Hawks from Around the World

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Scout Slade

Lilli Puls (12), Rens Ponsioen (12), Takashi Tsukada (10) / Foreign exchange students

Scout Slade, Reporter

There is a world out there for us to learn from.

Being well-traveled and knowledgeable about other people and cultures can open your mind to new possibilities. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel to different parts of Arizona, let alone to different countries of the world. Internet searches and travel books can be a start to learning about other places; however, nothing compares to human interaction. There are foreign exchange programs for high school students where you can experience that human interaction firsthand.  

This week I had the opportunity to meet with and interview three foreign exchange students that attend our school. It was insightful and humbling. These three students shared with me a little about their culture as well as what it is like, through their eyes, to be immersed in our culture. They were positive and optimistic and gave me a new perspective on what it’s like to be from the United States.

My first encounter was with a foreign exchange student from Germany; her name is Lilli Puls. Lilli came here July, 22 and plans to leave after she graduates at the end of May. She has this nonchalant energy about her. She is confident, honest, and pretty. Lilli was brief and to the point with her answers yet very friendly. Germany, a relatively small country, ranks 4th in the world for the number of foreign exchange students sent out. This experience here is not the first time Lily has spent time away from home. She did an exchange program in France earlier in her high school experience. It was only for a short period of time but it definitely prepared and propelled her to where she is now. Perhaps this is why, when I asked her if she ever felt homesick, she said, “No.” 

Lilli mentioned that the thing that shocked her the most was the food. She simply stated that “The food in Germany is just healthier.” When suddenly immersed in an unfamiliar country, without a doubt there will be some challenges adjusting to the local cuisine. Food is going to taste and feel different in every country. However, Lilli’s comment about food is a humble reminder that Americans can do better.  

The next conversation I had was with foreign exchange student, Takashi Tsukada. This nice student traveled here from his home in Tokyo, Japan nearly four months ago in July. There were times during our interview when the communication was not super clear, but we still managed. From the get go, he was excited to talk to me and had a beaming smile the whole interview. 

One of the things he immediately liked about living here in the United States was our freedom of speech. He mentioned that at his school in Japan it was not culturally justifiable for students to speak out in the same way that we do. “In Japan, school is not freedom so I like having school here” as he simply describes it. We are very lucky to have such a freedom. That freedom can easily be overlooked. Freedom of speech is an extremely important attribute of America; Takashi reminds us of this in our interview. Takashi has been getting used to the language and the food. He really misses the food from Japan but he is doing his best to integrate. He enjoys connecting with his new American friends and still stays in contact with family and friends back home.

The last student I had the chance to speak with was Rens Ponsioen. Rens came here about four months ago, near the same time that everyone else arrived. He hails from the Netherlands with his likable persona and his very tall figure. The first thing that caught my attention was his ability to speak English. When I asked him about it he said, “It wasn’t hard learning English when coming here because in school everyone has to take 5 years of English”. Many other countries have a mandatory second language. The Netherlands doesn’t officially mandate that you speak another language besides its first language, Dutch. However, English would be considered an unofficial second language of the country since so many people speak it. We are lucky to have learned such a broadly used language but the question lingers if Americans are lacking or not in the language department.

Rens mentioned that since he was eight years old he has always wanted to live in America. Through this foreign exchange program, he’s able to test the waters. One thing that he didn’t expect while living here was the abundance of religion. He said that “In the Netherlands, there isn’t a lot of religious people but here every one is religious.” I learned that the Netherlands is one of the least religious countries from Rens. No wonder he was shocked to see so many religious people here. 

Being a foreign exchange student is something that can create unforgettable experiences in new cultures. From the students that I interviewed, I could clearly see that they were learning from their individual experiences. Not only are they able to learn about American culture firsthand, but they are able to spread their own culture and enlighten others. They are taking the similarities and differences of each country and embracing them.