International students return

Exchanging some words with our new exchange students


Angie Bleau

Foreign Exchange students Nicole Syku, Viktoriia Rudenko, Sophie Thomsen, Laura Rezende De Aguiar, Gustavo Cunha Freitas Meirelles Meira, Marta Tassinari, Clara Flores, Maria Wadel-Heimland, Kristine Fillingsnes, Mina Iqbal and social science teacher Chris Meyer

Angie Bleau and Ava Harris

Students from Europe and South America traveled around the world to stay in Southern California as part of the foreign exchange program called Educatius. It’s one of the many programs that offer foreign exchange programs to North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and allows international students to attend Oak Park High School. 

“It’s a program through which students can attend [OPHS] and take various courses and also live with a host family either in Oak Park or in a surrounding community,” social science teacher Chris Meyer said. 

Meyer runs a class called International Student Introduction which allows exchange students to have a comfortable place to catch up on school and learn about American culture.

“We also talk a lot about cultural differences, what they might be experiencing and I try to help them navigate through those experiences and [to make them feel comfortable]. When they come to campus [and] when they have me in 1st period, they know I’m there to assist and help in any way possible,” Meyer said. 

When coming to a new school, a typical new student must adjust to the way the school runs, the homework load, and finding their way around the campus. These international students are adjusting to a whole new country and school. 

“This school for me is so big because I went to a really small school in Ukraine until the exchange program. From first grade to 11th grade we had only 300 people, so this school for me is so big I was nervous to meet new people, new program, but now it is okay,” international student Viktoriia Rudenko, from Kyiv, Ukraine, said. 

International students also have to adjust to their host family, which involves shifting from their normal everyday routine and adjusting to a new one.

“I was concerned about getting used to living with another family, so the first week has been a little bit hard learning all their routines and living with other people that you’ve never seen before,” Nicole Syku, from Milan, Italy, said.

Some of these exchange students are getting involved with the school through sports. For example, Gustavo Meira from São Paulo, Brazil, plays football and basketball, sports that are not common in his home country Brazil. 

OPHS offers a wide variety of electives, including athletic training and woodshop, some of which are unique and not offered in other areas of the world.

“We don’t have some subjects like U.S. History or World History separately, some P.E. classes, Ceramics – we don’t have those,” Meira said. 

When traveling, there are sometimes stereotypes that are associated with a country. The exchange students were able to shed some light on the topic of the stereotypes that Americans may have. 

“When I got here and told people ‘I’m from Norway,’ they asked if I spoke German and I said ‘no,’ and they said, ‘Oh, so you speak Swedish,’ like no. They ask ‘What do you speak?’ and I say ‘I speak Norwegian,’” Maria Wadel-Heimland, from Oslo, Norway, said. 

According to the international students, there are significant cultural differences in school setting, dress code, food and fashion when comparing the U.S. and their home country. 

“People dress really differently here. There are hundreds of different styles here and people don’t care about what they are wearing, they wear whatever they want to. In Norwegian schools that could never happen and if you are different people would stare at you like ‘What are you wearing?,’ Wadel-Heimland said. “But I like that you get to wear whatever you want here and that people will accept you.” 

Other cultural differences include how teachers and students interact with one another. 

“In Denmark and a lot of European countries, we don’t use last names for teachers, we just use first names. So, we had to get used to that and be more formal with the teachers,” Sophie Thomsen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, said. 

Contrary to the 6.8 hours U.S. high school students spend on their homework on average, there are different expectations of homework load for other countries.

“At my school in Denmark the teachers aren’t allowed to give more than 30 minutes of homework and if they do they get in trouble,” Thomsen said. 

Educatius and the International Student Introduction course help students feel less alone when coming to a new school. According to the international students, the class helps them feel like they are in a safe environment with Mr. Meyers. 

“It’s been fun, but challenging because you have to meet new people. But, the rallies and football games and all that are really fun,” Mina Iqbal, from Tromsǿ, Norway, said.