BENNINGTON — Starting the school year — a new school building, new teachers, different schedules — can be nerve-wracking.
Add coming from thousands of miles away to a new country and a global pandemic, and you have the experience of the six new exchange students at Mount Anthony Union High School for the new school year.
There are two students from Italy, Sabrina Carli and Sofia Davi; one from Spain, Alejandra Gonzalez; one from Denmark, Caroline Boejstrup; one from Germany, Tine Meyer; and one from South Korea, Dobi Kye.
“This is the most number of exchange students we’ve ever had in one year at MAUHS,” said Kristen Olmstead, the international exchange coordinator with Education First, a company that helps figure out placements for the exchange students.
There is a rigorous process to qualify as a candidate to be an exchange student. They have to have strong English language skills, and each country is different in what each student is supposed to do academically while they are here.
“I decided to do the experience, because I think when you go back home after this, your mind is just more open, you learn a new culture, you literally live a year in your life, and you’ll learn a lot of things,” Carli said.
Some of the students have been to America before, but for most, it’s their first time to the United States.
“I’ve always loved America,” said Boejstrup. “I was very interested in the culture here and how different it is from what I’m used to. So, I’m here to experience the culture, get to know people and new cultures.”
The group has been in the U.S. for about a week, but they’ve already noticed many differences between here and their own countries.
“Everything is far apart,” Boejstrup said. “It takes way longer to get somewhere. In Europe, things are close together, but it’s normal to take a 30-minute drive here. Even going to Walmart is an experience, and Dunkin’ Donuts, things you see on Tik Tok.”
Each student is assigned to a host family, and the students say that the host families have been great.
“I think we are all lucky because we found very good host families,” Carli said.
“They are all very welcoming and willing to take us in and be a part of that,” Meyer added.
Olmstead said that finding host families can be tough sometimes, but that this year worked out well.
“My [host] family has always asked if I need anything. They are very open and kind,” Davi said. “I feel appreciated, and it already feels like home.”
Most of the students are staying with host families with peers close to or exactly the same age, something that does make the transition process to a year in the U.S. a little bit easier.
“My [host] family are really interested in [Korean]-pop and Korean culture, they are really interested in me and other cultures, so I can teach them Korean and Korean culture,” Kye said. “I’m really proud to talk about my country and teach other people about it.”
Meyer said staying with her host family is just like staying with old friends.
“It’s like we’re staying at friends’ houses. I’ve become such good friends with my host sister,” Meyer said. “It’s like you’re literally a member of the family.”
All of the exchange students are considered to be in the senior class, so they participate in all senior activities, like prom, senior trip and graduation. Many are planning to participate in sports, including cross-country and volleyball.
They all talked some of the things that American students almost take for granted: going to Friday night football games or watching the plays or just hanging out with their friends.
“What I’m looking forward to is the American experience,” Davi said. “[This] school is very different than ours, it’s a lot about sports, and we don’t have that.”
All six students agreed that if people have the opportunity to go to another country on an exchange program, they should take advantage of it.
“You go home and you’re not just the same person, you are you but improved,” Carli said. “I’m looking for something that could helpful to build my future,” Carli said. “I can imagine how my future will be because I’d really love to come to a college or university in America.”