Destination: Mount Washington


Sofia Arcos

Sophomore foreign exchange student Maria Acros in front of the Mediterranean Sea in Menorca, Spain.

Cooper Bass, Content Editor

“Party in the USA”.

Bullitt East has welcomed a new group of exchange students for this school year from all over Europe.

Foreign exchange can be an exciting thing for any student. You get valuable knowledge from another culture and get to create new connections with people out of the country. With this, also comes the difficulty of adapting to a new place without your friends and family. Adaptation can look different for every person depending on their knowledge of America beforehand, but for some, even the most mundane things Americans do are shocking.

“I think one part of me wanting to exchange was learning English and another part was living an American lifestyle. It’s so different here,” Maria Acros said. “I just wanted to live like an American and be treated as one. I like high school and the football games and things like prom, homecoming, and spirit week.”

Acros is a sophomore from Spain, exchanging here for 10 months. With this being her first time in the US, she has definitely noticed many differences. “You usually travel by public transportation but here you only travel by car and that’s it. That’s something that shocked me because I am a person that travels a lot,” Acros said. In Spain, the main forms of transportation are public. Whether it be the tram, metro or train, everything was public transportation. The city of Barcelona alone has over 230 public bus lines.

“The biggest difference from the US and Spain is that here, you live in houses. In Spain, you normally live in apartments, they can be big and small, but they are still apartments,” Acros said. 

On top of the living situation, she has noticed that Americans tend to be calmer and have more privacy, something she really likes about the US. Some of this newfound privacy comes from the fact that this is a small town where she also noticed that everyone seems to know everyone. With her hometown being Barcelona, she wasn’t used to the speed of a small town.

Acros wasn’t the only foreign exchange student to take notice of how calm Americans seem to be. “I love the school the most. All of the people there are more relaxed. You’re not so stressed. In Italy, you carry a lot of stress and the teachers don’t really care about your mental health. Here, the teachers worry about your mental health for now, and after your school career. There is a really big difference between Italy and here,” Sophia Strappaveccia said.

From Italy, Strappaveccia is a senior here at East. She loves the atmosphere here in America because of how aware all of the teachers are of their student’s mental well-being. In Italy, the classrooms look very different with their school day starting at 10 in the morning and ending at two in the afternoon, with no stop for a lunch break and no air conditioning.

“Saying the pledge of allegiance is different. We don’t do that every day in Italy. Like you all are very proud to be in America. I love Italy but we don’t do that,” Strappaveccia said.

She plays on the school volleyball team here just like she did back in Italy. She has noticed that even in volleyball, the rules are different, yet another shock she experienced. But she has started to like some other American sports, football in particular. She loves the “vibes” during football games and is excited to experience them in person instead of watching them in movies.

On the never-ending list of differences between Europe and America, is the way of life in each. Rachel Reinhard, a junior from Switzerland, said that American mindsets are way different from those in Switzerland.

“I think the biggest difference is the school system and the mindset and way of living of the people. In the USA, you live more in the moment. In Switzerland, you plan more for your future,” Reinhard said. “I like that Americans are open, live more in the moment and have a bigger acceptance for every person.”

A repetitive theme amongst the students was how more relaxed Americans were, not just in school, but in general. Reinhard in particular wanted to exchange here as a break from her community and to aid her mental health.

A common myth amongst Americans is that our food is not very good in comparison to those of European countries. All three students from Europe were quick to shut this down.

“I love the food here. I know that even though it’s only the hamburgers, the hotdogs, pancakes, waffles and pizza, I love it here. I know it’s fast food but it’s so good. In Spain, it’s not as good as here,” Acros said.

Enjoying American fast food was a trait shared by both Acros and Strappaveccia. “The American food culture is special but it is not true that you can’t eat healthy.” Reinhard said.

However, foreign exchange isn’t all fast food and cars. Along with the placement, come many mental hurdles. Ranging from language barriers and homesickness to just missing your favorite foods from back home, being so far away can stir up some unpleasant emotions. 

“I feel that in the beginning when you have to make friends is the hardest. A lot of people told me that it would be really difficult but I didn’t believe them. Because you can talk with a lot of people but to actually make friends and go out is really difficult,” Strappaveccia said. “My English is also really bad. I have been here for a month so it’s gotten better but it’s hard.”

While being hosted with another foreign exchange student, Strappaveccia lives in a world of Italian, English, and even Spanish. With her host family additionally hosting another student from Spain, there are positives to sharing similar experiences but can be overwhelming with being exposed to yet another unfamiliar language.

“One thing I miss from Switzerland is the parties. I don’t drink alcohol, even if I’m allowed to in Switzerland, but hanging out in the forest with your friends and listening to music, and dancing is really cool,” Reinhard said. “I definitely miss all of the cheese and the mountains. Of course, I also miss my family and friends but actually, it is not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I can handle it really well.”

This is Reinhard’s fifth time in America so she has had experience adapting to this new culture and being away from home. But, the most challenging part of her exchange has been the first few days when she had to push herself to speak to people. In her experience, she has noticed that if you don’t speak out, then you won’t make friends. So pushing herself to talk to new people has been challenging for her.