Keeping up with the exchange students


Staff Photo by Abigail Mosher

In the school year of 2018-19, Wakefield is proud to host two exchange students from Spain, one from Germany and one from Vietnam

Abigail Mosher, Staff Writer

Staff Photo by Abigail Mosher
Gema Navarro loves traveling along the East Coast with her host family.

Imagine leaving your entire life behind to pursue the opportunity to study in a foreign country. Imagine the terror, excitement and hope you experience as you walk through the terminal of an airport in an entirely different continent than that of your own. Imagine stepping outside and breathing in the air, knowing an adventure is waiting for you.

In Aug. 2018, Claudia Pons (Spain), Gema Navärro (Spain), Tram Nguyen (Vietnam) and Lihn Luong (Germany) all experienced these feelings when they came to the United States to be foreign exchange students at Wakefield High School. They were greeted with a bustling, independent and diverse American culture.

“The first thing I noticed when I got here was that people don’t walk. In Spain, it is easier to go anywhere by walking,” Pons said.

The process of coming to study in the U.S. is not known to be simple. After a student shows interest in venturing abroad, a program matches their home country’s high school class requirements with an American high school that will fit the individual’s needs. The program also considers the social interests of the child (art, theatre, sports, etc.), so they are comfortable in whichever school they are matched with. After all of the papers are signed, the student becomes a foreign exchange student, and they are ready to begin their journey.

Claudia Pons smiles for the camera at Wakefield High School.

“We look at each child on a case-by-case basis to see what ways we can get them connected to the school community based on their school interests,” Elizabeth Hanna, Assistant Principal said. “That way they can get not only the academic piece, but also the social piece that is really important for being a student here.”

At the beginning of the school year, exchange students often struggle with homesickness and building a new life for themselves. They are becoming acquainted with their host families, navigating the public school system, perfecting their English and making friends. It requires a huge learning curve for them to become comfortable with such a contrasting culture.

“At first, it was just silly things; I didn’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom. I knew the sentence, but I didn’t know about this bathroom pass thing,Navärro said. “I was so lost.”

The girls have had to adapt and learn how to handle themselves in confusing situations. So far, they’ve learned how to be more self-sufficient, confident and resourceful. In addition, they’ve mastered English; a difficult feat for even the best linguists.

Staff Photo by Abigail Mosher
Tram Nguyen loves studying in America and spending time with her host family.

I was really embarrassed about my English,” Navärro said. “I didn’t like to speak in front of the class. Although I know how to speak it, I know it isn’t perfect at all, so I was really embarrassed of people realizing that I make mistakes. It’s still there, but it has changed. I’m more confident.”

On top of learning how to manage money, school work, new friendships, unpredictable scenarios and extracurricular activities, Wakefield’s foreign exchange students have also come to love the country they’ve called home for the past six months.

“I love the cold weather and snow. It’s never cold like this in Vietnam, so this was my first [time seeing] snow,” Nguyen said.