From football to Thanksgiving, foreign exchange students seek the full American experience

Lily Tran, Feature Editor

Bear Creek has always been known for its diversity.  The school is home to many ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations.  So it’s no surprise that Bear Creek is hosting multiple foreign exchange students.

For the 2017-2018 school year, students from Belgium, France, Japan, Turkey and Brazil  have come to get an American high school experience.  These students will spend an academic year in America with a host family.

“My older sister studied abroad, so I wanted to go too,” junior Akaya Eyama, from Japan, said.

“I’ve wanted to come [to America] since I was 12,” junior Elena Kogioumtzis, from Belgium, said.  “I learned English by watching television every day.”

The other students had the opportunity to learn English in their schools in their home countries.“I had an English teacher at school,” junior Ryuichi Tsujimoto, from Japan said.

Foreign exchange students have much to gain from spending an academic year in America.  They are allowed to join the same clubs and sports as any other high school student, giving them the full “high school experience.”

“I think I’ll try basketball and track,” Kogioumtzis said.  “I’m going to see every game: football, water polo, soccer [and] volleyball.  I’ll go to every school dance… I’m going to do everything I can do.”  Kogioumtzis is currently in student activities and cross country.

“I want to [play] soccer and go to homecoming,”  junior Maxime Boulland, from France, said.

“I want to play football,” junior Bugrahan Boztepe, from Turkey, said.  Boztepe attends practices and accompanies the football team at games.

The four Japanese students all have an interest in playing basketball.

“I’m really excited to practice basketball,” junior Soma Sugiyama, from Japan, said.

These students also have the opportunity to improve their English language skills and experience a new country through the perspective of a teenage student in America.

“There’s so much I hope to get from this,” Kogioumtzis said. “[I want to experience] the language, the American culture and holidays like Thanksgiving — which no one else has in Europe.”

“I want to gain communication [skills] and gain confidence,” junior Nika Tanimura, from Japan, said.  “I’m very shy.”

However, other factors must be taken into account that push some people away from the idea of studying abroad.

“I have to retake [this school year] when I go back,” Boulland said. “It’s not important to me though because I’m getting to know [English] and the experience.  Not everyone can do this.”

In addition, the process of setting up a year abroad is long and arduous.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into getting here; it takes about a year,” registrar Betty Abel said.  The foreign exchange program is entirely separate from the school; this means that students who are interested have to find a program and pay anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 to cover traveling expenses.

The challenges of setting up a school year abroad and the expense may be why American students rarely study abroad.

This year, the students worked with their own foreign exchange agencies which then worked in compliance with the Cultural Homestay International agency that organized their stay in America.

The exchange students took both a written and oral English exam and underwent a psychological evaluation.  They also wrote a letter to their host parents and sent a picture of themselves.  The students were also vetted for any intent to harm the U.S., fingerprinted and required to obtain an educational Visa.

Although the school has received many foreign students throughout its history, it’s rare for BC students to study abroad during their high school years.

“I decided to be a foreign exchange student because of my love of travel and I thought it would be a life changing experience,” junior Teresa Baja, a Bear Creek student in Denmark, said.

“She’s the second student I know of from Bear Creek to be an exchange student in all its years,” Abel said.

“If [students who study abroad] are planning to come back [to America] to graduate, they still need to meet the requirements,” Abel said. “They need to set up a plan to complete their necessary classes like U.S. History and English.”

In addition to planning ways to stay on top of the curriculum in America, students who plan to enter the foreign exchange program must also have a proficient understanding of the foreign language, a passport and visa and undergo multiple interviews and meet-and-greets with their host families.

“Typically, you need between a minimum of a 2.0-3.0 GPA,” Baja said.  “[You go to] lots of doctor visits to make sure you’re safe to travel.”

Despite all the hard work and organizing that goes into planning a year abroad, being a foreign exchange student can expose students to new opportunities and experiences they wouldn’t get from staying at home.

“I would absolutely recommend people to do an exchange year,” Baja said.  “You have to be willing to take a risk and be open minded.  It’s an amazing experience.”