Foreign exchange students adjust to American lifestyle and culture


Lilly Lim

(from left to right) Foreign exchange students Giorgia Pistorio (Italy), Eduardo Guerrero (Mexico) and Benjamin Jolis (Belgium).

Deepika Sahota, Staff Writer

When senior Giorgia Pistorio stepped foot in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, she was immediately astonished by the array of individuals of different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.  A man of Asian descent working alongside a woman of African descent was something she had never seen before. 

“When I first arrived in Washington, D.C., I was like ‘Oh sh–!’” Pistorio said. 

Pistorio’s reaction captures the uncertainty and vast exposure to new cultures that many foreign exchange students face when first arriving in the U.S.  

Pistorio, an Italian native, says she grew up in a small city in Sicily and lives with her small, immediate family.  

“I live in a small reality — a small family, a small city, a small school, a small group of friends,” Pistorio said. “I came to a part of my life where I realized I was too big for a small place, so I started to look for something bigger than my life.” 

In Italy, Pistorio says she enjoys spending time with her friends at pubs in her city’s center.  In Italy, there is an emphasis on schooling over work for teens, so few students work and many find an escape from the stress of school through sports. Pistorio has participated in basketball, volleyball, swimming, boxing and dancing.  

“It’s totally different where I live — teens are different and the culture is different,” Pistorio said. 

Adjusting to the U.S. proved to be difficult for Pistorio as her homesickness set in.  Food also became a big problem for her because she had become accustomed to the fresh and healthy lifestyle she had in Italy, which included fresh produce and no trips to fast food restaurants.  When arriving in the U.S., Pistorio says she soon realized that avoiding fast food was going to be a bigger obstacle than she had anticipated. Along with Pistorio struggling to adjust to American food, being completely alone in a new place proved to be of great difficulty and frustration. 

“When you come [to the U.S.] and you’re completely alone, you don’t have your friends, your family or your place,” Pistorio said.  “You have to build something starting from zero.”

Prior to arriving in Stockton, Pistorio admits that she had a preconceived image of what she thought high school was going to be like — movies like “Mean Girls” and “High School Musical” made her think that popular cliques with football players and cheerleaders dominated schools in the U.S.  She was pleased to find out that these depictions were not accurate.  

Earlier this year, Mexico native Eduardo Guerrero first set foot in Dallas, Texas.  Guerrero grew up in Monclova, Mexico, and describes his life there as very different from the U.S. 

Guerrero says that he made the decision to study abroad because he felt that he would gain valuable experience in the U.S. that could potentially benefit him when he goes back to Mexico.  He describes the English-learning process as difficult, as he struggled immensely in his first month in the U.S., but he eventually learned the language with help from his host family. 

“In Mexico, if you speak English, you can get a better income in jobs,” Guerrero said.  “I never spoke English, and my dad told me I needed to learn. We learned some English in schools in Mexico, but it is not the same, so I chose to come here for one year to learn English, and I learned it in four months.”

Guerrero says that he immediately experienced the racism he feared when he first landed in Dallas, Texas.  He says that due to some confusion that arose because he was traveling alone for the first time, he decided to ask a man for help.  When the man found out Guerrero was Mexican, he refused to help him. Nevertheless, he says he has been surprised by how welcoming and diverse individuals at Bear Creek are. 

“I like Bear Creek; it is a good high school,” Guerrero said.  “I love the diversity here and how you can talk to people from different countries.” 

Another major culture shock for Guerrero has been the food in the U.S.

“I really miss the traditional food in Mexico such as mole,” Guerrero said.  “However, I really enjoy wings, ribs and chili dogs because I had never had these in Mexico.  I was also surprised by the Mexican food because I thought the U.S. only had Taco Bell. Surprisingly, I liked Taco Bell a lot and I also enjoy the taco trucks here because they remind me of Mexico.”

Although Guerrero says that he has adjusted quite well to the U.S., he admits that speaking English can still be a struggle. 

“The most difficult part here is school because I always have to ask teachers and students to repeat what they said,” Guerrero said. “I can barely read ‘Hamlet’ in English class because it is hard for me to understand.” 

Similarly to Guerrero, Belgian foreign exchange student Benjamin Jolis came to the U.S. to experience life outside of his home city of Liége.  In Belgium, Jolis says he had a very normal childhood, as he grew up with his parents and brother.  

Jolis says he misses hanging out with friends at pubs in Liége, but gaining a new experience in the U.S. is important to him. 

“I became a foreign exchange student because I wanted to enjoy my young life,” Jolis said. 

Jolis says that school is much easier in the U.S. than in Belgium, and adjusting has proved to be quite effortless. However, he says

“It was not hard to adjust,” Jolis said.  “I obviously have a new family and here I am free to do whatever I want.  There’s also a lot of food here [that I enjoy] — like In-N-Out.”

Jolis says his biggest struggle is communicating with others in school.  

“It’s upsetting because people don’t always understand everything I say and I don’t understand everything people say,” Jolis said.  “So I [often] have to ask people to repeat what they’re saying.”

Regardless of this difficulty, Jolis says he enjoys being a student at Bear Creek because he was not used to switching classes six times a day. 

“Because of the different class rotation system here, I’ve been able to meet a lot of people and socialize,” Jolis said. 

No matter where Bear Creek’s foreign exchange students come from, they spread their cultures and contribute to the cultural diversity of the student body.