Exchange Program Opens Back Up at West

Exchange students share aspects of culture shock during the first few weeks of school

  America has quite the infamous international reputation: guns, McDonald’s, racism, and more. Often we hear citizens of other countries, as well as America’s own people, rightfully criticize the country for its many flaws. America’s perceived obesity epidemic is often referenced in conversations among people with an outside perspective of America, including the exchange students staying this year at school.

  Though America’s food and its overall unhealthiness was a recurring topic, there were a few favorite American delicacies among the students: chocolate milk, bagels, and ice cream sandwiches.

  Senior Antti Virolainen from Finland laughs, saying, “you eat much more junk food.”

  Anouk Schoelche, a senior exchange student from Germany, compares the average American’s diet with hers.

  “My host family eats way more fast food than I did in Germany and not that [many] vegetable[s], and you eat more meat here.”

  Students are required to complete language credits. Some begin in middle school while others wait until high school, but many students in other countries begin learning English, among other languages, at a much younger age.

  Virolainen said he “start[ed] learning English [in] fourth grade,” while also speaking “good Swedish… good Finnish, good German, and a little bit [of] French.”

  Junior Mason West, whose family is hosting Virolainen, said the “language is super different.”

  For some, when English isn’t their first language, it’s easy to become lost in conversations. 

  Schoelche observes that she has “to ask often for words…when there are lots of people and it’s very loud, maybe at lunch at a table with eight or nine people, and then [she] sometimes have no idea what’s going on and [she] can’t follow the conversation.”

  America tends to have a culture shock on people who did not grow up here, and the exchange students did not fail to take notice.

  ”I like how friendly the people here are so at every supermarket everyone asks you ‘oh how are you? How’s it going?’ and you talk much more than we did in Germany, there’s nobody speaking at the supermarket, it’s just not that friendly,” Schoelche said.

  America is considered loud to the exchange students and our food was the main cultural shock. Another shock was schooling.

  “Everything’s a bit different, especially the school because the school systems are a bit different. To have school in the afternoon is weird to me,” Schoelche said. “In Germany, school ends around 1:45, class periods are around 45 minutes long with short breaks in between classes.”

  The process of exchanging was a difficult process for both the host families and the students.

  “It took like nine months for me. I had a hard time getting my US visa. I had to go to Germany to get my US visa, so. A lot of paperwork. That was like the hardest part,” Virolainen said.

  The host families had their own process to go through before they could welcome an exchange student into their home.

  West said, “First we had to, like, make a room for him and then really just have to adjust. It’s like adopting a new kid. You have to spend time with him, can’t exclude him or anything. [The] biggest thing though is I have to share my bathroom. Everything is working out fine.”

  High school sport culture in America was very different than at home to most of the exchange students who had never seen the amount of noise and school spirit.

  “I was at the Patriot Game and everyone knows it was so many students and I just know this kind of atmosphere from really big soccer games in Germany and not high school games so that’s pretty cool,” Schoelche said.

  The amount of noise in the student section has been overwhelming for some of the students, but others have found it exciting.

  Virolainen has “never seen it anything like it over here, with like the football games with tons of noise,” West said.

  All in all, the exchange students had a positive attitude towards the process of exchanging along with the overall culture of America; they would all recommend the exchange program to other students.