GREENFIELD — During International Week at Greenfield-Central High School, students are exposed to new information on cultures and countries. And that’s the basic idea behind the foreign-student exchange program.
Fourteen students from other countries are attending Hancock County schools this year. Kaho Fukuda from Japan attends Eastern Hancock High School. Mt. Vernon High School is playing host to three exchange students: Piet Brodowski from Germany, Clara Nielsen from Denmark and Giang Tran from Vietnam. Two international students attend Greenfield-Central: Blanca Valcazar from Madrid, Spain, and Christian Braun from Germany. New Palestine High School has eight international students, including five from Germany and one each from Spain, France and Italy.
“Having students hear about how they live can give them an appreciation about the way things are here or think about the way we do things here that isn’t the way everyone else does things in other countries,” Eastern Hancock High School guidance counselor Anne Katz said. “The perspective (of a Japanese student) on things like World War II are going to be very different from how our students are taught about it. It’s really beneficial to think about different sides to things and how they are taught in different countries.”
That’s why Greenfield-Central High School played host to International Week this week. It provided an opportunity for students to celebrate different countries and cultures based on their world language course of either German, French or Spanish.
“It’s just an awareness of different cultures and opportunities,” said Kim Kile, director of guidance at G-CHS.
Unlike 17-year-old junior and German foreign exchange student Christian Braun, Blanca, 17, is on her own study-abroad program. All of the students are on J-1 visas through the State Department, which an out-of-country visitor can obtain if they are approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs.
Part of the difficulty in sending students abroad is the complex transfer of credits. Different graduation requirements can have a real impact on where and when a student chooses to apply or participate in the exchange program.
“We have to make sure we are working with a school that has transferable grades back to us,” Kile said.
Christian has been attending G-CHS this year and will head back to his hometown of Weiden, Germany, this summer. Christian is currently studying at G-C through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program, a highly selective full-tuition scholarship program between the United States and Germany.
“I find American culture very interesting,” Christian said.
That includes things such as Hollywood and getting a closer look at America and its influence around the globe. Christian is continuing his family’s tradition of participating in the foreign exchange program but also wanted to get better at speaking English.
“It’s really helped coming here,” Christian said. “I think my speech has improved a bit, and the way I say things, the pronunciation. I speak it more quickly now. It’s more natural.”
Most students in Germany must begin learning English in third grade. Overcoming the language barrier can be difficult, but thankfully, for the international students, most of them have a good understanding of English before they arrive to attend school.
“I was going to study architecture,” Blanca said. “I really need to learn English to get a job and travel.”
Blanca provided her classmates with presentations during International Week, including information about her family, hometown and architecture. And while she enjoys being in America now (especially the food), making the transition can be difficult for the young students, no matter how badly they wanted to attend school in a different country. At G-CHS, the students are thankful for the opportunity.
“It is a very nice school with lots of sports and is very modern,” Christian said.
The large amounts of space were also something that took Christian time to adjust to. Large gardens and fields aren’t too common where Christian is from.
“It’s great having so much space around you,” Christian said. “I came from a small town too, but everything is a bit closer together there.”
Some transitions are easier than others.
“The first month I got here, it was so difficult because I didn’t have my family or my friends,” Blanca said. “Then I was new in the school, and I didn’t know anybody.”
But she quickly made friends and began fitting in well, just the same as Christian.
“I joined the cross country team very soon, and that really helped in making friends,” Christian said. “In winter, I tried swimming; and now I do track and field. It really helps.”
Blanca played golf and tennis for G-CHS.
“When I go back to Spain, I will miss my friends here,” she said.
Christian feels the same way.
“I like it here, but being home is just different,” Christian said.
When he left Germany, he knew that one day a year later he would be returning home to see his friends and family. When he leaves Greenfield this summer, he knows he will likely never see his former classmates again.
“I’ll miss people here, my great host family. But also friends and my school. There’s some really great people I’ve met here. It will be hard to not see them anymore.”
But that’s part of the foreign exchange program experience. And more often than not, it is something that kids of all ages and backgrounds want to experience.
“There are always quite a few students who want to go,” Kile said. “But cost is always an issue. The programs where there are scholarships and government sponsorships are very popular.”
Katz said that typically, the school is contacted by foreign exchange program representatives, urging them to accept a student and participate. An application is provided to the school from the program, and then the student is accepted.
“Foreign exchange students are always really active in school. It’s good for students to see that, too; others getting involved and getting out of their comfort zone,” Katz said. “I would say that it benefits our students to see outside of Indiana and Hancock County; how other people live and what other countries expect their students to do. Japan has a very different educational experience than we do.”