Exchange Students: A Year Unaccounted For

Nearly a dozen students from elect to postpone university for American experience


Aubrey Hall

Asma Rassema (12), Shamsa Sajid (10) and Katy Grieb (11) socialize during a campaign for Kindness event.

Kaitlyn Davidson, Reporter

They braved the cultural barriers and crossed political boundaries to come and learn in America. This courageous adventure should be awarded, yet the year they spend here doesn’t count towards graduation in their home country.

Currently, 10 exchange students are taking challenging classes, including American History and high level English classes. They are required to pass all of their other rigorous classes. Still, their native countries require these students to retake the year once they return. Not meeting these requirements ends in the student going home early, without any compensation.

“They told us horror stories about people who came to just party, they always got sent home. I knew if I came to America I would be working hard and not parting all the time, but now I don’t know if I will be able to stay; I’m not use to the way they teach classes and write tests and it’s hard for me to do well,” Jay Huang (11) explains.

One student from the program, Santiago Avirama (11) is spending the entire year here, “I have always wanted to live in America and speak fluently and this opportunity has allowed me to do both.”

His aspirations came with a heavy price though, Avirama spent over $14,000 to spend the semester in Manitou. A single year abroad in America through his program, AFS-International Programs, is the equivalent of a three year college education back in his home country of Colombia.

“Every penny I spent is worth it, this has been such a great experience,” said Avirama.

All of them are working very hard to get the most out of the time they spend here. Many of them participate in activities that weren’t an option back home, like sports and art programs.

Avirama dove straight in with becoming a three sport athlete: cross country, basketball, and track. He’s also an active member in many clubs.

“In Colombia you can’t do school sports, school is school and they don’t mix it with fun. The way they do it here is so much better.”

Sports aren’t available in many high schools around the world, and club sports are very competitive and hard to get into and are a huge time commitment, which many aren’t able to balance.

The group of this years’ forgiven exchange students have become very close, and help each other through the difficulties of living in a new country.

“Sometimes I feel very different when I am with all American students, but everyone in our group is weird and crazy so I’m kind of normal. I love them all!” Huang gushes. Haung is the only student from China.

Their group can be seen selling cookies together at basketball games to help children in Yemen, tutoring each other before school, and constantly smiling at the vivid group chat where they post silly shenanigans. 

Begin thousands of miles away from your family and friends can be very hard, and the students had learned to melt with the homesickness by embracing their culture, like Huang who hosts Han Club with the purpose of sharing his culture with everyone.

“Chinese culture is so cool and different, I want everyone to come visit my country!”

Many families struggle with not seeing their child for a year, the program restricts any visits from family during the time the students spend abroad, in order of them to fully commit to their new host family. Some companies make the students call their host parents mum and dad before they even met them. 

It’s obvious that all foreign exchange students work very hard the year they spend here, so the reason the year they spend here is unaccounted is hard to understand, but because of clashes of education systems throughout the world, giving the students credit for the year of education they received can be a tedious task.

Education systems globally vary drastically, from the  Finnish system where students start at age seven and have short school days, to Korean schools valuing memorization and accountability which comes with starting at a very early age and long school hours. For example, Colombia has a system where one course is spread out from grade 6 to 12. This style forces each student to take 21 classes at once with six different schedules each year, Santiago had been taking Pre-Calc since 7th grade.  Colombia ranks in the top 40 countries in education,  South Korea takes first followed by the United States placing 14th.

Repeating a year isn’t fun for anyone, but the new cultures that these students have been exposed to is worth it, according to Avirama. “I learned so many things, things I would never have experienced in my own country.  Redoing the year next year is a small price to pay for such an amazing opportunity.”

When many of the students go home, their classes will have already of graduated and they will have to finish their schooling careers with a younger class. 

Some are shocked that others would sacrifice so much to be able to experience what we take for granted everyday. Coming to America is a glorified adventure all around the world and many people give what ever they have in order to become part of our culture.  Exchange programs show us what we are missing and also what we are so fortunate to have.

“I really don’t want to go home. I really love America, it’s so amazing.”

Avirama plans to come to back to the States after he finishes college, but will never forget his country of Colombia,

“Colombia is who I am, I will always define myself as Columbian,”