White Bear PressA variety of elective choices, lunch at school and sports and clubs after school are among the best perks of studying in the U.S., four local exchange students stay.Teens from Italy, Germany and Brazil are attending White Bear Lake Area High School and another German teen is at Mahtomedi High School through the AFS exchange program.
The students are living with local host families for the full school year. In school, they’re joining teams and clubs and experiencing other elements of typical teen life in the U.S.
During International Education Week last week, the exchange students shared with the Press a bit about their home countries and their first impressions of the U.S., and host families spoke of the benefits of welcoming a foreigner into their home.
All four visitors gave positive reviews of their American schools. The Europeans said school here is less demanding while the Brazilian said it’s more challenging. All agreed it’s more engaging.
The Germans — Pascal Stieb, 17, who’s at South Campus, and Jovan Efferth, 16, who’s at Mahtomedi High School — said after elementary school in Germany students chose either a vocational school track or a university preparatory track. The university-bound students of Efferth and Stieb’s age complete 13 years of education, studying 33 hours a week in their final years. Younger classes at their schools have accelerated their studies to 36 hours a week and will graduate in 12 years. They take many more classes than Americans — up to 11 at a time, but not all classes meet daily. In addition to their native tongue, they study English and French or Spanish.
Lucrezia Boffi, 17, said in Italy, all students study at the same schools through age 14. At that point they choose a secondary school specializing in one subject. Boffi attends a language school, where in addition to Italian she’s studied English, French, Spanish and German. She has a longer school day than in America, and attends school on Saturdays. The students all stay in the same classroom and the teachers are the ones who rotate.
Giovanna Riva, 16, said in Brazil, 11 years of education are provided in her area and she’s attended the same school since she started. School is in session only in the morning and no homework is given. She doesn’t get to choose any of her classes and in addition to Portuguese she has studied English.
The exchange students said they were surprised by how many choices American students are given, and by the breadth of elective opportunities.
A daily highlight is lunch at school, they said. It’s not that they savor American food, which several said is too unhealthy. Rather, they relish the opportunity to socialize at lunch, which they aren’t able to do in their native countries because they go home to eat.
The visiting teens also were amazed that schools sponsor after-school enrichment programs and sports teams. Those are offered only privately in their countries. Stieb joined the White Bear sailing team, Riva takes photos for the school yearbook and Boffi and Stieb were on the homecoming committee.
Hosting a student
Becki Kvitrud, Cheryl Miller and Paulette Jones are among the locals who have welcomed exchange students into their homes. Host families are asked to treat their guest like their own child, including registering and helping them with school, providing meals and transportation and including them in their family outings and activities.
Leiser, who is the east metro AFS team chairman, said organization leaders try to pair students and families with shared interests. Families can chose which nationality they’d most like to host.
They don’t receive any compensation, except a tax deduction. The exchange students bring their own spending money.
The primary benefit, according to the host mothers, is exposure to a new culture.
“It’s so fun to get to know kids from so many places,” said Jones, the chapter president, who has hosted four students long-term and several more for shorter period. “You realize what you know about (that culture) is really not the whole picture. You learn so much from each student.”
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