Being an exchange student is forever

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Being an exchange student is forever

The exchange student, Anna Bichon from France, during her Spanish lesson, concentrated with her homework, beside an American classmate of South High.

The exchange student, Anna Bichon from France, during her Spanish lesson, concentrated with her homework, beside an American classmate of South High.

Diana Caminelli

The exchange student, Anna Bichon from France, during her Spanish lesson, concentrated with her homework, beside an American classmate of South High.

Diana Caminelli

Diana Caminelli

The exchange student, Anna Bichon from France, during her Spanish lesson, concentrated with her homework, beside an American classmate of South High.

Diana Caminelli, Staff Writer

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Every year, South High School hosts several exchange students who have left their families, their friends and their lives to study and live abroad for a year. There are many exchange students here this year, 12 to be exact, and almost all from different countries such as Egypt, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and China.

According to recent statistics from Repubblica, an Italian magazine, 55% of European high school students leave for foreign destinations as exchange students, and the number is increasing. The preferred destinations are the United States with 58%, followed by Australia and England with 23%.

The increase in demand is strong because today, in Europe, it is really important to have language skills for a future career.

Exchange students at South this year have only been here for a few months, so the real experience hasn’t started yet.  I am Diana, an exchange student from Italy.  I think the “real” experience will start once we’ve made more friends and gotten to know the language better.  

To the recurring question: “Why have you decided to have this experience?” some exchanges students respond that they do not know: “it looked cool” said junior Caroline Seybold, from Germany. “Stay a year in a completely different country, change scenery and meet new people.” Others say that they have done this experience to learn language. Then some students did this mainly to grow because studying abroad is not just learning a foreign language, it’s a life experience that changes a lot people.        

The first few weeks have been very difficult for me and the others exchange students agree. The cultural crash is really big and at first, and exchange students think a lot about their homeland. We notice all the differences and all the similarities of our surrounding to where we’re from.

Speaking English is really hard and American slang is very strong, to the point where it is difficult to understand. Sometimes it’s really frustrating, you feel stupid. When I have time to translate sentences from Italian to English, I speak well.  When I’m just trying to go through the day without thinking about what I’m saying in Italian first, it’s much harder to speak. It’s not the best.

I miss my family so much. I miss friends that understood me through a look. Life here is made up of many new things, of many discoveries but also of absences. This is a big change that upsets me.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to express ourselves. But things will change. And at the end of this long journey, the exchange students will shed many tears, and we will not want to go home.

The biggest difficulty of being on exchange is building a new life here and not being anchored to the old. Finding real friends on the other side of the world, having two moms, two dads and maybe even some sisters or brothers.

Then there is the school: beautiful, huge and obviously very different. South is maybe a little more easy compared to the European average. If I take the example of the Italian high school, students have only one class for 5 years. The structure is much smaller, there isn’t a football field, there are no cheerleaders or extracurricular sports such as tennis, soccer, football, swimming, or any kind of club.

Every school in Italy is different, and each school teaches different subjects. There isn’t pajama day, or homecoming or prom, or a party for Halloween. Italian students come to school at 8 a.m. and sometimes don’t leave until 4. Also, students go to school on Saturday.

The relationship between professors and students is really different: it’s more like an employer-employee relationship. Teachers do not easily give a chance to recover bad grades and there are “queries” where the teachers call students to the teaching post and have them answer a series of specific questions about a topic in front of the class. Students have to express their answer and they receive a grade that is worth as much as a written test. Here, teachers are different. They take more care of students, something that rarely happens in Italy.

Looking at the difficulty, people initially define exchange students as very determined and courageous. Not everyone is able to be an exchange student, in fact some exchange students are sent home earlier than expected because of too much stress experienced.

We are alone in front of a reality that is not ours.

The capacity for adaptation, living with different people, makes us grow and become adults. In short, this is an experience to tell. It will be remembered for life.

Being an exchange student is an experience that stays with you forever.

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