Emilia from Germany has been an outstanding addition to her host family, school, and community in the U.S. Thank you, Emilia, for all of your efforts!
What surprised you most when you came to the U.S.?
I heard that school was going to be different, but it was totally different. In Germany, I’m used to having one class with the same people for the whole day, for the whole year, and for, like, five years in a row, and then I came here and I there are so many classes and so many teachers—it was a lot. Also the teachers and students have really good relationships. You come in, and the teachers always say, “Hi,” and they’re always really friendly and happy. That’s something that I thought was really cool. It makes school so much more fun. In Germany, you go to school to learn and that’s it.
And I knew that American schools were really supportive of sports and everything, but it was still so surprising, because in my school, they don’t really support sports. We have after-school activities, but it’s not the same. Here you even have a school store, where you can buy shirts and hoodies and bags, and everyone is so supportive, not just of sports, but for the arts, so that was also surprising to me.
What has it been like to spend a year with an American host family?
I have two host moms, actually. When I planned to do my exchange, I was expecting the “typical American family,” I guess you could say. But when I first heard that, I was actually so happy, because I thought it was really cool. They’re awesome. They’re always really supportive, and from the beginning, they made everything easier. They always helped me when I have questions, and I was never afraid of asking them anything. They made me feel like I’m part of the family. We’re definitely going to stay in contact after my exchange. We already have plans. I already want to visit them again.
Your host parents said that you won several art competitions, including your school’s highest award for the district art competition.
Yeah, I actually didn’t know about it. We had an assignment for art, and I did an oil pastel drawing. They placed our artworks on the walls, and I don’t know how it all came to that point, but I came into my drawing class one day and my teacher came up to me and she was like, “Great job! You won the 2D category for our school.” That was awesome. They had different categories—2D, 3D, and a photograph. That was just really surprising.
In Germany, I wasn’t really into art, really. That all started here, because my art teacher was really supportive. And here in America, art and music are so much bigger, and in Germany, I’m used to just science and math, and all those classes are considered so much more important, and art and music are lazy classes. So here it was really cool, because I learned so much more, and I want to continue doing art.
Your host parents also said that you have done a lot of volunteer work with them during your exchange. Could you tell us more about that?
Volunteering is something new to me. There was never really an opportunity in Germany, or maybe I just didn’t see the opportunity, but I was never really that into that kind of stuff. But my host family is really active in that area, and whenever there’s something in school, they help out. My host parents never said I had to. They gave me the opportunity to go or not, and I went and it was really fun. I really hope I continue doing things like that in Germany. Next year and the year after are going to be hard in school, but I hope at least to do more in school, because I never was really that active.
How has the exchange changed you as a person and prepared you for the future?
I would say I really feel different. I think I got more responsible in a lot of ways. Before I came here, I didn’t really care about what I was going to do later, and I thought the opportunity to come here would help me figure it out, and I think I have figured it out. I want to do something with art. That’s the plan. I know where I want to go, and I know what I want to do in school, and I know what I want to change in school so that I can do something with art.
I plan to come to college here too. I already looked up colleges and universities that I want to go to. I’m not even looking at colleges in Germany. I think my parents are really sad about that. But I wanted to see first if I would like it here and whether I could spend so much time away, but I think I’m definitely able to.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an incoming foreign exchange student?
Before I came here, I had everything planned out, and I felt like I needed to do everything exactly as I planned, and that’s something I should have done differently. There are always going to be new things and it’s all going to change and it’s not going to happen like that, so I would probably say be open for everything and take every opportunity you get. When people invite you to things, or when they want to hang out or go to events or something—I mean, if you know that it’s not going to be dangerous—then go do it! Do activities and do stuff in school so that you can be together with other people. Go there and really take every opportunity that you can to go out and do something. Because otherwise you’re not going to have the full experience.