April 27, 2019
A teenager steps off a plane into a new world different from his own—frightened, nervous, but hungry for new experiences. His eyes wide for the exploration of cultures and lifestyles, his hands outstretched, reaching for answers. This scene is familiar to the many students taking part in student exchange programs.
The experience of being an exchange student is a mixture of great times and struggles that could help formulate a young mind on the interconnections of the world. Through student exchange, students are taught independence and self-reliance, while getting a hands-on experience of what it means to be a part of a global community.
“I think it’s important for people to learn to be independent, to understand different cultures, and to get a better view of how the world works,” said 11th-grade exchange student Fredrik Angell.
While there is no student exchange program that works directly at Atholton, there are many organizations that offer student exchange, such as the Columbia’s Sister Cities program and Sister Cities International. These organizations work towards bringing students into the outside world and gaining skills and experience which could be of great help in their futures.
At Atholton High School, there are currently 2 officially recognized exchange students- Angell from Norway and junior Rahim Wassansa from Cameroon. These students have spent the past year going to this school and have great stories to share of their experience of what it’s like to be an exchange student. The stories have their ups, such as the experience of traveling to other another country and making friends, but there are still many hardships that exchange students undergo, especially at the beginning.
“There are things like trying to adapt to a different culture or changing things, for example everyone here says ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’, all these things are not really common in my country, so it was a little bit different here… you need to adapt. That is the most difficult part, and still now I have difficulties with that,” said Wassansa.
Another hardship has to do with the absence of family members and the emotional toll it takes on a teenager. Angell stated that living without your parents, especially when you are not ready, “does something to you.”
These struggles are not only limited to exchange students but also anyone who has had the experience of moving to another country. Sophomore Claryss Dela Cruz from the Philippines mentioned that her home country is a group of tropical islands where the climate is very warm and humid. When she moved to the United States, she found it very hard to adapt to changes in temperatures.
Despite these hardships, however, there are still positive aspects of student exchange. Angell said that, in his time here, he has made oodles of friends, and added that he has “also learned how to appreciate the things” he has in his home country.
Wassansa added that this experience helped him to understand, “how different parts of the world work.”
Many of the organizations that work with student exchange have been around since the late 20th century. Since then, many students have used this opportunity to expose themselves to the outside world, whether at Atholton or elsewhere.
Although the journey into a whole know country can be challenging for these students, they certainly would not exchange this experience for anything else.