Exchange students enjoyed life at DHS
Posted on: Aug 16, 2018
After completing a full year of school in Delano, 10 exchange students from around the world were reluctant to leave.
“I just want to stay here longer,” said Benjakarn Benjarpeyaporn of Thailand. “It’s very bittersweet.”
Josephine Fleck of Germany said that in some ways it will be harder to leave her host family and friends in the United States than it was to venture away from her homeland.
“When we left our home country we knew we would come back after 10 months, but it’s hard to leave here forever,” she said. “You build a whole new life here, and then you just have to leave it. Ten months we’ve been here, but I can still remember stuff that happened on the first day. It went by so fast.”
When asked what he would remember most, Federico Gadda of Italy said it wasn’t any one event, but rather the activities of daily life and relationships that would linger.
“We met so many people. There are little moments, stuff we did that I will probably remember all my life,” he said.
Both Asian and European students agreed that there was a more relaxed atmosphere in an American school and teachers were more caring and friendly.
“I like the style of school here,” said Kyoka Fukudome of Japan. “Japanese school is more stressful than American school. In Japan at school we have to wear uniforms and we can’t choose the classes. We can’t wear any accessories or makeup.”
Airi Kanii of Japan agreed.
“I feel like Americans are more free. They have more choice in literally everything,” she said.
In Thailand the situation is similar to that in Japan.
“Some people here come totally dressed up and others can come in pajamas and nobody cares,” said Benjarpeyaporn. “In Asia we have a school uniform, so we don’t have choices. We have to dress the same and do our hair the same way.”
For Fleck, the major difference was in how approachable the teachers were.
“Teachers here are just so nice,” she said. “They really care for you and they understand you and they talk to you like normal. That would never happen in Germany. At home they are just your teachers and they teach you stuff and that’s it.”
Maria Egiarte of Spain was surprised to see Delano teachers move from the classroom to coaching positions after school.
“I would never imagine having my teachers coaching me in sports. It was weird at first, but I liked it,” she said.
In terms of academic rigor students said they generally didn’t have to do as much homework at night as they did in their home countries, but Fleck admitted that because she will have to repeat her year in Germany she scheduled easier classes in Delano.
Benjarpeyaporn said that although she also would have to repeat her school year at home, she didn’t see that as a deterrent to studying abroad.
“It’s not a sacrifice. I don’t feel like I wasted my entire year to repeat a grade, because I also learned new things,” she said.
Some of the new learning opportunities for students included a wider array of classes than what was available in their home countries, which did not offer courses in subjects like psychology, cooking or industrial arts.
“Wood was my favorite class,” said Timon Klingenberg of Germany.
There were also fun but unfamiliar events like prom, and some of the students joined the prom committee to enjoy the full experience. Others served as aides at the elementary school to further boost their English skills.
While moments big and small proved memorable, Klingenberg said one particular experience was a favorite – cheering on the boys’ basketball team at the state basketball tournament. Other exchange students quickly agreed. In fact, sports made one of the biggest collective impressions on the students during their stay in the U.S.
“In Italy or other countries your teams for sports and schools are not so linked. Here they are the same, so there is more chemistry,” Gadda said.
Athletic competitions also included larger and more enthusiastic crowds than the exchange students were accustomed to.
“At the hockey games or the football games a lot of people come to support you,” Klingenberg said. “When I play soccer in Germany it’s normally only my parents that come, and once in a while a couple of friends. I like that here you have a fan section that actually cheers for you.”
In general, students were taken aback by how much practice time the American school teams put in, that teams could be excused from class early to participate in competitions, and by the variety of sports available for them to try.
“In Europe we have soccer year round. Every season it’s soccer, soccer, soccer,” said Klingenberg, who tried hockey and tennis in Delano. “I love soccer, so nothing against it, but I liked that there were different sports here.”
Beyond high school sports, Benjarpeyaporn said the Super Bowl was a highlight memory.
“Now I understand why football is the big thing for Americans. It’s just crazy,” she said.
Though their year in Minnesota included a particularly long winter, the weather allowed for a variety of unique experiences. Benjarpeyaporn had never seen snow. Fleck took her first snowmobile ride. Kanii went skating for the first time and said the winter was her most memorable experience.
“I don’t know if I would want it every year, but I thought it was cool to see your real winter,” said Klingenberg. “Some experiences like ice fishing and driving on a lake in a car were really cool. I’ve never done that before in my life.”
As a group, the exchange students said they didn’t encounter too many surprises because they felt well prepared for an American high school experience by popular Hollywood productions.
“I didn’t know that it would be like what you see in the movies. It’s like the same thing,” said Gadda with a laugh.
There were a few unexpected facets of life, however. Klingenberg appreciated the transportation opportunities.
“I really like the yellow school buses. We don’t have those in Europe,” he said. “I also didn’t know you could get your driver’s license at 16, so that kind of surprised me when all my friends started to drive to practice.”
Benjarpeyaporn said the availability of clean water to drink straight from the tap was new for her, and Fleck agreed that the ubiquity of water made an impression.
“Water is everywhere. You won’t be dehydrated,” she said with a laugh.
As they contemplated the end of their exchange year, students said the return home would require a change in mindset.
“When I go back it’s going to be weird. All my friends are going to see me differently,” said Egiarte. “You learn so much here. You have to do things on your own. You get more independent. You have to make hard decisions all by yourself.”
“It’s just so different here from our home countries,” said Fleck. “We’ll go back and we’ll have to think totally differently again.”
They will still have their memories of life in the United States, however, and DHS Principal Steve Heil thanked the exchange students and wished them well at an informal gathering at the close of the school year. Heil also told school board members earlier this spring that the visitors are a benefit to local students and the community overall.
“It’s a good way to bring in some diversity to the school,” he told the board. “It shows our kids how people live in different regions and allows them to meet and interact with people from all over the world.”
* In addition to the students named in this article, the exchange group included Tereza Paskova of Slovakia, Alvaro Lopez of Spain and Edoardo Morra of Italy.
Students pictured with this article include, top from left: Benjakarn Benjarpeyaporn, Maria Egiarte, Josephine Fleck and Kyoka Fukudome. In the bottom row, from left, are Airi Kanii, Timon Klingenberg, Alvaro Lopez and Tereza Paskova. Not pictured are Edoardo Morra and Federico Gadda.