Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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AFS students get some surprises in U.S.

by Chris Schultz

February 27, 2014

“Walk together, talk together, all ye peoples of the earth. Then and only then shall ye have peace.”

AFS motto taken from a Sanskrit saying.

Ask foreign exchange students what surprised them when they arrived in the United States, and their answers can be surprising.

Foods, slang, etiquette, lack of public transportation, even American schools having drinking fountains in the hallways, can strike students from overseas as very different.

Mina Khan of Pakistan said her first surprise in the U.S. was that Americans will make direct eye contact during conversations.

When conversing in Pakistan, making eye contact can be considered disrespectful, she said.

AFS students meet once a month, but Mina couldn’t make the Feb. 9 meeting, and so the Regional News conducted her interview over the phone.

Mina speaks excellent English, but with an accent. A British accent. Mina, 15, said she attends a private, British-run school.

Once a week, Mina cooks a Pakistani dish for herself and her family. She admits to toning down the spices for her host family.

“I want to share culture and learn how people in other countries live,” Mina said. “I always wanted to come here, I don’t know why.”

Priyanka Manojkumar Patel, a junior from Amedabad India, and Mina are good friends, even though their countries have feuded over borders and national pride. Priyanka said the friendship is natural. She and Mina are Indians. The only difference is that Priyanka is Hindu and Mina is Muslim.

The two nations separated in 1947 after the British left the Indian subcontinent. Both Priyanka and Mina laid the blames for tensions at the feet of their national leaders.

“Government is the big problem,” Priyanka said. “Not the people.”

Priyanka said she was surprised by a difference in spellings. Priyanka attends a British-run high school, and she speaks excellent English - from England. She spells “color” as “colour,” which is correct ­— in England.

The other shock was the difference in weather. It doesn’t snow in her part of India.

“I like snow, but I don’t like cold,” Priyanka said.

Gusten Tingstrom is a senior fom Stockholm, Sweden.

He possesses an easy-going smile and an impressive command of American English. Gusten said children in Sweden have to learn English.

“All television in Sweden is in English,” he said. “We start learning it when we are 6 years old.”

What surprised him the most was the diversity in the United States.

“They have heritage from all over the world here,” he said. He said community spirit is still strong in this country as well. He said he spent this past summer helping Fontana residents build a playground.

One of the main differences between the Swedish and Americans is their attitudes toward taxes.

“We love our taxes,” said Gusten. He estimated that the average working person in Sweden pays up to 70 percent of his or her income in taxes, but those taxes pay for everything, including health care, he said.

Hermann Henriksen is a junior from Kongsvinger, Norway, attending DDHS

This is Hermann’s seventh visit to the U.S. The six earlier visits were vacations with his parents.

“We see ourselves as Norwegian-Americans,” he said.

He was wearing a New York Yankees ball cap and professed to being a Green Bay Packers fan. He said his father had seen a Packers game when he visited the U.S. years ago. He said he hopes to do the same some day.

He and Gusten said they were amused by the concept of snow days. Neither Sweden nor Norway have snow days, they said.

“That just doesn’t happen in Norway,” said Hermann

Herman said he wants to go into the army for one year as a growing experience.

“A lot of Norwegian kids are spoiled,” he said.

Elwalid (Wello) Fayez Mohamed said he was surprised by the lack of public transit in Walworth County.

“The thing I’m having a hard time with is transportation,” he said.

Wello (pronounced Wah-lo) attends a British school in Cairo.

Wello said he also observed that the “buddy” language is different” between British English speakers and American English speakers.

He said he’s had to pick up on a lot of new slang.

A Muslim, Wello said meeting in a Christian church does not make him feel uncomfortable.

“I have a lot of Christian friends,” he said.

He said he wants to attend the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater. He wants to eventually enter the biotechnology field.

Victor De La Cruz is a sophomore from Santiago, Spain.

Victor said he’s had to get used to a different meal schedule. In Spain, lunch was around 3 p.m. Here, it’s more like 11 a.m.

On the other hand, he was impressed by the friendliness of American police officers.

“I love this country for the people,” he said.

He doesn’t particularly like it for its weather. “I hate the snow and the cold weather,” Victor said. Although he liked having snow days off. “It’s a new experience,” he said.

Victor said he’s looking at a future business career. And he’d love to do business in the U.S.

Papatsorn “Bam” Panthong is a junior from Bangkok, Thailand. Bangkok is a city of about 5 million. But it isn’t the rural emptiness of Walworth County that caught Bam by surprise. Like some of the other exchange students, she was shocked by the cold.

When we talked on Feb. 9, the temperature was 85 degrees in Bangkok, she said. The temperature here was, well, depressing.

As student at Big Foot, Bam said she was impressed and surprised by the number of people who have offered her help when she’s needed it.

Jan Noehrenberg is a junior from Dallgow, Germany (near Berlin and Potsdam). His hometown is in the former eastern zone of Germany.

Jan said it’s the little differences between Germany and America that catch his attention. For example, German schools do not have drinking fountains.

And, Germany doesn’t have middle schools or high schools, either.

Instead, German education is set up with preschool, primary school (through age 10) followed by secondary school, divided into two sections, the first for grades five through nine, the second for grades 10 through 12.

Secondary school students attend either Hauptschule, Realschule or Gymnasium (the “G” is hard.) Gymnasium is what Americans would consider “college preparatory.” Most German students going on to universities take a test called the Abitur.

Jan hasn’t taken his Abitur yet.

Giorgia Longagnani, a senior from Italy, said one thing she noted was that Italian communities tend to be less spread out than American cities and villages.

“In Italy, the towns are smaller,” she said. She was surprised to hear that Whitewater has a population of just 14,000, about half that of her hometown.

She said she was also surprised by how much Americans use their cars. Italians use their train systems and public transportation for local travel. For travelling outside town, the average automobiles in Italy are not that big.

She said her family’s car could fit into the back of an American pickup truck.