Foreign exchange students share experiences

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By Alexandra Hehlen, Owen Bradbury Aranda and Katherine Wang

This year, Los Alamos is home to a slew of foreign exchange students, who have been spending this school year at Los Alamos High School as juniors.
Hailing from Belgium, Germany, Poland, France and Serbia, these students are experiencing a community, culture, landscape and education system that are drastically different from their own.
Six foreign exchange students shared the details of their stay in New Mexico so far.
For all of these international students, who are used to the buzzing city life of their hometowns, Los Alamos is quite a change of pace.
“There’s nothing to do, the only place you can go out is Starbucks,” Thomas Routiaux said half-jokingly.
Although the college freshman from Liege, Belgium misses the variety of activities that he and his friends can undertake in Belgium, he loves the nature and hiking trails that New Mexico has to offer.
Elena Plaga, a German student from Munich, and Tina Krkljus, a student from Serbia, have both found activities that keep themselves busy in their spare time.
Both ladies are swimmers, and Krkljus takes part in various clubs.
The foreign exchange students enjoy the American school experience. “We don’t have clubs in high school. I live in a big city, so you can find a club for about anything, but it’s just not related to high school,” Sven Jandura said, who is from Germany.
While some of the students seem to have less homework here than they do at school in their home countries, others feel they have more. For a number of the interviewees, school hours at LAHS are even shorter than those at their schools.
“In France (at) my high school, you start at 7:50 in the morning and you end at 6 p.m., and you don’t have any elective classes. It’s philosophy, mathematics, history, geography,” Elsa Guinoiseau said, a Parisian college-bound student.
When it comes to college applications, some of the international students have it easier than others.
“I’m going to come back in July, and then I’m going to apply, and then I’m going to go to school two months later,” Routiaux said, who thinks his college application is very simple and unstressful.
Krkljus and Jandura also have fairly easy application processes.
Serbian students have to take a test at the end of high school to determine the amount of financial aid they will receive for college.
“In Germany it’s really simple. You get your final grade, and you apply with your final grade, and whoever has the best final grade gets to college,” Jandura said.
Guinoiseau, however, faces a different application process.
“It’s going to take eight months. Right now, I’m going to apply for maybe 25 different colleges. And I have to send motivation letters to each. Some colleges I’m applying for, I have to pass an oral and writing exam,” she said.
As a whole, the American school system vastly differs from those of the students’ home countries.
In Germany, students in fourth grade are divided into three separate groups and are sent to respective schools. “One [school] is [called] the Gymnasium and that’s eight years, one is Realschule which is six years, and then there’s Hauptschule which is just five years. If you go to the Gymnasium you go to college afterwards, and the other ones don’t,” Plaga said.
In Belgium, students attend a general school unless they wish to specialize in a certain subject.
“If you want to take ceramics, or something like that, you have to go in a special school. There are different types of schools in Belgium. You can take a normal school, which is like science, math and languages, and that’s it. And then if you want to take art, you have to go in art schools,” Routiaux said.
Most of the exchange students have been taking English since elementary school. Julia Swierzewska, who is from Poland, began learning in first grade.
While many European students learn English, they also look up to American culture and idolize the America they see in television shows.
“I was like, ‘New York! Oh my gosh, I’m going to go see New York!.’ But then I came here (to) this small place and (saw) how actually life works. It’s different. It’s not like in a movie. It’s just real, I guess,” Krkljus said.
Although Los Alamos may not be the perfection of a Los Angeles or New York City movie set, all of these students have enjoyed their stay here. They love New Mexican food and how friendly people are.
“I wouldn’t want to live here, because I’m used to a city. But I’m really happy that it’s another experience than what I’m used to, so I’m happy that I’m here,” Plaga said.