed IMAGINE (Illinois Missouri Association Guiding Interstate Noteworthy Exchanges), will allow high school students to live with a host family and experience life on the other side of the river.

"Our goal is to allow students to appreciate the wide differences in culture and politics between Missouri and Illinois," explained Abbey Centminded, executive director of IMAGINE.

The program started at a meeting when several teachers discussed how the Mississippi River was starting to resemble an international border as the laws of both states keep diverging.

"In the distant past, the river was in fact an international border for Spain," said Benny Factor, a history teacher and the program's largest private donor. "We seem to be going back to those days. From taxes to marijuana to gambling to texting laws, the two states keep growing apart."

Illinoisans cross the river for the low taxes: Missouri has the second-lowest gasoline tax, lowest cigarette tax and second-lowest beer excise tax of any state. Thanks to a recent dramatic increase in the Illinois gas tax, the spread between the two states has reached 50 cents or more per gallon.

On the other hand, Missourians will no doubt start crossing into Illinois to partake in recreational marijuana. The new Illinois marijuana law will allow out-of-staters to buy limited quantities starting in 2020.

Traffic on the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at Cape Girardeau has remained well below the original projections, but this could change as more people seek out arbitrage opportunities between the two states.

Nevertheless, IMAGINE doesn't think these quick trips will do much to foster lasting relationships between the states. "Right now, Missourians think of Illinois as a high-tax state where corrupt politicians keep ill-gotten money in shoe boxes hidden behind cans of creamed corn. Meanwhile, Illinoisans -- especially from Chicago -- think of Missouri as a haven for cornpone bumpkins with cheap cigarettes. We need to do more to change these perceptions."

Bo Gussman, a junior at Paul Powell High School in North Vienna, Illinois, is one of the first students to participate in the program. This school year, he will be paired with a host family in New Madrid, Missouri.

"I would have preferred to study in the real Madrid in Spain," he admitted. "But this is much more affordable, and it still gets me away from my bratty siblings."

Another student, Sue Doenimm of Cape Girardeau, will spend the semester in Chicago. "I've heard that northern Illinois exists in a different universe," she said. "I guess I'm about to find out."

Traditional foreign exchange programs are designed to broaden horizons and share other cultures, but with an interstate exchange program, more students could enjoy similar benefits at a fraction of the cost.

"It will be good for uniting these United States," the IMAGINE director said. "I fear that if we don't do something, the states will continue to split apart, and soon we will be stuck in a paranoid land filled with checkpoints and customs agents."

She added, "It's not hard to imagine the revenuers licking their chops while they search vehicles for contraband cigarettes headed to Illinois or contraband cannabis headed to Missouri. And don't even think of bringing plastic straws, water guns or manhole covers to California!"