Meet exchange students
March 23, 2010
Say YES to Morocco
Katie Cohen, a sophomore at Issaquah High School, recently returned from a semester abroad in Rabat, Morocco. Through the program Youth Exchange and Study, Cohen stayed with a host family and attended a Moroccan school.
“Morocco was one of the three countries the YES program offered, and it interested me because they spoke both French and Arabic,” Cohen said, “I attended a French-speaking school, which used the French system. There are two-hour lectures and then tests, no movies or worksheets like in American schools.”
Cohen discovered that education wasn’t the only cultural difference.
“During meals, families eat from a communal plate, using three fingers of their right hand,” Cohen explained, “The most commonly eaten food is couscous with veggies and meat.”
Life in Morocco offered Cohen a different perspective.
“Being a developing country, the rhythm of life was slower,” she said. “I felt like I was sipping tea and eating cookies for an entire semester. Also, life is more centered on family and school.”
Looking back on her journey, Cohen reflected, “My favorite part of the experience was seeing the different ways people live, and my least favorite part was that American social skills didn’t apply, such as a sense of humor, making it more difficult to meet new people.”
From Tohoku to Liberty
From Tohoku High School to Liberty High School, junior Ai Ito has had quite the transition, though it has been made easier by the ease at which she has found friends.
“I think American people are very friendly,” she said. “Japanese people are so shy.”
While high school does generally start later in Japan than it does in the United States, Ito hasn’t experienced that big of a difference.
“I got up at five in the morning in Japan,” she said. “The high school is far from my house, so I have to leave pretty early. I take the train to school, and it takes about two hours.”
Despite a starting time difference of almost two hours (Tohoku starts at 8:30 a.m.), Ito has adjusted well to her new surroundings. There are other changes that she finds odd, however.
“There’s no eating or drinking at all [at Tohoku]. Not even water bottles. And teachers change classrooms as the day goes on, but students don’t,” Ito said. “There are different classes every day of the week, and each day ends at 4.”
Ai returns to Japan at the end of the school year in mid-June.
‘That Swedish guy’
In Sweden, David Hermansson biked or took the train to school. Here in Issaquah, he mooches rides off of friends.
In his hometown, Hermansson attended a high school with a hybrid focus on skateboarding and social studies. At Skyline High School, he’s had to adjust to a more rigid schedule and “a lot of rules.”
Hermansson, a 17-year-old from Göteborg, Sweden, has spent the past eight months in Issaquah as a Rotary Exchange student — or, as he’s known at school, “that Swedish guy.”
“I feel like I have changed so much since I came here,” he said. “More mature.”
Hermansson applied for the exchange to gain some new perspective.
“I was tired of the life there,” he said. “I did the same things every day. I skated, partied, hung out with friends.”
What he discovered in America was surprising.
“Kids are pretty much the same everywhere,” he said.
Indeed, Hermansson could pass for an American teenager. He likes Qdoba, skateboarding in Seattle and, yes, Swedish Fish. But far from being sucked into the college admissions mania here, Hermansson has a much more laidback attitude.
“I want to take a gap year before going to college. Maybe go work in Australia,” he said. “I want to be a clothing designer when I’m older.”
Looking back on his exchange, David said, “It’s been a rollercoaster. I’ve never really missed home.”