Exchange students adjust to life here

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If you’d had the opportunity to study abroad when you were in high school, would you have taken it? Our Spanish 4 class at Fike High School had the chance to meet and interview five foreign exchange students from different backgrounds, languages and cultures who are attending Fike. These students are experiencing all facets of American culture right here in Wilson. We wanted to share with Wilson Times’ readers their impressions from their first month here.

• Davide Valentini, 16, is from a town near Genoa, Italy. Davide was able see some truth behind the stereotype he had of Americans being friendly. He experienced people coming up to him and greeting him.

He shared that one day a random person who was driving actually yelled, “Hello” to him from their car. Davide said this never happens in Italy, and he was surprised how easy it is to talk to people here. When asked about adapting to the new environment, Davide responded, “I feel comfortable with my host family, and the people here are nice. But the food is hard to adapt to.”

Another observation he has is that Americans waste too much food. “It was surprising to see food that has never even been touched just being thrown away.”

Davide started learning English at an early age.

“I started learning English at the age of 6. My Italian teacher taught me English. Sometimes when people talk to me here I either understand or I don’t — there is no in between.” Davide’s career goal is undetermined, but he thinks that it is in the field of science, which is one of the reasons he came to America to improve his English.

• Chiara Zimmerer, 16, is from the southern part of Germany near Stuttgart. She came through the Bundestag Scholarship program and is staying with the Sage family for 10 months. Chiara arrived with a similar stereotype as Davide — that Americans are friendly. She said it has proved true.

She began learning English when she was 7 from her English teacher in Germany. Chiara said that she enjoys the school spirit at Fike and feels like the environment is more animated than what she is used to. She enjoys watching athletics at Fike because in Germany, school athletic teams do not existent.

She was motivated to come to the United States to have a better understanding of the culture and language and to also have an American experience.

• Andrea Blancuzzi, 17, is from a town in Italy near Venice. He started learning English at the age of 6. He also took French for four years and went to England two weeks every year for five years to take college-level English immersion classes. He said he misses his cat and his parents, but he is comfortable in Wilson.

Andrea said that the United States has a lot of fast food restaurants, which reinforced his stereotype that Americans love fast food. He is staying with the Harris family. He was surprised by the amount of time the family spends at church-related activities.

He went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with his host family, which he enjoyed, and came back right before school started.

Andrea came to America to improve his English, learn about the culture, and enjoy new experiences.

• Ratanakwotey Ung traveled for 36 hours from Cambodia to Wilson. Her native language is Khmer. When she wrote her name on the board in Khmer, we were impressed by the intricacy of the written language. She is staying with the Purvis family for 10 months.

Ratanakwotey told us she misses home, but she is comfortable here. She said the breadth of course offerings and freedom of selection for choosing classes here is something new to her. She told us that her school is small and does not have a lot of options. Students specifically have to take mandatory classes.

In Cambodia, they have school on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a two-hour break. They also have the option to go on Sunday for a half day. At her school there are no school sports, and they are not permitted to watch any major tournaments at school until the finals because it cuts class time.

She is enjoying her stay and went to the local fair this year for the first time. She told us she came to America to meet people and observe cultural differences.

• Ines Bata, 16, is from a town in France about 30 minutes from Paris. She has a twin sister in an exchange program in California. Ines is staying at Fike the whole school year. She said she came from a Catholic private high school and is pleased with the freedom of the schedule here.

She commented about her initial stereotypes of Americans and that some were true. One stereotype that was confirmed is that most Americans are oblivious of other cultures. She started learning English at the age of 8 and does not have a heavy accent because she was able to watch American TV shows.

She came to America to absorb the educational experience. She is thinking about going to college in America to pursue a career in economics.

By talking with our exchange students, the class learned that European and Asian countries teach English and other languages when students are 6-8 years old. It was interesting to learn about their culture and see how different it is compared with ours. This experience has taught us more about cultural differences and encouraging others to become more culturally literate.

Personally, we think we should be more open to opportunities such as foreign exchange programs. We wish these students the best!

Saulo Rodriguez wrote this story on behalf of his Spanish 4 class at Fike High School.