The end of the school year means graduation, summer and goodbyes. It’s the goodbyes which are harder for year-long foreign exchange students, who are leaving America to return home at the end of June.
Junior Hanna Mikalsen, who is originally from Oslo, Norway, said she’s going to miss all of the people she met, especially her friends and host family. Although she can’t take them with her, she will take good memories of her year abroad.
Like Mikalsen, junior Sara Marquez, who is originally from Vigo, Spain, developed a strong bond with her new friends and her host family over the past year.
“My host sister is like my real sister, basically,” Marquez said. “We will always be there for each other even though we don’t live in the same country.”
For sophomore Emilie Von Wieding, originally from Hamburg, Germany, her host family was close friends with her father so she had the opportunity to get to know them beforehand.
Senior Jeannine Molleda, Von Wieding’s host sister, said, “It was different because I don’t have any younger siblings so having to be somewhere, pick them up and take them home was a new experience for me.”
Molleda said as the year went on it got better and she learned a lot about the ways they were different and the ways they were the same, much like sisters do.
Leaving their real families behind was still difficult, but they all said they were sure this year abroad was what they needed.
Mikalsen said she’s learned a lot, speaking English better and becoming more independent and outgoing.
“You learn a lot and change in a good way,” Marquez said. “I won’t forget this year.”
Von Wieding has developed a variety of new tastes from fast food and mac and cheese to horse riding – all part of her American experience she’ll miss. In the year since she’s been here, Von Wieding has experienced a tornado, a hurricane and an earthquake. She celebrated New Year’s Eve, which she said was better than in Hamburg because there are more fireworks. Her favorite experience, however, was going to the mall at midnight, on Black Friday.
Being immersed in American culture first-hand has allowed these foreign students to develop new perspectives and examine traditional stereotypes.
“I realized that American teenagers aren’t as independent as [Norwegian teenagers] are,” Mikalsen said. “And I thought they’d be rude and mean but they’re all really nice.”
Marquez said her initial impressions about America changed a lot after staying in the suburbs, admitting most of her prior knowledge came from TV and films which portray mainly the big cities.
Looking towards the future, Mikalsen said she’s considered going to college in America for a year, but also wants to travel to Asia and Africa. For now, however, she’s glad to go home to see her friends and family.
Marquez agreed, saying, “[My friend’s and family’s] lives are changing and I’m missing being a part of that.”