Imagine packing up your bags for a trip far away, but your family is not joining you this time. You get on a plane and fly off to a completely foreign land, with absolutely no one or nothing familiar. The language is something you have only studied in school for a couple of years, and no one speaks your native tongue. You get off the plane to be greeted by a foreign family, a family who will host you for the next year. A year you will spend in this foreign land, going to a different school and living a life so vastly different from your usual one.
Many students at Apex High School are currently experiencing this. They are submerged in different holidays, traditions, and day-to-day routines. There are students from varying countries and cultures, including Italy, Serbia, and Norway. But why would they choose to take part in this program? Senior Chiara Simonelli came here from Italy and said she came to “make a change in my life.” Ruben Glover, a junior from Norway, said he simply came because he was “bored”. It also provided a wonderful opportunity for the students to improve their English.
“[I wanted to go to] like California or Miami,” said Glover. They did not get to choose where they went to in the States though; host families chose them instead. Families can sign up to house exchange students, and each student writes a description about themselves and their interests so that the families can find a good fit. “You at least know you’ll be with a family that already likes you,” conceded Marija Obrehovic, a junior from Serbia.
Every student’s experience has been unique, but there are many similarities. The roads are bigger, and there is less public transportation. They all enthuse about the abundance of opportunities here, though. Obrehovic went on about getting the chance to try new things such as violin, track, charity runs, and seeing well-known Broadway shows. She could not wait to take part in the Color Run held in Raleigh. Simonelli loves the abundance of classes available at Apex High School and is currently trying out weight training to spice up her life. Glover pointed out how much he loved the new and exciting foods.
Despite this, America is not perfect in their eyes. When asked about the worst things about America, Obrehovic and Simonelli were quick to say “fast food”. Simonelli pointed out how inaccessible healthy food was. “You go to Target, and if you want to buy an organic zucchini, it is $2. In Italy, you can get...like two pounds of organic zucchini and pay the same.” They also say learning is too much about memorization here and that there is no multiple choice testing after elementary school in their home countries. Simonelli also complained about Olive Garden: “You Americans think it is Italian, but it is not real Italian food.” She also wanted to inform Americans that Nutella originated in Italy, which many people fail to acknowledge.
The exchange program is still something the students say they would recommend. “You gain responsibility. I recommend it 120%,” Simonelli said. Glover said he missed family, friends, and Norwegian television, but was still glad to be here in America. It has truly been an extraordinary experience for each student, and they will be here until the end of June. They have been immersed in a completely different culture but are excited to be a part of it. So if you see an exchange student, do not be afraid to say hi and welcome them into our world.