SSC welcomes four foreign exchange students
STANDISH — This year, Standish-Sterling Central High School has four kids who traveled a much greater distance than their classmates to get there.
Tina Berger of Germany, Marthe Dalsplass of Norway, Stella Kim of South Korea, and Marcelo Oliveira of Brazil have all come together as part of the school’s foreign exchange program, where they will spend the school year staying with host families, taking part in school events, and experiencing a different land, people, and culture.
Tina, a junior, said she was interested in taking a break before her senior year of high school to go to school overseas, and looked into a foreign exchange organization to get the ball rolling.
“I wanted to have new experiences and learn new languages,” Tina said.
Tina said she had to write out a profile for the organization before being interviewed to determine if she was a good fit for overseas schooling. Once she was approved, Tina’s host family selected her and she was on her way to Michigan, she said.
While she has been learning English since she was in second grade, Tina has found it all the more important to speak and interact in English as much as possible while in Michigan to improve her skills. However, the language difference aside, Tina said Michigan does not seem to be all that different from her homeland.
“It’s not that different here than Germany,” Tina said. “Americans seem to get more crazy about things like school spirit, but that was not really the case back home; we had one of the top five schools in grades in the area … but I wasn’t that proud of my school.”
Tina said she also expected a larger school, being in the U.S. She said her German high school held twice the students SSC has. Smaller school or no, Tina has gotten involved in extracurricular activities: she said she has joined the varsity swim team, and was interested in getting involved in girls soccer in the spring, as well.
Marthe is a senior at SSC, and said she started gearing up for the exchange program in February, fairly late in the timetable to get all the paperwork completed. As a result, she said it took a lot of her time over the past few months to get everything together in time, but it was worthwhile to participate in the program.
“I was tired of my school and wanted a change of scenery,” Marthe said.
She said coming to the U.S. has provided her with an excellent opportunity to improve her English, which she has been studying since third grade. Being surrounded by the language has made it easy to improve, she said.
Coming from Norway, which has a winter rife with feet of heavy snowfall, Marthe said she was looking forward to a warmer climate, as well.
“I hoped it would be warmer than it is at home in Norway, and it is,” Marthe said. “Last winter was awful.”
Marthe said a difference she was not quite expecting is the scale of buildings, shops, and malls in the U.S. compared to Norway.
“The size of things here is different,” Marthe said. “Everything here is larger.”
Since coming to SSC, Marthe said she has signed on with powderpuff and is interested in joining the drama club and girls soccer. One unexpected difference in how SSC does things compared to Norway is how classrooms are organized.
“In my school, both the classrooms and the teachers would change each period,” Marthe said, in contrast to American schools where teachers remain in specific classrooms throughout the day.
She appreciates the more relaxed pace her days have taken on since coming to the U.S., getting to spend time chatting with her host family after coming home from school.
For Stella, a sophomore, coming to the U.S. from South Korea was about improving her English skills and learning about American culture.
“My mother wanted me to know about new things, so she surfed the Internet to learn about exchange student (programs),” Stella said.
Stella said she is enjoying going to SSC, but there are distinct differences from the Korean schools she is used to. One major change from her school in South Korea compared to SSC is that her entire class had one classroom for the entire school day.
“In Korea, my school had one classroom and the teachers would change each hour,” Stella said. “But here we keep changing classrooms.”
Additionally, Stella said Korean students are not allowed to chew gum or eat anything in classes, while she has noticed classmates chewing gum here. She said Korean students are required to wear uniforms to school, as opposed to individualized clothing like SSC allows.
Like Marthe, Stella noted weather differences between the Korean Peninsula and Michigan, but in the opposite direction.
“America is really cool compared to Korea,” Stella said, noting her homeland gets lower temperatures later in the year.
Stella said homes seem bigger stateside, too, based on her host family’s house.
“Almost all Korean people live in apartments,” Stella said. “But in America I’m living in a two-floor house. It’s really big compared to Korea.”
Outside of school hours, she has gotten involved with choir, though Stella said she has trouble understanding the songs sometimes.
Marcelo, also a sophomore, became interested in becoming a foreign exchange student after some friends participated in it and spoke highly of the experience. He said he is not the first member of his family to come to the U.S. for school, however.
“My brother went to the U.S. before me,” Marcelo said. “He went to Ohio State.”
About a year ago, Marcelo said he went to a company that handles foreign exchange programs, told them he was primarily interested in coming to the U.S., and gave an interview, talking about himself, before finally being chosen to come to Arenac County.
One thing he is really excited about doing in the U.S. is taking part in school sports. Marcelo said he spends a great deal of time at the school, eating lunch at the cafeteria and then staying after school for the JV football program.
“It’s like people here are busier during their downtime,” Marcelo said.
He said much like Stella’s school in Korea, his old school in Brazil also features single classrooms with rotating teachers. Brazil’s location closer to the equator means Marcelo is looking forward to another major change in Michigan: the state’s cooler weather.
“In Brazil, it’s hotter, so I’ve never seen snow,” Marcelo said. “I’m already feeling the difference.”
Being primarily in the southern hemisphere, Marcelo added that Brazil has opposing seasons: due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, the country is just now entering its springtime, and will see summer arrive in December.
According to Marcelo, being in the U.S. is great for improving his English because of the need to speak it daily to function in the area.
“The more you speak it, the more you learn, so it’s important to speak as much as you can,” Marcelo said.
“I’m enjoying it here,” Marcelo added. “I’m enjoying playing football and the school.”
According to SSC High School Principal Mark Williams, the school has been running an exchange student program since at least 1996, when he started working there. Williams said the program has been a great way to expose students to greater diversity and different cultures.
“Our students enjoy the foreign exchange program students, learning from them,” Williams said. “It’s a neat experience for our students and for the exchange students.”
Williams said the four students the school has this year is a greater number than usual, as SSC normally has between one and three students for the year.
The students come through a foreign exchange company that has a contract with the school, which seeks out host families for the students to stay with.
“The key is finding host families,” Williams said. “If we could find more families here in the district willing to host these students, we could get quite a large number of them.”