One of my earliest conversations with Giulia consisted of excessive laughter and chattiness that would typically be heard amongst tight-knit friends since birth. Giulia attended my New Jersey-based high school for one year–her senior year (2014-2015), as a foreign exchange student. In this interview (conducted over both Snapchat and Facebook, our only data rate-free means of communication), we discuss the ins and outs of her experience at an American public high school, from her fulfilled High School Musical preconceptions to her travels along the East and West coasts.
Tell me why you decided to complete your senior year in America instead of your native country.
I decided to go to the USA during my senior year because I thought it would be the experience of a lifetime to spend one year abroad. I wanted to do this while still in high school because of all the movies I watched (laughs). I wanted to do something different, not just finish high school and go to college.
In what ways has study abroad enhanced your preparation for college in Brazil?
I don’t think going to the USA helped me to get into college here, but will definitely make a difference when I start to apply to jobs after college (I’m also now teaching English in an English school, so it has helped me with that).
What were some noticeable differences between the school curriculum in North America and South America?
American schools are very different from Brazilian schools. In Brazil, we cannot choose our classes, and our grades don’t count to get into college. We must take a test after finishing high school [administered by] every college we want to go to, and then if we pass the test, we can get in. Also, we just stay at school from 7 [A.M.] to noon, and we have lunch at home.
What were some things that made your move to the U.S. complicated, if any?
I think being away from people I love was the most difficult part. I missed my family and friends a lot.
Did you have to develop any new lifestyle habits to adjust to life in the U.S.?
When I moved, I had to learn how to be more independent, because even though I was living with a [host] family, I was by myself in a different country.
Overall, how would you describe your fellow classmates’ treatment towards you?
I liked all of my classmates. No one ever treated me differently; most of them didn’t even know that I was an exchange student (laughs). I made really good friends, and I can’t wait to go back to meet everyone again.
What was the name of the program that you traveled with? Tell me about the kinds of trips and events that the organizers of your exchange group offered.
I traveled with Rotary, what I considered to be the best program to [enroll in as] an exchange student. So, in Rotary, they plan different activities every month for the exchange students (there were 8 exchange students in [my specific location]). They took us to Philadelphia, New York, Ocean City, Poconos, Washington DC, and so many more places. Every trip was awesome, and it was good to know more about the United States. Also, at the end of the [school] year, myself and sixty other exchange students spent fifteen days in the west coast visiting all of these amazing places, like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many others.
What advice would you give to future foreign exchange students to America?
I would tell them to enjoy every minute because it goes by so fast, say yes to every opportunity (even if you don’t feel in the mood), and do not eat as much bacon and burgers as I did (laughs).
Giulia’s experience is just one of the many stories that foreign exchange students have while studying abroad to the U.S. If you are an international student who is interested in studying in the U.S. (either for high school or college), check out these links for basic information to aid you in your new journey (further information can be found on the website of your desired college/high school):
High School Exchange
Rotary Youth Exchanges: https://www.rotary.org/en/get-involved/exchange-ideas/youth-exchanges
Educatius International: http://www.educatius.org/USA-High-School/Other-High-School-Programs/BASIC-Public-High-School-Program
ISEP Int’l Student U.S. Exchange: http://www.isep.org/students/Intl_students/us_higher_education.asp