Six foreign exchange students from Egypt, Japan, Spain, Germany and Italy have crossed oceans to experience school life and American culture while attending classes at Washington Community High School and taking side trips to popular U.S. venues.
Ali Akmal Mohamed Baligh, a senior, comes from Zamalek, Egypt. He lives there with his parents and 14-year-old sister, Farida. His home is on the island of Gezira in the Nile River.
Ali says people often assume that since he is from Egypt, he lives by the pyramids. “I don’t live in the desert. I don’t live by the pyramids. I have seen them, though. Although a lot of people ask about camels since I am from Egypt, I only rode one once.”
Ali said he realizes how important a car is to get to places in America. “It is easier to reach places where I am from in Egypt. Here, everything is widespread. In Egypt things are packed together, so it is easier to go from place to place.”
Ali says he has adapted quickly to the American lifestyle. “Here I thought it would be much more difficult, but it was so easy, I think because I am from somewhere else and people want to know about me,” Ali said. “People here are generally nice.”
Ali is looking forward to Halloween. “I have always wanted to trick-or-treat,” he said. “I know if I ever want to go to America again, I will be too old at that point. It is my one chance for me to ‘trick-or- treat,’ and I don’t want to miss that chance. I don’t know what I will dress up as, but we had a talent show back home, and we were fishermen, the Egyptian version, so I have that costume with me and will probably wear that.”
Misato Kitamura, a senior who was actually born in America, comes from Tokai, Ibaraki in Japan.
“My parents were working in America,” she said. “I lived in America for only a short time, when I was a baby. I have a passport in America. I don’t need a visa to study abroad.”
Misato said she came to study in America because she “wanted to know my country where I was born and to study the language and different culture and lifestyle”.
Misato lives in Japan with her mother and father. Her older sister, Shiori, lives in Tokyo. She said that Tokai, Ibaraki is similar to the town of Washington.
“[My hometown] is in the middle of a little countryside,” she said. “We take trains to go to school. It is 15 minutes by train, plus 20 minutes of walking to school.
Misato said she likes American food. “American food is a very different taste,” she said. “It is sweeter. Macaroni and cheese has been my favorite food. We don’t have it in Japan. At home we eat Takoyaki, a savory pancake, for dinner or lunch.”
Misato said she plays sports at home. “I play badminton as part of school clubs. In Japanese schools, we can join any clubs, but only one or two, and they continue for three years, so we can’t usually change clubs. I played badminton three years.”
When Misato returns home in May, her friends will have just started school. “We begin school in April in Japan.”
Isabel San Vicente Areitio is from Vitoria, the capital city of Spain. She said she grew up watching Disney movies, and she wanted to travel abroad to experience life in America.
“I grew up watching Disney movies. It’s the American dream,” she said. “The school, the family, and everything — it’s just like in the movies, incredible.”
Isabel said she is excited about studying in America. “I want to become fluent, but also really mature and responsible,” she said. “I want to have the best year of my life, because everyone travels to America and says it’s the best year of their life.”
There are 250,000 citizens living in the capital city, Vitoria. The landscape is very green, and people walk everywhere and ride bikes. The main language spoken is Basque, not Spanish.
Isabel misses her grandma’s home-cooked food. “I miss her Spanish omelet and croquetas,” she said. “It’s really good and reminds me of Spain. It’s typical Spanish food.”
Isabel said that a stereotype of America is that everyone eats fast food. “In America, healthy food is expensive,” she said. “The healthy food in Spain is very cheap. Fish and a salad is our main diet, because rarely we eat out. We only have a McDonalds.”
Isabel is excited about the sports opportunities at WCHS. She is on the swim team, and she hopes to play lacrosse. “I’m really happy to be here,” she said. “I’m very glad to have this opportunity. It’s a good opportunity to exchange cultures and make friends.”
Charlotte Duerger is from Luneburg, Germany, a city in north Germany near Hamburg where she lives with her sister, Alexa. Alexa, now 20, was a foreign exchange student at WCHS, also.
Charlotte is excited to be studying abroad. “I want to learn English, see new cultures and different life, and make new experiences and memories. I also want to meet a lot of people,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte said her first impressions of America were that it was like a movie. “It was my dream to come here and it’s so big. It’s like a movie. It’s the best; the people are so open and nice,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte said she has enjoyed the food in America. “I love the sugar, but it’s not good for me. I love Cheez-Its, burgers and ice cream.”
Charlotte noted a few differences between life in America and in Germany. “We can’t drive when we’re 16, but we can at 18. [In America] people are very open; in Germany people are more tense. They don’t just say hi or what’s up right when you meet them,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte said she has visited Chicago and hopes to explore more of America while studying. “During spring break, I may want to travel to Colorado or Florida. I'm so happy that my host family gives me the chance to decide where we travel,” Charlotte said. “It’s a dream to travel to all the states here. I don’t care where I go, I just enjoy life here.”
Lucia Zamora grew up in Barcelona, Spain. She says she has noticed how “everyone here is really nice and inclusive. People in Spain always seem to have a group. They stay with the friends they already have”.
She said she also enjoys her teachers. “They have been so nice. They are all very expressive. In Spain students stay in one class and the teachers move around to the different classes, and each day has a different class schedule,” Lucia said.
Lucia said that while students in America get more homework than in Spain, “we have more exams in Spain”.
She says she has been working on improving her English. “I always try to take how other people are speaking and copy it so I will get better.
Lucia says she misses her friends and the beach the most, but public transportation in Spain as well. “It is much easier to get around [in Spain].
Paola Sacchini is from Teramo, Italy. She chose to study abroad with her future career in mind. “I want to improve my English for my career and make friends around the world.”
She said she is interested in marketing, communications or economics. “I like medicine too, so I have to choose,” Paola said.
Paola said the school day looks different in Italy. “In Italy, we only have five hours of school each day, but we also go to school on Saturday,” Paola said.
According to Paola, there are no school sponsored sports in Italy. “In America there are strong programs for sports. After school you have sports and you have time for study, too. I don’t have time for sports [in Italy]. I study for four hours a day. We have oral tests and study pages and pages, and then have to repeat them for the test.”
Paola said she has noticed how big the portions of food in America are. “In Italy, the portions are small. At lunch we eat pasta and at dinner we eat meat. My favorite meal in America is hamburger.”
Paola said one thing she wants Americans to know is the history that is in Italy. “All of the cities in Italy are pretty old. I think it is a good culture because for food it isn’t only food, it is like a culture for us. We have all fresh food. Fish comes from the Mediterranean Sea, which I live near.”